When it comes to digital transformation in the finance industry, much attention has been paid to technology. But digital transformation is only as good as the people behind it.

Technology can solve anything, but the problem has to be something that wants to be solved with technology. In many cases, a lot of the discussion that we have in fintech is about things that can be solved with technology, but psychologically bankers don’t want to.

To make the most out of technology, bank executives must completely reconsider the way they think about their customers. In researching the topic, I spoke with executives at innovative banks around the world. In those discussions, each executive spoke at length about the customer journey as the primary driver for their institution.

For example, at one bank I met the chief financial officer, who didn’t mention shareholder return until I explicitly asked. When I asked why she hadn’t brought it up yet, she said, ‘If you focus on making the customer journey the best it can be, the rest follows.’

As any executive can imagine, shifting the focus away from something as fundamental as shareholder value is no easy feat. In a conversation with another bank’s head of digital, the bank spent two years educating its senior management to get them to understand what a customer journey actually means before they could truly drive digital transformation throughout the organization.

Making Digital Your DNA

Digital transformation is not just the act of applying technology itself, but is the organizational infrastructure and thinking behind that technology. The difference between banks that win at digital transformation and those that are falling behind is a matter of culture. Most banks are still talking about digital as a channel, a project, or a function, all of which are wrong. Digital transformation has to do with changing the mindset and culture of the company to embrace and incorporate digital into its DNA.

That means banks can’t just leave digital up to a product manager or IT team. Instead, it needs to start at the very highest level. It’s up to the board to tell the CEO, ‘We’re going to alleviate you from shareholder scrutiny and give you permission to focus on transformation instead of profit and shareholder return.’ If you don’t have that, then you can’t do transformation because you’re too busy doing business as usual.

What Are the Experts Saying?

To find out what other industry experts predict for the future of global payments and banking, download the full ebook, “Global Payments and Banking 2020: Experts Weigh-in on What’s Next”.

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Posted by Chris Skinner

Chair, Financial Services Club and author of Digital Bank, Valueweb, and Digital Human.