Age-old industry? Check. Highly sensitive data? Check. No wonder the financial services industry has taken a more conservative approach to cloud adoption and digital transformation than some other industries.
But transformation is increasingly less of a choice in financial services, or any industry. As companies of all kinds are beginning to embrace digital technologies to speed the delivery of goods and services, mitigate risk, and improve operations and customer service, modernization becomes a competitive necessity.
COVID-19 highlighted just how critical digital solutions are in today’s world. At Accord Financial, a 42-year-old firm, we’d been working in a traditionally paper and on-premises systems process like most companies our age. Like many, we recognized the benefits of modernizing, but that’s easier said than done.
Not surprisingly, all mid-market asset management, financial institutions, and insurance firms say they have or are planning to develop digital strategies, a recent BDO survey shows. Also, 60% of banks plan to increase spending on cloud computing and storage this year, Deloitte research shows, as legacy infrastructure moves to the cloud, close to 50% of banks are beginning to implement technologies that improve financial and operational stability for the future and moving their legacy infrastructure to the cloud.
Turning Plans to Reality
But plans are just that. They have to be implemented and that same BDO survey found that just one-fourth of surveyed firms were actually executing on their plans.
We’ve been on a digital transformation journey for the past three years. In making changes, we recognize that doing the footwork to get started is a key piece of the plan. Here are three steps for tech leaders to take when embarking on modernization.
1. Ask yourself: are you a disrupter or are you being disrupted? Are you fast and agile enough to adapt to changing conditions -- whether they happen overtime or overnight like COVID-19? At Accord Financial, our competition surrounds us. From large companies that are slow movers but with tremendous resources to smaller, born-digital organizations where speed is part of their DNA, to companies that look nothing like us today but could replace us tomorrow. The real issue is not necessary competition, but rather disruption. A recent survey asked firms whether they were equipped to respond to the pandemic at speed and scale. The research identified the “fast responders” (73%) and the “slow responders” (27%). Fast responders were further ahead in their digital transformation journeys, and they fared better during the pandemic as a result. COVID-19 only accelerated the digitization taking place across all industries. To compete, you can never stop moving forward.
2. Assess needs for long-term survival. Before you map out where you’re going, understand where you are. Inventory your current state, including obstacles to more modern and streamlined operations. These obstacles will likely pertain to people, processes, technology, or some combination. For example, our planning process became very challenging as we had grown with various offices and systems. At the start of our digital transformation, we faced five siloed businesses that needed to act like one to enable the speed and agility we needed to move forward. Each had completely independent accounting and budgeting processes that needed to be standardized. We had so many streams of information coming in that monthly performance was hard to track. We were challenged to consolidate in a way that gave us a clear picture of where we are, and more importantly, where we’re headed. Only by analyzing all processes including portfolio management and credit adjudication could we better understand how to be best-in-class and hyper relevant for the future. After you do this, build a case for where you want to go and get your entire organization aligned around that mission. Our mission -- simplifying access to capital -- drives every decision we make.
3. Adopt scalable, collaborative technology. The BDO survey found the No. 1 most-cited long-term digital objective is to modernize IT infrastructure. My company needed the right technology to bring together our five work centers. We had disparate business functions that were not operating as one post-acquisition. That meant we needed cloud-based tools so everything could be accessed from one place, everybody could see everything, and information could be disseminated companywide immediately. With the right technology in hand, we created a roadmap. We moved in phases, with our strategic objective being unity. In phase one, for instance, we consolidated reporting of multiple streams with Sage and Quickbooks. Next, we dealt with budgeting, eliminating manual processes, and streamlining budgeting and planning with Workday Adaptive Planning. Then, with Salesforce, our CRM tool, we improved business development workflow and leveraged Microsoft Office 365 to improve remote collaboration. In a short time, hastened by COVID, most systems were moved to the cloud. As Deloitte noted, “Until now, cloud migration efforts (among finance institutions) were predominantly focused on cost reduction, modernizing the technology stack, and more recently, virtualizing the workforce. But the real promise of cloud may lie in enabling banks to reimagine business models, foster agility, achieve scale, drive innovation, and transform customer experience.”
The best companies are always innovating to stay efficient and to meet customers where they are. Digital technologies enable that innovation faster and faster. COVID-19 only accelerated the pressures on companies to deliver a better, faster, smarter customer experience. Bottom line: To survive, and to thrive, you have to modernize, and plans have to be enacted.
As a member of the executive leadership team, Eric Starr has spearheaded Accord’s strategic and digital transformation. He is a passionate problem-solver who combines data and technology with a human touch to transform complicated processes into easy solutions. Eric brings an entrepreneurial spirit to Accord having been a founder or partner at quantitative hedge funds including Aventine Investment Management, Starr Capital Management and Forest Investment Management before joining CapX Partners. He is a graduate of Brandeis University and holds an MBA from New York University.