By @SimonCocking, review of Chris Skinner’s latest book Doing Digital: Lessons from Leaders, available from April 7th here.
There has been lots of discussion of digital and open banking, banking-as-a-service, banking platforms, FinTech and TechFin and more, over the past decade. This all indicates that we are in a decade of rapid cycle change that presents huge challenges and huge opportunities. Billion-dollar unicorns appear rapidly, whilst internet giants achieve global domination. How are banks dealing with these changes and are any banks showing leadership? Well yes, a few are. With all the gloom merchants saying that traditional banking is doomed, a few banks have made radical moves to adapt and survive.
Chris Skinner, a world-leading commentator on banking and technology, has selected five of those banks?JPMorgan Chase (USA), BBVA and ING (Europe), and DBS and CMB (Asia)?to share their experiences. In detailed interviews, and with wide-ranging commentary, he has discovered the secrets of how not just adapt and survive, but how to thrive in this sea change of finance and technology.
Learn the lessons of the leaders, and learn how to become a successful digital bank, by Doing Digital.
Doing Digital, Lessons from Leaders reviewed
The latest offering from Chris Skinner, which in many ways feels like a logical progression from his previous book ‘Digital Human’ which we reviewed also (see here for that review). As that book considered and highlighted the importance of having a digital facing strategy, it naturally raised the question of who, if anyone, is actually doing digital well? His conversational and no-bullshit style works well to make this book as readable and engaging as it’s predecessor.
At the time it seemed slightly unusual to devote almost 100 pages of Digital Human to a case study on Ant Financial. However, that now seems impressively prescient and in reviewing this book we found ourselves going back to read that case study again. Since then the Alibaba Group and Ant Financial, in particular, have only gone on to do more and more impressive things.
We asked Chris how he saw this book in relation to its predecessor and if it is indeed a sequel of kinds to what came before. He explained how it had been conceived. “With this one, I took it one step further and actually wrote down a list of the biggest banks I thought were doing digital transformation well back in 2018. I then made contact with those banks and asked if they would participate as research participants for the new book and share their experiences of doing digital transformation.
The fact that I got a yes from all five banks I approached – BBVA, China Merchants Bank, DBS, ING and JPMorgan Chase – says something.” here. To see more read our in-depth interview with him about how and why he came to write this book.
In Doing Digital Skinner continues his quest to understand who is managing digital well, or perhaps as well as possible, considering the huge challenge that it presents. Many large banks with potentially millions of lines of COBOL programming code written and developed in the 1970s, often by many people who are no longer even alive. Traditional and long-standing banks, therefore, face a massive challenge to remain relevant and dynamic as tech companies eagerly eye their markets and customers.
This book focuses on insights from five large global banks, JPMorgan Chase (USA), BBVA and ING (Europe), and DBS and CMB (Asia). This works well as it ensures a good range of examples with a healthy global mix. If we were to predict what a future book might cover we’d imagine that there will be African, South American and more Asian banks in the mix next time around too. For now, for this book, the selection works well and provides useful and interesting insights into who is managing change well, innovatively and to the best of their abilities.
Skinner has gone around the world and taken time to meet in person many members of the teams leading the change processes that have needed to be implemented to ensure their businesses remain relevant and competitive in the face of many new challenges and emergent competitors. Skinner also explained in our interview with him why digital trust is still a challenge that is being grown and evolved over time, but still with many barriers to rapid adoption.
“It takes a long time to gain digital trust. Physical trust can be achieved far faster if you have a face to face interaction. That’s the reason why I never see branches disappearing. First and foremost, branches provide trust in the institution that you can go there and see someone. Second, it provides trust that if my money is being held digitally, I can still eyeball a human if I get nervous.”
We are currently in a time of large upheaval and changes to the way that we do business. Skinner’s book offers an interesting and insightful roadmap as to what the future looks like and how we may things play out.
A key thread throughout the book too is that these five case studies examined are not necessarily managing the process excellently, but they have been willing and open to discuss the journey that they are on. Bumps in the road, and slower than hoped for roll outs are discussed and acknowledged as the management teams strive to evolve in what can be a complex and chaotic financial services world.
With the recent massive impact of the global pandemic coronavirus we also imagine that this can only impact on how we operate, and could herald a further push to a digital-first world. Chris had some interesting insights to this proposition, which suggest the journey is far from completed yet.
“ Just use contactless, urges the World Health Organisation. So, this might move us faster to a less cash, less card society, but the contactless piece amuses me because often when I use contactless, the terminal asks me for my PIN. And how many people have touched those keys on the PIN pad before me? In fact, that’s more likely to spread the virus than using cash.
What we really need is for the world to move to mobile payments and facial recognition, like the payment services being rolled out in China. With Alipay today, I can just Smile-to-Pay. That’s not a concept. It’s a reality. We need that to be the future, and get rid of touch pads and dirty paper.”
This book is an enjoyable and useful addition to the genre of books attempting to assess where the financial world is going, and with it our own lifestyles and how we move through our increasingly connected digital lives. The five banks in the case study may not be the ones that nail all of the markets, nor deliver all of the most cutting edge technologies but in this book they certainly provide some valuable and interesting insights.
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