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The Future of Finance: Leveraging Digital Transformation for Business Continuity — Part 3

August 11, 2020

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By Marie Sylvestre, Bloomberg Live

July 16, 2020
 

 

Part three of Bloomberg’s virtual roundtable series, The Future of Finance: Leveraging Digital Transformation for Business Continuity, kicked off on July 9 with a select group of senior global executives from the financial services industry. During the discussion, moderator and Bloomberg Financial Reporter, Hema Parmar, sought to gain insight into how these leaders were utilizing digital transformation to adapt to changes, improve business continuity during the pandemic and prepare for the future.

 

Participants:

  • Sharon Bagshaw, Financial Services Global Managing  

            Director, IBM

  • Takis Georgakopoulos, J.P. Morgan Global Head of Wholesale
          Payments
  • Ido Gileadi, FIS Chief Information Officer
  • Harish Grama, IBM General Manager Public Cloud
  • Swamy Kocherlakota, S&P Global Chief Information Officer &
          Executive Vice President
  • Rania Llewellyn, Executive Vice President, Global Business
          Payments, Scotiabank
  • Michael Manos, Fiserv Chief Technology Officer
  • Naveed Sultan, Citigroup Global Head of Treasury & Trade
          Solutions (TTS)
  • Daniele Tonella, CIO of UniCredit Group and CEO of
          UniCredit Services
  • Lamont Young, Citizens Financial Group EVP, Digital and
          Experience Design Head
  • Hema Parmar, Moderator, Bloomberg Financial Reporter

 

 

Navigating digital transformation while adjusting and keeping pace

The Covid-19 pandemic crisis forced financial institutions to contend with unprecedented changes as they moved their staffs out the office and into work-at-home environments. With most of their employees working remotely, the resiliency of the industry’s infrastructures would be tested. Before the outbreak, plans for global pandemics were not factored into the financial sector’s fail-safe strategies. With these extraordinary circumstances in mind, Bloomberg Financial Reporter, Hema Parmer, opened the discussion by asking the roundtable’s tech leaders how they were navigating the kind of digital transformation we are in the midst of and how they’ve managed to adjust and keep pace.

 

Takis Georgakopoulos, Global Head of Wholesale Payments at J.P. Morgan, Rania Llewellyn, EVP of Global Business Payments at Scotiabank, Naveed Sultan, Global Head of Treasury & Trade Solutions at Citigroup and Daniele Tonella, CEO and Group CIO of Unicredit Services, shared parallel accounts about their companies’ transitioning most of their employees to a work-from-home environment without experiencing any disruptions. They also revealed that their organizations were spared from setbacks because they had spent years improving their digital infrastructures and implementing strategies to transform their business and operation models.
 

Lamont Young, EVP of Digital and Experience Design Head at Citizens Financial Group, shared similar thoughts about being able to “quickly scale work-from-home programs.” But he also raised a point about the potential “dichotomy between colleagues” in a post-Covid-19 world. While some employees will be ready to return to work, others will want to continue working from home. He believed that such a cultural split might pose a challenge for senior leaders who will need to find ways of ensuring that productivity continues within both groups.
 

J.P. Morgan’s Takis Georgakopoulos revealed that although most of the staff was working remotely, 3,500 essential workers were still coming into the office to manage paper transactions (check payments). While this segment of the business remained unscathed, Georgakopoulos hoped that the pandemic would help diminish the use of paper transactions and increase the use of electronic payment models. He hoped clients would relinquish their dependency on paper transactions once they assessed the risks associated with unanticipated disruptions. Georgakopoulos went on to explain: “It’s not only whether J.P. Morgan will be open. It’s also whether the post office will be open and their mail will get delivered. So, I’m hoping that will provide a further incentive to reduce the amount of paper and use some of the more modern electronic payment methods.”

Changes implemented to adjust to the new sense of normal

When Bloomberg’s Parmar asked about changes being made to prepare teams to adjust to the new sense of normal, FIS Chief Information Officer Ido Gileadi shared his thoughts about the challenges of working from home in certain regions where internet connectivity was unreliable. He said, “We had struggled with getting those people effective and operational. We’ve done a pretty decent job because we’ve … relied on some cloud technologies to implement things like contact center in the cloud.” Referring to his company’s VPN technology, Gileadi said, “We ramped up very rapidly by using cloud scaling.” He went on to emphasize that cloud scaling demonstrated “that it really delivered on the message and the promise of scaling.”

 

Cybersecurity

When the conversation shifted to cybersecurity risks and mitigating network threats, S&P Global’s CIO and EVP Swamy Kocherlakota underscored that before the pandemic, his organization’s biggest cybersecurity risks came from insider threats. He said, “With all of the equipment and 22,000 employees working remotely at S&P Global, we have built a platform that protects us from the insider threats.” To fend off these threats, he talked about approaches that included “training employees with the phishing simulations” and ensuring that they were using a “multi-factor authentication” process. The efforts that were being implemented before the outbreak “really helped in the post-Covid-19’s new normal or new abnormal.” Kocherlakota further explained, “We had to be more cautious about data loss prevention in light of Covid-19.” He also said, “We are responding very aggressively to public changes” to help avert “additional risks that Covid-19 may have brought to us.”

 

Perspectives on innovating before and during the pandemic

Harish Grama, IBM’s General Manager Public Cloud (IBM sponsored Bloomberg’s virtual event), talked about the years of resistance that a bank’s cloud confirmation head encountered when he wanted to innovate and put his CISO organization on the cloud. Within the first four to six weeks of the Covid-19 crisis, Grama said this tech leader was given “all kinds of permission to start to innovate and put some of these tools up so all of their employees [all being remote] could start to be productive or continue to be productive.”

 

Scotiabank’s Rania Llewellyn said that the pandemic prompted her organization to put greater “focus on delivering value to our employees and our customers.” Before the pandemic, she and her colleagues would have conversations about focusing on approaches that would drive productivity and results.  But, Llewellyn said, the Covid-19 crisis “has really brought it to the forefront in terms of where are we investing our money, how valuable is it to our customers and employees and to our shareholders …”
 

Citizens Financial Group’s Lamont Young agreed that the pandemic was driving banks to accelerate some of their existing strategies. He added that, “Many of us are working on transformations to not only digitize the front end of our solutions but to obviously digitize both the middle and the back office.” He said that, “In terms of investments, I think all of us are going to find ourselves looking at incremental investments in new technologies and part of this is just because this is the way consumers are going to continue to engage with us.”
 

Sharon Bagshaw, IBM’s Financial Services Global Managing Director (IBM sponsored Bloomberg’s virtual event), offered her own perspective, saying, “We’ve seen clients turn digital ideas into digital implementation within days through Covid-19 and I think it’s a really interesting lesson for us as to how that new-found agility can be adopted going forward. When we’re from a financial services point of view, we’re not known for taking huge amounts of risk. I think it’s a really interesting conundrum as to how, when forced to do so, we were able to mobilize and create all aspects of solutions that were needed out there whether existing or the new ones …”

Looking at innovation and managing risk and opportunity

As the conversation shifted to discussions about innovation, Fiserv CTO Michael Manos said, “With the introduction of the Covid-19 constraints, we’re all being forced to innovate in different ways.” The limitations caused by the pandemic are driving organizations “to think differently about how they work with their teams.” He underscored his team’s inclination to “drive and fast track” their innovations because they want to accelerate efforts to provide their customer base with a “huge benefit and huge impact.” Referring to the Covid-19 crisis, Manos went on to explain that, “It’s changed how we develop. It’s definitely changed how we operate. It’s changed just about every aspect of how we think about our work and our products across the spectrum.”

 

Among the various approaches that S&P Global’s Kocherlakota shared, one was about his organization’s ongoing efforts to foster innovation before and during the outbreak. Kocherlakota said that the company was upskilling its employees in key areas via an immersive tech training program developed by S&P Global. This growth opportunity enabled their staff to work on projects, collaborate on an innovation enablement platform and “work on agile teams to deliver innovation solutions.”
 

Citigroup’s Naveed Sultan highlighted that “during a crisis, it is very important” for business leaders not to lose sight of the opportunities that might emerge. Such opportunities would call for “investments and continuous innovation.” But, Sultan pointed out, “when you come out of the other side, your ability to lead the market or gain significant advantage will be far greater than if you stifle the business during the time of crisis.”

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