Big banks are spending billions of dollars on digital transformation initiatives that never get off the ground.
According to the International Data Center, an estimated $1.3 trillion was spent on large-scale digital transformation projects across all industries in 2018, 70% of it on efforts that failed to achieve their objectives. That’s more than $900 billion down the drain.
For banks, the failure to innovate doesn’t come from a lack of will, money or effort. The financial industry has had the world’s highest growth rate in digital transformation spending, at nearly 20 percent, according to a new IDC report.
In my experience, there are a few key reasons why banks have struggled with digital adoption and several equally important lessons that can help financial institutions realize real change.
Disney and Marcus: Top-Down Alignment Works
Banks need to prioritize genuine top-to-bottom and lateral alignment. Take a look at Disney, a corporation built on analog animation that’s thrived in a digital era. Under the leadership of Bob Iger, Disney achieved transformation because “he didn’t see reinvention of Disney as a separate function to be done by a Chief Digital Officer.” By acquiring Pixar and centering digitization as a core operation of the company rather than a side project, Disney was able to own digital transformation across the board instead of relegating it to a few tech-heads. Now, Disney+ competes with Netflix, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video.
Banks need a similar commitment. Consider the success of Marcus by Goldman Sachs, an online division of the multinational investment bank. Goldman knew digital competitors lacked its scale and consumer banks were more focused on credit cards. So it built a bank from the ground up and began providing online unsecured consumer loans through Marcus in 2016. By designing for growth and digitization, Goldman Sachs quickly expanded to a multi-product business with nearly $5 billion in loans, $55 billion in deposits, a personal finance app, and a partnership with Apple within three years.
Banks need to do some soul-searching and rethink their digital transformation strategies from the ground up. If you’re looking for a place to start, here’s what I’d suggest:
- Study how companies like Disney and Goldman established digital transformation as a core tenet
- Empower ambitious executives with creative incentives and long-term funding
- Partner with product companies that can own product development from start to finish
Small Consultancies, Big Solutions
Spending on digital transformation is expected to increase by more than 10 percent in 2020. My guess is much of that will be spent in the same wasteful ways.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Tapping partners for development is one of the best ways to ensure that digital transformation funding is well-leveraged. Bob Iger brought Steve Jobs on as a consultant for Disney’s transformation. Banks can do something similar by partnering with product companies that own product development from start to finish.
Product companies address the challenges of talent turnover, redundancy, and bureaucracy to focus more narrowly and fully on projects. Small consultancy teams take on just a few clients at a time, allowing talent to become deeply invested in and focused on an initiative without the constraints of interdepartmental competition and asynchronous communications and approvals. Additionally, consultancies have the advantage of an outside perspective, bringing fresh eyes free of political agendas and unrestricted minds ready to innovate.
Sometimes the best way to make change happen is from the outside.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of FinLedger’s editorial department and its owners.
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