Top Five Imperatives for Banks in 2004
2003 has been a tumultuous year for the corporate world, particularly for the financial services industry. Corporate frauds, financial reporting opacity, fund scandals and resulting SEC probes have undermined investor confidence and raised serious questions on the way banks and corporations are managing and running their businesses. They have also brought in their wake new regulatory oversights. At the same time, steadily declining interest rates have enabled banks to widen their spreads, improve profits, be it from treasury or corporate or retail banking. Consolidation and competition still characterize the industry landscape, even as some of the larger global banks continue in their quest to become financial services powerhouses. The year also saw a host of regulatory initiatives (Check 21, Sarbannes Oxley, FASB and IAS 30 & Patriot Act,) leading banks and financial institutions to assess closely their position on the compliance scorecard. Banks are now placed in a position where they can reexamine their businesses and operational efficiencies without being unduly worried about bottomline pressures, thanks to some good profits last year.
Going forward, as in every new year, banks will be faced with multiple challenges or imperatives for 2004, some old and some new. We believe that in order to maintain focus banks should identify a manageable number of thrust areas and prioritize them.
We present below what we believe are the 5 most important imperatives that banks need to focus on this year. While these are broad areas in themselves, we have tried to define specific issues in each area that need to be tackled. The approach a bank chooses would emanate from its own growth strategy and experience. Yet there are certain broad facets that will need to be kept in mind. And in discussing each issue, we have tried to provide pointers that can help individual banks draw up their plans.
These 5 imperatives are:
Traditionally business focus, growth (organic or inorganic) and technology spends have been done in a loosely integrated manner that has resulted in sub-optimal situations. Consequently there exist multiple processes and / or systems that support similar functions. For example, a bank may have the same class of customers utilizing multiple products – a retail customer having a savings account, credit cards, mortgages, loans etc – wherein the account opening process and customer data may be duplicated in a variety of these product systems. At the other end of the spectrum, a single product may be utilized by different customer segments; for instance payment services (at a basic level) – account to account transfers over the web, being utilized by both retail and corporate clients, again giving rise to duplication of processes and systems capabilities.
Continuing with such proliferation of processes and systems does not offer any economic rationale. While banks have taken some steps towards rationalizing both, what is required is a bold initiative that goes beyond the enterprise to the next level and addresses the group as a whole. The key drivers for rationalization are:
Pricing pressures, competition from traditional and non traditional players, increased commoditization, a maturing marketplace and the emergence of sophisticated customers demanding personalized services have, over the years, reduced the room for maneuverability in the retail banking space. Customer retention is a key priority, especially since the cost of customer acquisition is many times higher and is constantly on the rise.
Banks have spent billions of dollars on CRM systems over the years. However, it is clear that this alone will not suffice in ensuring that they target the right customer by offering the right service at the right price over a sustained period. Banks need data and information from customer behavior which will enable them to convert a transaction into a relationship at a lower cost and in a profitable manner. Investments in CRM need to be closely coupled with spending on other tools such as data warehousing and data mining. The other key drivers are:
The introduction of a series of new regulations over the past couple of years has posed a new challenge to banks. Prominent amongst these are AML (Anti Money Laundering), SOX (Sarbannes-Oxley Act), IAS 30 and FASB (accounting standards with particular emphasis on accounting for derivatives). Some of these have implications on how profits are determined, while others pose technological challenges in implementation and compliance. Since they are mandatory, theoretically there is no need for any other driver. However, on account of the following factors, banks will need to adopt a holistic approach in their effort to ensure that they are compliant with regulatory requirements:
While Basel 2 appears to be a part of the regulatory compliance imperative, it merits a separate mention on account of its sharp focus on operational risk which is added as a new risk area for minimum capital requirement calculations . While there is no change in how capital for market risk is calculated, a greater degree of sophistication has been introduced in the calculation for credit risk. Banks have been relatively quick in responding to the revised credit risk guidelines, primarily on account of their long experience in managing credit risk.
Operational risk is still at an evolutionary stage and while banks may have been dealing with operational risk events in their businesses, it was probably not in a systematic and comprehensive manner. The current need is to set up an Operational Risk Management (ORM) system that will help banks measure and monitor operational risk events and calculate capital requirement. Implementing the ORM will have a huge impact on the way banks look at their operations. For the ORM, banks will need to determine not only the approach they want to adopt, but also design a new model, define the data requirements and finally put in place mechanisms to collect the data.
The major drivers here are:
The focus on risk management resulting from Basel 2 should eventually lead to the next step: Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). ERM is an integrated approach to risk management. It focuses on all uncertainties / risks facing the organization as a whole. ERM studies the correlation between various risks and attempts to present a single risk indicator for the organization. It will help in managing earnings volatility by examining all factors that have an earnings impact as well as non-traditional risks (e.g. legal / reputation). This will create a common understanding of risk across functions and business units.
The direction set by the Basel Committee through Basel 2 is towards a more comprehensive approach to risk management. Banks need to identify this early and put in place a strategy to implement ERM.
Outsourcing, whether it be of technology or of process, is not new to the financial services industry. The first steps were taken with near-shore outsourcing. This was followed by offshore outsourcing (offshoring) driven primarily by wage arbitrage considerations.
Today, offshoring to countries such as India, the Philippines, South America or Eastern Europe is not just an option anymore. It is a business imperative. Estimates of potential savings are wide and varied depending on the type and value-adding nature of the tasks being outsourced. Other drivers for offshoring are:
CEOs will increasingly have to contend with socio economic concerns and the potential for backlash whether inspired by regulation or otherwise. This is particularly true if issues pertaining to service quality and privacy arise. Banks will have to closely partner with high quality vendors who can demonstrate value, and devise a strategic approach that ensures that processes and service quality are not impacted as a first step and improved as a second.