Technology & Innovation; The Future of Banking Conference

I was fortunate enough this week to attend the “Technology & innovation- the future of banking” conference held at the renaissance hotel in Wanchai by FST media.  The conference consisted of about 10 or so booths with a variety of technology companies and a host of speakers, primarily from the banking industry.

As with any conference there were both good and poor presentations, but overall it was a fantastic day.  The main buzzwords for the day were mobile, innovation and customer.  The first 2 are fairly standard at the moment, but it is the latter, “customer” which I think is the most interesting one.  A number of the big APAC banks were showcasing big new products or streams which put the customer front and center, making it as easy as physically possible for a customer to do a transaction with them.  The best example of this was Citibanks funky new double touchscreen ATM which is now in 3 regions and coming to HK; customers can request a loan via their mobile with almost instant approval and take it to from the machine; they can apply and be approved for a credit card at the machine, and the card will be printed and provided there and then.  Lost your bank card? A thumb print is all you need to get a new one.

I think for all the fancy gadgetry, the ability to apply and recieve a credit card in a matter of minutes is going to be a massive winner for them.  People are incredibly impatient and lazy, and will always follow the path of least resistance.  Going to a branch, getting forms, filling them out, posting, waiting 2 weeks is far too long for a generation expecting 24 hour access to a full suite of banking services.

Standard Charter also continues to echo the customer first mantra and showcased a huge sweeping change to their client facing technology. A fully responsive website has been built that looks beautiful on all screens, and a new mobile app which has been designed to be intentionally as simple as possible; Very apple, and very refreshing to see a bank innovate and have a true direction and opinion when it comes to design.

The first speaker panel of the day through up some very interesting insights and quotes that show where the industry is heading. (Quotes may be paraphrased due to my less than sterling memory)

Bring your own device (BYOD) isn’t an optional thing’ it’s here and people expect it.  We have to have it in place. We now have to backtrack and get it working as quickly as we can.” – Ian Rae, head of technology for ANZ bank

“We haven’t done the financials and put a business case together for Byod as its just demanded of us; our competitors use iPads, we look behind the curve. The main benefit of BYOD is staff retention, it’s something people want, and that’s hard to measure”-Micky lo, global head of technology, China, Deutsche Bank.

My personal favourite insights came from Minerva Tantoko, head of client facing finance technology at UBS.  They’ve introduced hackathons (under a corporate name) in the US.  The difference to other banks is that the winning projects get funding.  In her area they’ve just launched a new and strategically important iPhone/ipad app in the US which came from the first hackathon.  That’s a hell of an incentive for staff to participate and a great way to attract talent.  Some of the other banks commented they gave extra annual leave away to the victors.

The other interesting UBS concept is that of “social coding”. Minerva didn’t elaborate more than to say they had Social Coding and anyone anywhere could look at and comment on code.  I’ve followed this up with an ex colleague who’s there and he’s confirmed they’re now using GitHub enterprise.  Very cool indeed.

One of the final speakers of the day was Ian Rae from ANZ.  In a time when other banks are rapidly contract, saving costs and taking the austerity approach to handling the financial crisis, ANZ are investing to win.  They’re rapidly expanding the bank to cover a multitude of new sites in APAC, with a long term view to expanding globally.  They’re “hiring selectively”and putting their technology and innovation to the forefront as they expand (yet again with the “customer first” concept).  It must be a really interesting challenge to expand rapidly, but without being weighed down by the legacy systems of traditional big banks.

Overall, a really interesting and thought provoking day, even if I didn’t win one of the iPad mini draws!