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Are you really ‘doing digital’?

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I’m regularly asked why I don’t think banks are doing digital yet, and my answer consists of a series of steps.

First, does the banks’ leadership team talk about digital, digital banking, digital investment and digital transformation?

Invariably, all bank people tell me yes.

OK, second, has the bank actually made any visible changes to be digital?

Invariably, most bank folks say yes, and point to bank branch closures and the roll out of their mobile app.

Right, third, that is not digital. That is cost-cutting and maintaining parity. Branch closures and mobile apps are pure hygiene factors. Basics. What I meant by digital is whether the bank is rebuilding the bank from the ground-up to be truly digital.

At this point, I usually get a puzzled expression and then, what do you mean Chris?

What I mean is that the bank is running, and has a high level of systems already in play. Those systems are being maintained but, in the meantime, you have a whole new opportunity to launch a cloud-based, designer-led, customer-focused, user-focused bank with all the latest tech from open markets using APIs. This bank has a clean data architecture and is leveraged to the hilt to be more competitive with the likes of Amazon and Alibaba than with Barclays and BNP. Have you done that?

Well, I’m not sure that we need to really change the bank that much, do we?

I think you do. So, here’s my fourth point. Your leadership team talk about digital, but how do they talk about it? Do they talk about it as a major business change program to reinvent the bank or do they talk about it as a project or number of projects which are being led by Chief Digital Officers?

Many avoid replying to this question as they think it’s a trap … which it is. You see if the answer is the latter then the bank is not going through a transformation. It is just cost cutting services and getting customers to self-serve more. The former is the critical requirement: does the leadership team walk-the-walk, as well as doing the talk-the-talk?

If the discussion falters here, I then follow up with my final sucker punch: has the Chairman and CEO appointed digital people to the leadership team? How many digital people report to the CEO direct? Who are they and where did they come from? What have they done to prove themselves to be digital capable?

I feel mean at this point as the banker is usually starting to get a shaky lower lip and looking at me rather upset. I’m sorry, I then say, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m just a digital guy.

But it is the case that when I take the pulse of the majority of banks doing digital, they are doing stuff that is digitally-related but it is often missing the mark. They are doing apps and redeveloping services, but they’re not really committed to transformation or to really reinvent the bank for the 21st century to compete with Amazon and Alibaba.

And the only reason I blather on and on and on about this stuff is that yes, the clock is at three minutes to midnight for banks to digitally transform. If your leadership team are still sleeping, then unfortunately they’ll sleepwalk the bank into oblivion so …


Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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