I found it interesting to hear that many of the banks focused upon digital are studying, visiting, talking to and hiring people from the Big Tech firms. People with experience at Netflix, Alibaba, Amazon and Tencent are in strong demand, especially those who can code. I always remember the comment from a former senior member of Deutsche Bank’s leadership team, Marcus Schenk, that the ability to code is now becoming as important as the ability to speak English in business, and that statement becomes more and more true all the time.
Interestingly, many of the banks that are committed to digital are getting their bankers on training courses in Python, and they are advertising new jobs with titles of data engineer and data scientist. Meantime, in a reverse play, the Big Tech firms that are trying to get into the low hanging fruit of financial services are hiring bankers. They don’t want them to code, but to explain the dynamics of how credit and payments markets operate, how the profit is made and to assist in designing new hybrid products that allow Big Tech firms to operate financial products with light regulation.
What this tells me is that technology – digital – and finance – banking – is merging. I foretold this would happen in the 1990s, but was way too early off the mark. Some twenty-five years later, it is now coming true. I wonder what will happen in another twenty-five years?
If I was a betting man, which I am sometimes, then I would put a marker firmly down today to say that it will be very difficult to tell the difference between a Big Tech firm and a bank in 2045. Structurally and operationally they will look very similar. Their human resources and management will look the same. Their buildings and offices will be identical. The only difference will be their product and services.
Now that is no wild statement, but a result of the fundamentals of the digital revolution and I could just as easily have said the above about a retailer, entertainments business or any other services focused company. They will all look the same as Big Tech firms, apart from their products and services.
And banks will still be around in twenty-five years. Bear in mind that banking is a heavily regulated industry and you can see why. However, the way in which banks make money, store money and manage money will be completely different. There won’t be any trading desks or branches, there will be far fewer relationship managers and private bankers; and there will be almost no masters of the universe or big swinging dicks*.
Instead, there will be a loosely coupled operation of 1000s of people working in small teams to develop cutting-edge technologies to save, spend and invest. You might say that’s what the whole FinTech bubble has been all about but, as Fin and Tech merges, we will think very differently.
Equally, the follow-on is that management theories and structures have to change substantially to keep up. Just-in-time processing, hierarchical structures, command-control and all the things that worked for the industrial revolution will fail in the digital revolution. What we now need is real-time processing, flattened organisations and coach-counsel management.
Again, a tough ask for a company grounded in the industrial era, but some banks really get this and are getting on with it. Is yours?
* see Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis