Technology in the financial sector: How to rise above the competition

By Richard Harpur

Established financial sector firms recognize the crisis they’re facing: disruption from fintech competitor. To maintain market share, many of them have already established offensive strategies. Others have acquired or aligned with newer fintech organizations.

And while some of the predictions around the depletion of established financial services organizations may not have fully materialised by 2020, there is still a forceful movement in train—and it’s gaining momentum. Innovative fintech firms are noticeably eroding higher margin aspects of foreign exchange services and are now also deeply entrenched in the lower value transaction space.

What if this disruption is the “support act” and the “main act” for financial services disruption is yet to come? According to the World Economic Forum, the largest competitors for financial firms are large technology companies. For example, look at Apple Pay®—a service launched not by a financial sector firm, but instead by a technology giant. Established financial sector firms will face a certain crisis if they don't have a plan to navigate inevitable industry change. So, how do established financial firms compete and survive with competition on all sides? 


The problem

A large challenge facing established financial firms is their inherent inability to move quickly. Many financial sector organizations have stringent regulations and compliance requirements, and 'breaking things' is unacceptable. These companies can ride the next wave of growth successfully, but they must learn to move faster. The following strategies can help. 


The solutions

Organizational focus on growth products and services
In his book Escape Velocity, Geoffrey Moore presents a model for understanding where an organization is within a lifecycle. Starting with emerging products and services, these evolve into a growth phase. After a period of growth, the products and services enter a mature phase where they can remain for a considerable period. Ultimately, all products and services decline in the long term.

The challenge for established financial sector firms is the amount of resources allocated to the products and services in the mature phase. Prioritizing products and services in this phase is common, because short term financial objectives are achieved, shareholder expectations are met and markets provide approval. But this approach can starve the growth products and services to a point where they don't mature. Organizations must classify, prioritize and nurture products and services in the growth phase.

Financial firms can be highly competitive if they learn to transform how they view technology and emerging markets. Innovation from within comes from being unconstrained by legacy technology, establishing ways to quickly adopt new ideas and driving expansion in untraditional regions. 

Think like a tech company
The goal here is not to adopt the perspective of Amazon or Google, but rather to allow technology to drive business strategy. Examine at a greater level how technology can help the customer and think first about new technology; consider legacy technologies only as a second priority. 

Be a fast follower
Understand and accept that an established firm may not always be the inventors of new, innovative ideas. However, they can (and must) arrange their resources to move quickly once they see an idea gaining traction in the market.

See potential in other regions
Hidden potential for innovation may exist in overseas markets as regulation isn't consistent across different regions. Just because a firm sees slow take up of a product or service in one territory, it doesn't mean the product or service won't be successful in other territories. 

Getting the right team
A team driven by the possibility and opportunity in change, looks very different from a team driven by compliance and tradition. When leaders encourage their team members to embrace change, the characteristics of the team are fundamentally altered. Those characteristics look like this: 

  • Hungry innovators that have a desire to create something new
  • Success measured by the level of adoption and not the level of initial revenue
  • Driven by intense learning and training
  • See personal goals aligned with the day-to-day mission

The financial sector is undoubtedly facing an uncertain future, but established finance firms can capitalize on change by establishing new standards of agility. Leadership must look deep into organizational structure and identify what's making them less competitive. Innovation must be fostered, so teams have the freedom to uncover new opportunities. And finally, talent must be encouraged to tackle new priorities that are evaluated not by revenue, but by adoption. 

To see these agility strategies in action, check out the on-demand webinar on technology in the financial sector.

About the author

Richard Harpur is a highly experienced technology leader with a remarkable career ranging from software development, project management through to C-level roles as CEO, CIO, and CISO. Richard is highly rated and ranked in Ireland's top 100 CIOs. As an author for Pluralsight - a leader in online training for technology professionals - Richard's courses are highly-rated in the Pluralsight library and focus on teaching critical skills in cybersecurity including ISO27001 and Ransomware. As a Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) Richard is ideally positioned and passionate about sharing his extensive knowledge and experience to empower others to be successful. Richard also writes extensively on technology and security leadership and regularly speaks at conferences. When he is not writing for his blog Richard enjoys hiking with his wife and 4 children in County Kerry, the tourist capital of Ireland. You can reach Richard on twitter @rharpur.