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The digital banking transformation: a 2023 retrospective

The digital banking transformation: a 2023 retrospective
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5 minutes

​​The digital banking transformation in 2023 marked a significant shift in the landscape of the banking and financial services industry. This retrospective outlines key trends and developments that shaped the sector.

Rising rates and product innovation

Banks responded to rising interest rates with innovative product offerings, akin to services like Amazon Prime. This shift indicated a more customer-centric approach in banking services.  With the rise of challenger banks and fintech companies, traditional banks had to adapt and differentiate themselves by offering personalized products and services.

Renaissance of bank branches

Despite the digital push, 2023 saw a renewed focus on physical bank branches, emphasizing the importance of in-person interactions for maintaining strong customer relationships. Banks invested in modernizing their branches, creating a more inviting and customer-friendly experience. Some even experimented with virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to enhance customer service.

Talent and Culture Focus

The industry witnessed increasing demands on leadership to foster the right culture and talent, recognizing these as critical for success and innovation.  Banks focused on creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, investing in employee training and development, and promoting an agile mindset to keep up with the evolving landscape. One trend that emerged was the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify skill gaps and personalize training programs for employees.

Emergence of new risks

Banks that shifted focus from collections to helping customers solve problems, especially in the face of emerging risks, gained a competitive edge. Cybersecurity and data privacy continued to be top concerns, with banks investing heavily in advanced technologies and partnerships to mitigate these risks. Other emerging risks included climate change and its potential impact on loan portfolios, as well as geopolitical tensions and their effect on international business operations.

Data as a product

Treating data as a product, banks started to transform the foundational aspects of banking, leveraging data for enhanced customer experiences and operational efficiency. This trend saw banks partnering with fintechs, technology giants, and other non-traditional players to develop new data-driven products and services. For example, some banks started offering Open Banking APIs or collaborating with third-party providers to offer personalized financial management tools.

Fintechs as enablers

Incumbent banks began to reassert dominance by incorporating fintech-like services at reasonable costs, shifting from viewing fintechs as disruptors to enablers. This trend saw banks adopting fintech-inspired practices such as agile methodologies and DevOps, enhancing their digital capabilities, and reimagining their customer experiences. Collaboration with fintechs also allowed banks to leverage advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve credit underwriting processes and enhance risk management.

Sustainability Initiatives

Banks faced increasing pressure to address climate change, with a focus on achieving net-zero goals and consensus-building in sustainability efforts. 

Financial services organizations were seen as crucial in bridging the funding gap for climate hardtech, with a substantial increase in private investment needed to combat global warming. 

Banks have started to incorporate sustainability into their core business strategies, with some offering green financing solutions and investing in renewable energy projects. This trend is expected to continue to grow as consumers become more environmentally conscious and demand ethical and sustainable financial services.

Customer Well-being Focus

Banks moved beyond customer journeys to address holistic customer well-being, in response to the rise of Big Tech and super-apps. 

Banks focused on creating personalized and seamless digital experiences, leveraging data analytics and AI to understand customer needs and offer tailored financial solutions. This shift towards a customer-centric approach not only improved customer satisfaction but also allowed banks to differentiate themselves in a competitive market.

Core modernization

Tech modernization became a continuous process, with 2023 being a pivotal year for the start of core modernization in banking.  

Banks invested in cloud-based platforms, open APIs, and microservices architecture to increase agility and improve customer experiences. They also adopted DevOps practices to accelerate software delivery and reduce time-to-market for new products and services. This modernization helped banks keep up with the evolving digital landscape and stay ahead of competitors.

Generative AI Boosting Productivity

Generative AI was predicted to significantly enhance productivity in the investment banking sector, with a potential increase in front-office productivity and revenue. This technology can automate repetitive tasks, freeing up time for employees to focus on more complex and value-added activities. As a result, banks saw an improvement in efficiency and profitability.

Carbon Credit Offset Financing

There was a growing demand for carbon credit offset financing, with banks playing a key role in developing the necessary infrastructure for this emerging market. Banks started offering carbon credit offset financing to help businesses achieve their sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint. This provided banks with a new revenue stream while also promoting sustainable practices.

Challenges from Synthetic Identity Fraud

The rise in synthetic identity fraud prompted the need for more sophisticated biometric security systems in banking. Synthetic identity fraud involves creating fake identities using a combination of real and fabricated information, making it difficult for traditional fraud detection methods to identify. Banks had to invest in advanced biometric technologies such as facial recognition and fingerprint scanning to combat this type of fraud.

Challenges from Higher Deposit Costs

Elevated costs of interest-bearing deposits were expected to challenge bank profitability in the medium term. As interest rates remained low, banks had to pay higher costs for deposits, which affected their net interest margins. This put pressure on banks to find new ways of generating revenue and controlling costs.

Real-time B2B Payments Growth

There was an expectation for a significant rise in real-time payments in the business-to-business sector, potentially revolutionizing the way businesses transact.  This was driven by the increasing demand for faster and more efficient payment solutions. Businesses were moving towards real-time payments to improve cash flow, reduce costs, and enhance transparency in their transactions.

Rise of Embedded Insurance

The concept of embedded insurance within financial products continued to expand, though its full potential might unfold over the decade.  With embedded insurance, various financial products such as loans and credit cards are bundled with insurance coverage, providing a seamless experience for customers. This trend was expected to gain momentum as it offered convenience and cost savings for both customers and providers.

Investment in Quantum Computing

The financial services industry anticipated a substantial increase in spending on quantum computing capabilities, with significant growth projected over the next decade. Quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize financial services, with its ability to perform complex calculations at lightning-fast speed. This could lead to improvements in risk management, fraud detection, and portfolio optimization.

Use of Alternative Data in Investment Management

There was significant growth in the use of alternative data sources by investment management firms, diversifying the types of data used for financial decision-making. These alternative sources included sentiment analysis, web scraping, and geospatial data, providing insights beyond traditional financial metrics. This trend was expected to continue as investment managers sought to gain a competitive advantage through data-driven strategies.

Artificial Intelligence in Asset Management

Artificial intelligence (AI) was already being used in various applications within the financial services industry, and its potential for asset management continued to grow. AI could enhance portfolio optimization, risk management, and trading strategies through machine learning algorithms that adapt to changing market conditions. This trend is expected to continue as asset managers sought ways to improve efficiency.

The bottom line

These developments reflect a transformative year for the banking and financial services industry, characterized by a blend of technological innovation, a focus on sustainability, and evolving customer needs.

As we move forward, it is important for financial institutions to stay ahead of these trends and embrace them to remain competitive in an ever-evolving market. Embracing technology, sustainability, and customer-centric strategies will be key to thriving in this new landscape.

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Gitit Greenberg
Gitit Greenberg

Gitit Greenberg is VP Marketing at EasySend. Gitit is a marketing leader with a demonstrated history of working in the internet industry. Skilled in B2B marketing, analytical skills, market research, management, teamwork, messaging, and startups, Gitit is responsible for EasySend's branding and messaging.