As head of innovation, I’m often asking management teams to consider and pre-emptively respond to disruption. I encourage colleagues to adopt new ways of working. I introduce digital tools and capabilities to break existing silos and drive collaboration. I look for ways to leverage the accelerating rate of technological change to not only make our business more efficient, but more importantly to better serve our customers. And I’m constantly asking for this to be done at pace.

In a few short weeks, Covid-19 managed to do all of this.

While there is no questioning the negative effects of this pandemic, for innovation teams, it is likely viewed with optimism — like a catalyst forwarding our efforts, an acceleration towards the digital future that many of us were envisioning and planning for, but that not everyone could accept. With the global scale of these events and the impact across every area of financial services, complacency or hesitancy is no longer an option. This crisis, as others before it, has served as a reminder that change and uncertainty are realities that can’t be avoided and which are ignored at a company’s risk.

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In times like these, it’s important to focus on the positives and, indeed, the opportunities to uncover among the stark realities.

Three of those positive outcomes I’m seeing are:

Renewed Purpose

Trust and collaboration are essential to innovation and, in these times of distress, it’s been gratifying to witness the coming together of teams, organisations and communities under common goals, to support clients and to support each other.

Faster pace

We’ve now seen how quickly teams are able to stand up and roll-out new capabilities, even across large organisations, at record speed. The need to rapidly adjust to working remotely and to respond to urgent change also worked to strengthen collective confidence around the organisational ability to change at pace.

It also highlighted the overwhelming benefits of such transformation, while maintaining the security and risk management, which is naturally the utmost priority at all times. We’ve proved the art of the possible in terms of productivity and connectivity and prompted a mind-set shift at scale. This ability to enable rapid decision-making and delivery will now be further cemented across the organisational DNA.

Digital communication

These unprecedented times are driving increased awareness and adoption of technology, both for colleagues as well as customers.

Digital communications have become a key focus area during this crisis. This includes secure instant message integrations with popular chat tools to the web and video conferencing we’ve all become intimately familiar with during this time.

As one example, on March 31st, as part of our partnership with AllBright, a network and community for female founders, we hosted our first ever Virtual Pitch Day. Typically, these are held on a monthly basis in AllBright’s physical clubs, but the teams quickly adopted a new strategy and the community came together online, with over 90 participants joining to support female entrepreneurs. The participation levels demonstrate how technology, even in challenging circumstances, can unlock opportunities and provide increased connectivity, scale and, ultimately, impact.

“Digital communication is now front and centre for everyone, including regulators.”

Going forward to a post-pandemic world, there is no doubt that digital communications will remain front and centre. In financial services, integrated communications technology tools will provide banking clients with the ability to connect to advisors wherever they are in the world. These digital interactions will soon flow seamlessly across channels, powered by increasingly sophisticated analytics.

This is a transformation that was already underway but was dramatically accelerated by the crisis. The rapid shift from in-person to virtual meant that the potential of these technologies is now front of mind for everyone.

In financial services, this also includes regulators and policymakers who may also need to adapt their frameworks to respond to this change, address new potential risks and ensure market integrity. We have been working very closely with them to ensure compliance and the meeting of regulatory obligations throughout. Covid-19 has catalysed digital operations and communications into a societal norm and it’s been fantastic to see how our teams and the industry as a whole has responded rapidly and resiliently.

Data science will also continue to grow in importance. Integrated with digital communications, for example, it enables personalisation of content and offers for clients. It also provides valuable insights for relationship managers, such as optimal frequency and nature of client outreach, active prediction of client requirements or potential attrition and outcomes tracking from individuals to business areas.

While responding to the urgent needs of the crisis, we must support the organisation in understanding where this represents a larger shift. Innovation leaders should take this opportunity to identify longer-term trends and advocate for continuous investment in innovation.

A window of opportunity

Because we’ve been pulled completely out of status quo, we now have an exciting window of opportunity, during which it is accepted that we can explore new ways of doing things. Teams should leverage this momentum of change to explore and embed innovation throughout the organisation.

“Changing processes doesn’t need to carry a big price tag.”

Changing processes and principles doesn’t necessarily need to carry a big initial price tag but can create a lasting ripple effect. Seek out collaborators, both internal and external, and start small to prove out concepts on a minimal budget while building towards the longer-term goals.

While the coming months won’t be easy, this represents a unique opportunity for innovation teams and for financial services organisations as a whole. Supporting clients and communities through this crisis has shown how, when reminded of our purpose, we can quickly organise, build and adapt. As we propel even further into digitally-enabled service models, this is a muscle we need to keep flexing.

 

Diana Biggs is head of innovation at HSBC’s global private banking arm.

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