Innovation is itself becoming a necessity

By Jon Geary, Head of Technology & Communications

If the financial services world can extract one positive from these difficult and sometimes uncertain days, it is the way people have adapted to the circumstances we find ourselves in, so that services can still be provided to clients to the highest standards which they expect, and which we pride ourselves on.

The greatest support mechanism to this new way of working has come, by and large, through how we have applied technology, and enabled our people to use it in the most effective way possible. Whilst it might have always been envisaged that technology would provide the key, what might not have been realised is that innovative solutions were often already within the reach of most businesses, and did not need to be invented, or even specifically sourced.

Necessity is often said to drive innovation and we have certainly been grateful for the additional advantages of digital technology and the applications associated with it since the global impact of this pandemic turned the working world upside down. However, there has been a further realisation which is that the successful application of innovative measures required firms to have made key strategic decisions at an earlier stage, alongside a commitment to embrace and invest in those new technologies so that the appropriate infrastructure was in place. Without that investment, firms will have been desperately trying to catch up in recent weeks so they could still operate seamlessly and securely.

In the finance sector, and I’m sure this is true of many other sectors, those businesses that have been best able to adapt to change are those that embed innovation at the core of their operating strategy and have been willing to invest time and funds to draw on technical innovations that offer long term benefits. Those that did so now find themselves in a more advanced starting position and are equipped with a framework within which to work more effectively.

We all naturally look forward to the day when we can return to a safer, more traditional working environment. There are still many unknowns about the timing of any return to “normal”, but one thing that I think we all know is that the changes that have been  embraced at work, will lead to a collective step forward in terms of working practices, especially in the use of technology and how it impacts policy, processes, day to day working, and our relationship with clients.  

In the past, for instance, how many firms would have relied on e-mail or phone calls when their teams were split through work demands, with some in the office, others out at meetings, and a further group travelling abroad? Will they still do so in future, or will they turn to Microsoft Teams or a similar, robust, secure cloud based platform, in which to communicate face to face while on the road, allowing all team members to contribute and work collaboratively in the same space, in real time? Similarly, digitalising the way in which we identify, and authenticate, clients has long been a focus of the FinTech community, and the industry is now using a series of simple, elegant, regulator-approved solutions, which is sure to simplify the process for both compliance, and clients, and pave the way for further innovation in this area in the future. Lastly, just as radar, despite being discovered at the end of the 19th Century, only came into widespread use after demonstrating its value during the Second World War, will electronic signatures now become embedded in our operating practices, as a secure, efficient, and sustainable way to transact?

The best equipped financial services firms will have gone further and will have been able to draw on earlier investment in innovative IT solutions to enhance the way they operate during these exceptional times. It is expected that many of these solutions will continue to be used going forward, because they represent a more personal, more efficient, or otherwise better way to do things. It begs the question, therefore, as to whether these solutions were always necessary, in the pursuit of improved performance and client service, but not identified as such until now. By the same token, embedding innovation at the heart of business strategy, and aligning technology with strategic business goals, should now be considered a necessity for most firms in order to remain on the front foot in the new, old world. 

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