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How Banks Make Digital Transformation Work

One of the more consistently insightful observers of the fintech industry, author Chris Skinner, highlighted the rise of central bank digital currencies as one of the more surprising conversations at FinovateEurope this year.

“China’s about to launch one, there’s going to be a digital dollar from the Fed at some point probably,” Skinner said. “And the implications of that on cross border payments and infrastructure was one of the topics that was a little bit off track to me because it hadn’t come up before. So I enjoyed that immensely.”

That said, the man behind theFinanser.com and chair of the Financial Services Club spent the majority of our conversation in Berlin talking the discussions he’s had with leaders in the banking industry who are tackling the challenge of digital transformation head on – and succeeding. These insights are at the core of Skinner’s upcoming book, Doing Digital, to be published in April.

Skinner also shared some insights on banks and their role in digital identity management. He noted Head of OP Lab for Finland’s OP Financial Group Kristian Luoma who pointed out that even in a future in which banks aren’t involved in payments or authentication due to intermediaries like Square and Apple ID, for example, there is still a critical role for banks to play. But banks must be ready to share the ball.

“It’s one of the few times I’ve heard a bank actually stating that in such a clear way, because most banks still think they have to own and control everything,” Skinner observed. “The idea of being just a player in a system – that’s the way we have to think for the future.”

Here are some of the top takeaways from our conversation with Chris Skinner this year at FinovateEurope in Berlin.

On why a “bare-knuckle approach” to the challenge of successful digital transformation is appropriate – if not required

Skinner: Digital transformation is not easy, it’s really hard, it takes years, it involves balancing business-as-usual with business-as-unusual, and it’s something that had to be led by the chief executive and chairperson and cannot be delegated. I find too many banks think that digital (transformation) is a project or a function or a budget that can be delegated. But that’s absconding the reality. The reality is that you have to own it.

On the swim-or-sink approach companies that succeed in digital transformation have adopted to ensure a digital-positive culture

Skinner: The most difficult thing in any transformational project is getting the middle management to buy into the project and participate. And commit. Because often the middle management are the most worried about what’s happening. They think they are going to lose their job or they might lose their part of the organization or they might lose their power. They might lose their people. They might lose their promotion. So they fear change rather than embrace it. And it’s really a case of: how do you bring those people with you?

On the progress some innovative banks are making toward digital transformation.

Skinner: One of (the banks I interviewed for Doing Digital) had a head of ecosystems. It’s the first time I ever met anybody at a bank who’s called the “head of ecosystems.” His pure role was to go out and find appropriate partnerships – in the world of APIs and apps and analytics – on open platforms and bring them in to work with the bank. At the time, they had about ten partnerships, and I think today they’ve more than doubled that number. So there are some banks taking it very seriously.

Watch the full, 10-minute interview on Finovate TV.