In the lead, but heading in the right direction?

Leaders of U.S.-based financial services firms are feeling extraordinarily confident. And all signs suggest they are moving quickly to deliver on their transformation agendas. The big question is whether they are moving in the right direction to compete in the 21st Century marketplace.

Financial services CEOs are feeling bullish. Very bullish, indeed. Consider this: in a recent survey of US financial services CEOs, 98 percent expressed confidence in their company’s growth prospects over the next three years.   

They recognize that their markets and models are being disrupted. But 95 percent see this as more of an opportunity than a threat. In fact, 84 percent seem to feel they are already actively disrupting the sectors in which they operate. Almost nine out of ten CEOs say they are personally prepared to lead their organization through the radical change that is upon them.

Certainly, when compared to their global competitors, US-based financial services firms seem to be ahead on the road to enterprise transformation. According to our data, while they have achieved more than their global counterparts, there is still a small percentage that have achieved ROI from their digital transformation journey. However, encouragingly they have already adopted AI in some of their processes and we expect that number to grow.  They are almost three times as likely to say their technology investments are largely strategic rather than tactical.

Percent of financial services CEOs that say they...



Are confident in their company’s growth prospects over the next 3 years



Are personally prepared to lead their organization through radical transformation



Have already achieved significant ROI on their overall digital transformation program



Have already adopted AI in some of their processes



Believe their technology investments to be largely tactical versus strategic



My concern, however, is that some financial services organizations may be driving headlong towards the wrong destination. A lot can change in the course of three years. And nobody truly knows what customers will want and expect from their financial services firms by then. Agility and flexibility will be key.

My conversations with the CEOs of leading financial services firms suggests there are five things that companies can do to help improve the flexibility of their transformation journey.

  1. Focus on characteristics: Rather than prioritizing the implementation of a specific technology, channel or model, financial services decision-makers should be focused on identifying and developing the characteristics they hope to demonstrate by the end of their transformation journey. This will not only help decision-makers stay focused on what is important to the organization, it will also help employees understand the value and importance of the transformation.
  2. Hire the right people at the right time: The financial services workforce is rapidly changing and many organizations are struggling to find and ‘onboard’ talent with the capabilities required to drive the transformation and run the financial services enterprise of the future. Having the right skills available at the right time is key to achieving flexibility in your transformation plan.
  3. Consider the value of alliances and partnerships: Be realistic about your core competencies as an organization and seek out partnerships and alliances that can deliver the specialized skills and capabilities you require through the transformation journey and beyond. Alliance partners are key to creating flexibility in your organizational capabilities and delivering on customer expectations in a disruptive marketplace.
  4. Fix the foundations: Whether it is out of date organizational structures or inflexible legacy IT infrastructures, many financial services organizations are finding that their traditional operations and technology are increasingly becoming an impediment to growth. Financial services decision-makers will need to swiftly address these challenges if they hope to deliver on their vision for their organization.
  5. Build trust in your data: Our survey shows that few financial services executives fully trust their data; 80 percent admit they have ignored insights from their D&A models because they contradicted their own personal experience. But data and analytics is key to fast and flexible decision-making. Finding ways to improve organizational trust in data and analytics will be critical.

To be clear, I view this year’s CEO Outlook data as a very positive sign that US-based financial services firms are undergoing real and sustainable transformation. The fact that CEOs are highly confident in their strategies and personal skills is encouraging.

But remember – it won’t be the first to finish their transformation journey that will be the winner of tomorrow’s customers but rather the ones that reach the right destination at the right time. Make sure your organization is sprinting in the right direction.

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