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“Digital Banking all over the world: banks struggle to improve customer experiences. The quest for personalised digital interactions continues to align with customers' expectations” was the topic of the morning session of the second day of ICT Spring’s FinTech Summit, on September 15th.

The master of ceremonies, Thibault de Barsy, Vice-Chairman & General Manager, Emerging Payments Association EU, welcomed the participants with an observation: “Traditional banks have never been so good” while neobanks show low or negative results, which does not prevent money from flowing into FinTech due to the liquidity available in the market. The key product is still credit but we are seeing its fragmentation from a cultural, regulatory and behavioural perspective.

“Digital Banking globally - it’s not just what you do but how” was the title of the intervention of the first speaker, Isabelle Jenkins, Partner, Head of Financial Services, PwC UK. New digital banks (or neobanks) are now fully established globally and have set a new benchmark of digital service and experience amongst ever-demanding banking customers and markets. “Despite talking about digital for a long time, most legacy financial institutions have had little success in replicating the performance of digital natives”, noticed Jenkins. This limited progress is due to the legacy operations, technology and culture, according to her. On their side, successful digital banks aren’t just about well-designed products and services but about how customer insight drives constant innovation across the organisation. As a conclusion, Jenkins outlined the conditions for success in this new digital banking era: develop the perfect mobile app, large-scale use of biometric data, using the latest AI and data analytics, establish strategic partnerships, invest in sustainable finance and SME solutions.

The organizers then welcomed Prof. Yves Le Traon, Professor in Computer Science - Systems and Software Reliability - Deputy Director of SnT, with a speech about “Building a Data Science Lab in a financial company”. Financial companies are looking for personalized services, business strategy and KPI, risk management and internal processes productivity. To achieve these goals, you need a digital data-driven transformation. In order to do so, you can implement a Data Science Lab, which is not necessarily a permanent structure, using for instance Machine Learning to replace human tasks by automation.  Le Traon described the key steps to build a data science lab. The preparation, where you need to work on concrete use cases thanks to data available. Then you develop use cases in lab and start to accumulate knowledge and improve methodology and intern processes. “After a while, we are entering in a continuous improvement loop where you can deploy and evolve“, Le Traon stated.

Nahil Hanna, Head of Innovation & Startup Ecosystem, Unbound Innovations MENA, then joined the stage to moderate a roundtable about “Banking innovation in the age of digital disruption” with Jason Maude, Chief Technology Advocate, Starling Bank, Vilve Vene, Estonia's serial fintech entrepreneur, CEO and Co-Founder of Modularbank, and Olivier Crespin, Co-Founder & CEO, Zand. A lesson learnt from the Covid crisis is that digitalization needs to move fast, according to all participants.  “You need to innovate but not at the cost of stability and security of the bank. You can’t separate both”, Maude however warned. For Vilve Vene, the Covid crisis has proven the lack of digital channels build by banks: “Steps to move forward are still slow but not changing is the biggest risk.” According to all participants, a shift is needed in the human resources. You have to find a balance between digital and banking, between tech knowledge and banking knowledge to create an agile culture that can bring innovation.

The FinTech Summit continued with a practical case study: “Life insurance as an investment platform”. The round table, moderated by David Liebmann, Head of Distribution & Sales Innovation, Head of French Market, Lombard International Assurance, brought together Eric Bemelmans, Director, Digital Transformation, VERMEG, and Abraham Takom, CIO, Lombard International Assurance. With a diversity of partners and huge amounts of data, Lombard International Assurance needed more automation, according to Abraham Takom: “Business and technology are mutually reliant. We had to take into account all aspects of the business at the same time.” The adaptation to the VERMEG solution was fast and gave quick results. The main challenges were to deal with the legacy of the company with old systems interacting together and the regulation in the highly regulated field of insurance. To provide a digital platform, VERMEG has to adapt to each customer: “Each client has his specificities so we need to tailor what we propose”, stated Bemelmans. For Lombard, using an external provider was a way of not distracting the staff from its core business and staying agile. For Takom and Liebman: “Transformation is part of a long journey on the way to digitalization.”

Live from Lagos, Olusegun Adeniyi, Chief Digital Officer, Wema Bank, then described “The path to financial inclusion: Technology first”. Financial inclusion can be simply defined as the availability and equality of opportunities to access financial services, a process by which individuals and businesses can access appropriate, affordable, and timely financial products and services. According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion adults do not have access to financial services. Technology and digitalization are gradually bridging the gap: “The rapid adoption and evolution of FinTech, digital, and mobile banking is accelerating the rate of financial inclusion by raising efficiency, lowering transaction costs, and expanding outreach to new clients and markets.” With the help of technology, financial inclusion is a key enabler of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) addressing for instance the gender equality gap or providing insurance services to the rural areas, or simply liberating more people from poverty.

Morgan Wirtz, CEO & Co-founder, Rise, then took the stage to tell “The Story behind the launch of Rise”, a neobank for teens. His goal is “to create a financially savvy generation”. Rise was founded in January 2020 and has 15 team members now. First, Wirtz built its vision and strategy by doing research and tests with families, research with psychologists, by becoming an expert of the market and by meeting with other product leaders from the same industry. The product for teens has been built on 4 pillars: spending, saving, investing and caring. Then, he invested in building a strong engineering team. “My role was to find experts, to share the product vision and let them find their ways”, Wiltz said.

The morning session ended with a round table moderated by Ananda Kautz, Head of Innovation, Digital Banking and Payments, ABBL, on the topic “Financial literacy and the next generation” with Morgan Wirtz, CEO & Co-founder, Rise, Joakim Sjöblom (live from Sweden), Co-founder and CEO, Minna Technologies, and Amine Bounjou, Co-Founder & COO, Kard. The two young entrepreneurs Wirtz and Bounjou teamed up together to deplore the lack of financial education of the young generation. “Everyone has to deal with money in their life, you need to know how to manage a bank account, a budget, etc.”, Bounjou stated. But when you talk neobanks and teens, “convenience will trump everything, it is more important than education”, according to Sjöblom. Customers don’t want to use 3 or 4 apps, they want to access to all financial services in one app. On a long-term perspective, collaboration between neobanks and traditional ones is inevitable, according to all participants.

Article by Nicolas Klein, photos Dominique Gaul