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17 March 2022

How the pandemic is reshaping the banking sector

Covid-19 has turbocharged the adoption of cutting-edge technologies across the financial services industry.

By Mark Sweeney

When I moved to London from the US last February, I opened a new bank account for the first time in more than decade. We were in the middle of a lockdown at the time and, as a tech professional, I was curious to see how the process would work. I signed up for an account with HSBC and was asked to join a call via Microsoft Teams. They asked for my passport, social security number and bank statements. While the process took three to four weeks, it was entirely remote; at no point did I step foot in one of HSBC’s branches.

Those who have opened a new account over the last two years will know that this is an increasingly common experience. The pandemic has rapidly accelerated the adoption of digital technologies across the financial service (FS) sector. This has resulted in not just a transformation of the customer experience, but also new ways of working within banks, insurers and other financial institutions.

The sector now develops software and does finance on the side. Goldman Sachs’ senior chairman, Lloyd Blankfein, was among the first banking executives to acknowledge this. “We are a technology firm; we are a platform,” he said in 2017. More than a quarter of Goldman’s employees are programmers or engineers, meaning it has more staff working on technology than Facebook. The investment bank is hardly alone in spending vast sums on emerging technologies. In January, JP Morgan predicted its tech spend would surpass $12bn (£8.95bn) this year.

The surge in tech expenditure has coincided with a fall in the number of bricks and mortar bank branches on UK high streets. As customers move towards online and mobile banking, banks have closed their premises at record rates. Since 2015, 48 per cent of the UK’s bank branches have shut down or been earmarked for closure. However, within those branches that remain, flexible working arrangements are now more common than ever, allowing banks to better adapt to their customers’ needs.

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This marks the beginning of an exciting new era for the financial services industry. One of the fields that excites us most at Citrix is what we call “smart technology”, which encompasses a range of products including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation. It holds huge promise both for the front-end features that improve the customer experience and the back-end services that make organisations more efficient, agile and secure. AI in particular has a major role to play on both fronts, from the natural language processing models that allow our clients to respond to customer queries more quickly, to the risk modelling technologies that identify and prevent fraud.

Beyond specific technologies, we are also witnessing a cultural shift in the way the FS sector develops and deploys products. As a more agile way of developing applications and integrating back-office requirements, DevOps has been popular in software development and manufacturing for several years. However, it has really taken root in the FS sector over the past 12 months. This shift harks back to the fact that banks and other financial services organisations now primarily see themselves as financial tech companies.

The ultimate challenge for FS firms is to deliver a better customer experience, while ensuring that their platforms are secure and adhere to financial regulations. In order to make this a reality, Citrix Workspace offers a secure digital portal that provides access to customer data, applications and workflows. It seamlessly integrates software-as-a-service-based applications with access to the large mainframe systems that have supported banking operations for decades.

This means you no longer need to visit one platform for one application, and another platform for another. Citrix Workspace consolidates technology, secures it with a zero-trust approach and brings it together as a singular experience for the customer. We strive to make it as simple as possible for the employees of banks and financial institutions to do their work, so that they can then provide the right experience to their customers too.

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