Everyone talks about the need for transformation on the consumer side of the banking business, but what about the strategies that underpin global trade and finance: How is Transaction Banking changing to keep up with evolving customer needs and increasing competition?
Ranjana Clark has no doubt that transaction banking is at the front end of a period of massive disruption. As a former executive at PayPal and Western Union, she has spent the past few decades orchestrating and managing market disruption in the payments space.
Today, she is Head of Global Transaction Banking and Head of Transaction Banking Americas at MUFG (one of the world's five largest banks by assets), and Ranjana recognises that she is, once again, staring at the onset of managing a large platform that is ready for change.
“Generally speaking, payments and transactions can represent pain points for clients, and that creates a lot of room for technology-led disruption,” she noted. “Particularly in developing markets – but also here in the US – using money isn't easy. Moving money across borders is also particularly difficult. The whole area is ripe for disruption.”
The size of the prize is also luring in a range of new players. From venture capital (VC) investors to fintech upstarts and tech giants (Facebook's new Libra currency being the most obvious), there is a massive amount of capital pouring into new payments and transaction technologies and companies. The field of competition is getting larger.
Like most banking executives, Ranjana recognises that it is the client that is at the centre of today's digital disruption. Customers – even Corporate Treasurers and CFOs – are starting to demand more efficient and accessible services. And that is influencing the transformation roadmap within Transaction Banking, globally.
“Whether you are talking to consumers or the Head of Treasury, everyone has the same basic needs,” she noted. “They want to save time, save money and stay secure. For corporate clients, that may mean better straight-through processing of payments, or maybe it means more automated and cost-effective cross-border transfers. You really need to start with an understanding of your customers' needs.”
For Ranjana and her Transaction Banking Americas team at MUFG, the approach to transformation is centred on four main pillars.
The first is to create a front-end that is intuitive and easy to use. As Ranjana notes, consumers now expect their banking services to be as easy to use as Amazon or Facebook. And those expectations are bleeding into the world of Corporate Payments.
The second pillar is around open data and open banking. “Right now, markets around the world are moving toward 'open' architecture models. We need to make sure that our transformation initiatives are moving us toward an Open Banking environment which, in turn, will open opportunities for us to serve clients in new and secure ways.”
Similarly, Ranjana's team is continuously exploring how emerging technologies (such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing) might help the organisation achieve its transformation goals faster, more efficiently, and more effectively. “AI may be hugely over-hyped in the market, but it is still the trend that has the longest legs and most value to deliver to the banking sector,” she noted.
The final pillar – or maybe more precisely, foundation – is a flexible and agile core banking system. Like most banks, MUFG is actively working to modernise its core banking systems and infrastructure. Banks want to deliver efficiency and offer the most current capabilities, all while maintaining safety. “Our focus there is to move into the cloud while ensuring the highest levels of security,” Ranjana said.
Right now, markets around the world are moving towards 'open' architecture models. We need to make sure that our transformation initiatives are moving us towards an open banking environment.
Obviously, Transaction Banking is not transforming in a vacuum. All across the MUFG lines of business, transformation teams and business leaders are working together to move the group's strategy forward. Teams are focused on creating a consistent digital channel and a liquidity solution for clients who are looking to do business globally, across multiple platforms, and in different currencies.
“We are running a large technology and digital transformation program within MUFG in the Americas, and a lot of the work we are doing there will influence and support the objectives we have within Transaction Banking. We are continuously looking for opportunities to leverage our experiences from other parts of the business,” Ranjana noted.
In order to help encourage the rapid sharing of ideas, insights, and best practices across the enterprise, the group has also created a network of digital champions. “The focus of that network is to encourage the rapid cross-fertilisation of ideas so that they can be disseminated back into the regions without having to reconstruct all the skills, capabilities, and development that has already happened.”
To ensure that the team is either delivering on new ideas or shelving them, Ranjana's team takes a much more agile approach to transformation. Starting with a specific customer pain point or need in mind, the team rapidly prototypes and iterates a range of solutions and ideas that are then moved back into the business to either shelve or scale.
“We've tried to take some of the core principles of technology investing, and then executed them with an agile approach in order to take them mainstream across our business. We recognise that some of the ideas won't work and that some won't warrant additional investment. But the point is to find that out quickly, and make the right decisions. We need to make sure we are moving fast,” she added.
Ranjana recognises that her group's transformation journey is just getting started. And no matter how fast her team moves, the market will continue to evolve and customer expectations will continue to change.
“We need to remember that money is, increasingly, becoming a digital asset. Where there are pain points and opportunity in the digital world, disruption is sure to follow,” she noted. “Payments is a great use case for technology. It's no surprise it's at the center of today's digital banking transformation.”
Ranjana is the Head of Global Transaction Banking, Head of Transaction Banking Americas, and Bay Area President. Before joining MUFG, Ranjana served as Chief Customer and Marketing Officer at PayPal, and as Global Head of Strategy and President of Global Business Payments at Western Union.