The New Normal? Three big questions to ask today.

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The New Normal? Three big questions to ask today.

We are currently living in an extraordinary time in modern history. What will emerge from this time, what will the, “New Normal’, be? What are the three key questions we need to be asking today as technology and business leaders in banking (or indeed any business)?

Let’s set the scene.

The last time the world was challenged by a natural phenomenon of this scale was the Spanish flu in 1918. A disease that rapidly travelled the world taking upwards of 50 million lives. Long before our personal and corporate memories, truly a different time.

In our business lives the most recent seismic shift was the collapse of the fundamentals of the banking system in 2008.

Whilst the initial impact in 2008 seemed unfathomable, and at the time it seemed never ending, with hindsight the actions taken by various Governments stabilised the global banking system relatively quickly.

The current situation has quite a different profile. The stay at home, shelter in place advice has the vast majority of our colleagues working from home. A great many businesses have been shuttered for the duration and economic activity has fallen off a cliff. At the time of writing almost half of the UK working population is being directly funded by the Government.

The impact of all of this is being deeply felt right across many areas of economic activity, a series of chronic pains rather than a single deep wound in one sector.

Of course, some sectors have seen an explosion in business as the food supply chain has shifted from a mix of restaurant, takeaway, catered and supermarket to be almost entirely supermarket based. Businesses with a strong online presence have seen sales explode.

One of the biggest shifts since 2008 is how we do business. In 2008 6% of retail sales were online, this had risen to 19% by the end of 2019. How high will it be today?

Remarkably, it was only in 2007 that iPhone transformed the form factor of the smartphone heralding a massive shift to touch screen based smart devices. In the same period, regular Facebook users have grown from 100 million in 2008 to 2.6 billion today.

We live in an interactive world dominated by apps and social media interactions.

In that same period banks have created new digital services and interaction tools although these are more often adjuncts to the same, underlying legacy services and technologies.

New ‘digital’ challenger banks have entered the market, although the bulk of economic activity remains with the more familiar high street banks.

What is it that happens next?

The only thing that guarantees that you will not be personally impacted by Covid-19 is never to come into contact with it. As there are currently no truly impactful therapeutic or preventative measures against Covid-19 the only viable strategy is social distancing and isolation.

The one question on everyone’s minds now is, how long will we be in this state?

Currently there is no easy exit strategy. It could be to the end of the year, it could be three years, it could be finding a way to live with Covid-19 forever. This leads to be big questions for us as technology and business leaders.

The first big question to be answered is, can we successfully run our businesses working from home?

Relatively early on, Jes Staley, the CEO of Barclays said the bank was actively looking at de-centralised working, “I think the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past, and we will find ways to operate with more distancing over a much longer period of time”.

Jack Dorsey of Twitter announced in a company-wide email that if your job allowed you to work from home then there was no need ever to come back to the office.

In India, IT Staff working in usually highly secure, centralised Offshore Development Centres are now working from home.

The answer is clearly yes, and initial mechanisms have been put in place to make it happen in the short term. What has to happen to enable this with ease and ensure quality, productivity and security in the long term?

The second big question is what is happening with our customers?

Across many sectors, customer uncertainty has led to a huge increase in interaction at a time when our ability to service that interaction has fallen away.

As time goes by there will be a different challenge emerging. With economic activity running at 5 or even 10% below what we have been used to, there will be an increasingly difficult questions to be asked in terms of the affordability of providing a quality service to customers.

Over the past ten years, as we have seen, most sectors have undergone some form of digital transformation. One dimension of that has been automation. There are multiple case studies in the banking sector on the use of chatbots to provide, or even increase customer engagement.

Will the equation of greater need at a time of lowered economic activity accelerate the shift to increased process automation from RPA at the most tactical level, to fully automated processes and interactions at the other? When will we make those difficult decisions on automation, will we be left with a choice given the current circumstances?

The last big question today is how do I squeeze more blood from the stone?

There are so many questions that we could look at, but one of the most common question across almost every business sector is how can I cut my overheads this year?

Is it possible that when looking at the legacy estate that more cost can be driven out? As banks have focused on the digital transformation efforts, one area of cost that has typically risen rather than fallen away is the cost of the legacy estate underpinning the core banking services.

Can an end-to-end review of costs squeeze out more value? Is it possible to re-platform to a cloud-based solution and create value this year? Can the gains of optimisation be realised this financial year? What is my optimisation agenda for the technology estate whilst maintaining essential services?


There are so many questions to be answered in the current extraordinary situation. We are at the end of the beginning of something that could be impacting the very basis of our economic activity for years to come. These are three questions we should be asking in the short term.

Can we continue to provide services of the right quality and efficiency with the assurance of security?

How much do we accelerate the level of process and interaction automation?

How much more can we squeeze out in optimising the legacy estate?

Do these resonate? What are the big questions you are asking in your organisation?

[Photo courtesy of  Glenn Carstens-Peters at Unsplash]