Seneca, the 1st-century Roman statesman, didn’t believe in luck. For him, what others called luck was when opportunity met preparation. Hopefully there aren’t many bank CEOs relying on luck to get them through their digital transformations. The opportunity in front of them is becoming clearer—to thrive in a more open and competitive banking industry by being customer-centric and agile—but what of the preparation? What does a Future-Ready Bank look like? One big obstacle that banks need to tackle is their cost base; particularly, seeing and understanding “black box” costs and then assigning ownership of them in ways that provide competitive advantage.

Regardless of how committed a management team is to becoming Future-Ready, in the words of Muhammad Ali, “The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”

The black box refers to the complex and opaque costs, functions, processes and activities in banks that are not directly related to any single line of business. Comprising some 65 percent of a bank’s cost base, the complexity, centralisation, disparate data and non-accountability of the black box lands a knockout punch to bank profitability and evolution.

Banks can gain visibility into black box costs by bringing together data from the General Ledger, HR and AP systems, invoices, and other data sources to create a rich dataset that categorises costs in a meaningful way and clarifies cost ownership. It provides management with a front-to-back value chain view of the organisation, costs and headcounts tied directly to business line and revenue base.

Once banks have a clear view on this hefty share of their costs, they can assign responsibility for most, if not all of the cost base. Bank leadership can make such ownership concrete by creating a framework for rewarding managers based on successful cost management. Arguably, clarifying cost ownership represents the greatest shift in improving a bank’s ability to manage itself.

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With visibility in hand and ownership in place, banks are positioned to better re-enact zero-based approaches to get off the traditional ropes and transform to the “new”. They can challenge not only the cost, but also if the activity needs to be done in the first place—informed by actionable, granular-level data analysis on how cost, risk and capital interact, to then purge unwarranted activities.

Though not a new concept, zero-based budgeting is becoming more critical as rates and yield curves rise, compliance costs increase and new agile, digital-native contenders emerge. Rather than being boxed into a cost corner, banks can fundamentally rethink their path to efficiency, better their cost-income ratios and, ultimately, their digital readiness. It requires banks to establish a culture in which visibility, transparency, simplicity and ownership of costs are the goals of the organisation. With the right preparation, banks will be able to make their own luck in a digital future.

To learn more, I invite you to read our report: Get fit | Shining a light into the black box

 

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