The old adage in carpentry is to measure twice and cut once. Scale your project to the size of a skyscraper and 90-degree corners and true horizontal planes are critical to enduring structural integrity. Perfectly plumb steel beams, for example, are what ensure maximum load-bearing capacity and even a slight misalignment can eventually weaken a building. The imposing cathedrals of the Middle Ages with their towers and flying buttresses seem like a monument to human ingenuity, but history books tell us that many of the first attempts to create those magnificent structures came crashing to the ground because the builders didn’t understand how to distribute the forces correctly.

Many bankers are now involved in a grand construction project – to build a digital bank that will withstand the test of time and allow them to be competitive against both other traditional banks and a host of new entrants. In some markets, like the UK, more than half of new revenue growth is being captured by new digital players, so banks’ construction projects are now on a tight timetable.

The evidence is that incumbent banks now need to build quickly and carefully if they are going to harvest the performance benefits of being a truly digital bank.

Those that have made the quickest progress are seeing the benefits. Recent Accenture research showed that digital maturity helps explain the performance gap between industry winners and losers. Those that have built quickly and well are now separating from the rest of the industry, both in terms of operating economics and market valuation. This economic out-performance, in turn, provides them with more raw materials to continue to build.

But, just as the medieval cathedral builders found out, having a vision of something new is very different than being able to build something that lasts hundreds of years. So, in the midst of the building site, it’s important that bank management teams assess whether their new digital bank is square, level and plumb.

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To help with that effort we created a list of 10 key capability criteria—a plumb bob of sorts—that banks can use to both objectively assess their digital maturity and stay focused on the things that matter most.

One key criterion, for example, is having a truly mobile-first distribution model. A traditional-turned-digital bank doesn’t just have a mobile presence through a functional app, it thinks like a mobile bank that benefits from having other channels. It starts its customer engagement strategy with a mobile experience and then integrates other channels—branches, ATMs, call centers, relationship managers and others—as needed, to deliver compelling, multi-channel service. In contrast, if the branch and relationship managers are still seen as the primary customer-engagement channel, then “digital” ends up getting squeezed into an ancillary role to support those channels rather than the other way around. The channel structure across banks may look the same, but in a digital-first bank, the mentality as well as the results are completely different.

Aside from having a mobile-first distribution model, we outlined nine other digital banking traits in our recent report, Are You Really A Digital Bank? I encourage you to self-assess your bank against them to answer whether yours is truly digital or not. The evidence is that incumbent banks now need to build quickly and carefully if they are going to harvest the performance benefits of being a truly digital bank.

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