The Efma-Accenture Banking Innovation Awards are set to return on November 18th for a virtual celebration of banking’s best and brightest. With a record 816 innovations submitted by 275 institutions in 73 countries, I’m excited to see what this year has in store.

A lot has happened since the 2019 awards—and I know that’s an understatement. People across the world continue to feel the pandemic’s impacts. Organizations are still adapting to new ways of working, and as Accenture’s CEO Julie Sweet highlighted, many had “to accelerate the pivot to digital commerce, by expanding existing offerings and creating new lines of service, like the retailers rallying to provide ‘contactless’ delivery and curb-side pick-up services for consumers.”

Banking saw its own shifts and pivots during this time. I want to take a moment to share some thoughts on what we might expect at November’s awards ceremony. Because as the industry continues to build for the future, I’m watching early innovation trends emerge.  

Some of these trends were highlighted in 2019, such as banking’s focus on purpose-led empathy and sustainability, and we’re witnessing further shifts as we contemplate a post-pandemic world. We’re also seeing other trends, such as workforce transformation and digital acceleration, take on new urgency amid the current circumstances.

Will these be the innovation trends to define banking’s future? They’re worth exploring as we reflect on a year of massive disruption and look ahead to an era of supercharged digital transformation. ‎

1. Empathy  

Empathetic banking is a bank’s ability to sense and respond—appropriately and sincerely—to a customer’s emotional outlook and financial  situation. Innovative banking leaders in this space are leveraging customer data and insights to provide a personalized, human touch. And they’re seeing results. 

In 2019, we saw empathetic banking embraced in Canada, for example, by HSBC’s innovative marketing campaign that turned billboards and bus shelter advertising into makeshift branches, staffed with actual bank employees. This allowed the bank’s personnel to interact in a live setting, demonstrating empathy by responding to customer needs and goals. 

My colleague, Adrien Kirschfink, discusses how this kind of thinking is key to the future of banking, especially as we manage a new normal. “During the post-pandemic recovery, banks that understand their customers will see their market share and customer loyalty increase.”  

Furthermore, Accenture’s Banking on Empathy report shows that “the deepest and longest-lasting impact of COVID-19 for banks will be on credit management. As government relief and stimulus programs start to taper down, banks will be called upon to help more customers under financial strain.” 

Banks in 2021 can no longer afford to simply think about how to engage at a more basic emotional level with their customers; they must be empathetic banks in order to build customer relationships that endure. I’m interested to see which banks are putting empathetic banking at the heart of their innovations. 

2. Sustainability  

As empathetic banking takes on a new urgency, so does sustainability. We’ve heard that sustainability is the new digital and it’s a topic that continues to drive many industry conversations.

We understand banks can benefit significantly by integrating sustainability and positive social impact in their core business activities. Now there are even more factors pushing them to embed sustainability and the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda in all of their business processes. We’re seeing a huge opportunity for banks to play a pivotal role in the global movement toward reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

In previous years, the Efma-Accenture Banking Innovation Awards celebrated sustainability leaders like Barclays Bank and its Green Home Mortgage program that offered home buyers preferential interest rates and savings on energy-efficient new build properties. 

It’s clear that 2018 to 2020 were years of reckoning in banking’s sustainability transformation, as my colleague, Mauro Macchi, points out. But in 2021, he says the pace of change is accelerating. I agree. COVID-19 has supercharged so many transitions, sustainability included. It’s time for banking to take the lead in this critical conversation. The Efma-Accenture Banking Innovation Awards will provide us with a look at who’s leading in sustainability initiatives and offer much-needed inspiration for those who have yet to take the first steps.

3. Workforce 

In nearly every industry, the workforce has witnessed significant change throughout the pandemic. Millions of office workers are still working at home. What does the future hold for banking’s workforce? 

“The pandemic has accelerated the impact of trends and technologies that were already rewriting the rules of banking,” explains my colleague Dr. Bridie Fanning. “Before its outbreak, Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, argued that technologies like the cloud were pushing the world into a new industrial revolution characterized by massive change at extraordinary speed.” Now the workforce needs to master new skills at an intensifying rate.

Is your workforce ready and equipped to take advantage of all that cloud offers? To realize the full benefits of migration, banks not only require a cloud strategy aligned with their long-term business strategy; it’s equally important for them to invest in talent and reevaluate their culture. We’ve gathered evidence that shows that banking’s success in tackling its current and future shortage of talent will, in many ways, impact the pace and overall success of digital acceleration.

What we know: Banks must continue to invest in people throughout the cloud journey. The Efma-Accenture awards will celebrate this focus on people as its Future Workforce category looks at changes to work, the workforce and the employee experience. This includes the use of data, technology and new approaches to how employees are upskilled and supported by machines.  

4. Digital acceleration  

I could not discuss trends for 2021 without including digital acceleration. To quote my colleague, Mike Abbott: The recent push to digital has made it very clear to most banks that they will benefit by moving more of their workloads to the cloud—which includes modernizing their mainframe environment. 

The industry understands that cloud is an essential part of strategy moving forward. We witnessed many examples of the need for cloud in the last year, including virtual call center setups and takedowns along with the creation of digital platforms that could handle immense traffic. Only the cloud could have met the industry’s COVID challenge.

And when it comes to payments, Sulabh Agarwal explains: “The pandemic has supercharged the trend towards contactless, online and instant payments. Contactless payments, for instance, grew 150% from March 2019. And this is just the start.”  

In a year of massive disruption, we saw many banking practices pushed to new levels. I know this year’s Efma-Accenture Banking Innovation Awards will reflect these changes. It will give us so much to consider as we get back on track as an industry. More importantly, it will help us forge new paths forward in a “never normal” world.

Will these four trends underpin much of the innovation we see on November 18th? Time will tell. I encourage you to join me at the virtual event as we continue to make the exceptional visible and celebrate our industry’s spirit of resilience. Register to attend here.  

Join the Efma-Accenture Banking Innovation Awards digital ceremony on November 18, 2021. To learn more, visit our site.
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