There can be little doubt that the digital revolution is changing the game for many industries, amongst them financial services. More particularly, it is bringing to the fore issues around cybersecurity, especially as tech savvy criminals go after financial information, of individuals and companies alike. And yet, at the same time, the role technology has to play in making payments easier is undeniable, as evidenced by the multiple players in the financial services sector that are aiming to crack digital banking.
For a bit of a different perspective on the challenges and opportunities that technology brings to the financial sector, TechSmart Business sat down with Deon Katz, the head of Investec Private Bank.
Katz began by noting that in a business, it is important to periodically reconsider one’s value proposition strategically. He elaborated that for Investec, which has grown from having a couple of thousand clients to now 70 000 over the past 30 years, the question is whether their personalised approach to banking is applicable in a highly technological world.
“I think it is still relevant because everybody is talking about digital. Every day I see another bank, whether one of our competitors, new entrant or incumbent, all spending millions of dollars building what seems to be the perfect digital bank,” he stated.
Humans first, digital second
In fact, for Katz, while technology often brings convenience, it can all too often do so at the expense of interfacing with a human being.
“At the end of the day, when a customer needs something slightly out of the ordinary, is in a potentially perilous situation overseas, or has an urgent business deadline and needs a transaction to be done immediately, I believe that the human touch is more important than ever,” he added.
He acknowledged though that retaining the human interface while simultaneously leveraging technology, is far easier for a company with 70 000 clients than a behemoth servicing seven or eight million.
How then, does retaining a personal touch with clients fit into the rise of data and machine learning? Katz explained that Investec will certainly use its data and the potential that machine learning can bring, but stressed that at the end of the day when a client needs a consultant to talk to, they will be able to depend on a person being there for them. “In fact, we are reinforcing that position in a digital world that seems to be going in the opposite direction because we believe in it more than ever,” he reiterated.
As for globalisation, from a South African perspective he believes that it is playing an increasingly important role, particularly as young professionals are becoming more internationally mobile. However, he adds that Investec’s strategy is to retain a strong position in its jurisdiction, and does not have ambitions to become the biggest bank.
Katz explained that the difficulty with the globalisation of banking, which Investec has witnessed happening with some competitors in the space, is that they end up stuck with massive branch networks, where a lot of those branches end up being extraneous. Additionally, he noted, they further have to contend with hundreds of regulations across multiple jurisdictions, which makes it difficult for them to operate efficiently.
In essence, even as Investec is embracing the world of fintech, its approach appears to be to ensure that it does not do so at the expense of personalisation, while eschewing the contemporary thinking that bigger is better. It is certainly a novel – and welcome – approach in an era where many industries appear to be grappling with remembering that customer service trumps convenience.