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Levelling the playing fields in banking

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We live in a fast paced and dynamically changing world, driven in large part by the disruptive wave of digital transformation and its ripple effect across industry.
“Financial services is no exception,” says Astrid Stolbrink, DBS head of financial service at SAP Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), with the world’s financial services industry, and banking in particular, currently facing a critical shift.
“Requirements are changing,” says Stolbrink. Today’s banking consumer demands instant service, with 24/7 availability via a channel of their choice. Recent years have also seen a host of new market entrants, all able to offer consumers a variety of banking and financial services, with PayPal and its ease of intercontinental money transfers a prime example.
“To survive in this changing environment, banking institutions needs to evolve,” stresses Stolbrink. “Banks need to be faster and more dynamic, with as deep and complete an understanding of its customers as possible and the ability to respond instantly.”
Heralded as the fastest growing product ever in SAP history, SAP S/4HANA has been developed with these exact challenges in mind. Built on the SAP HANA platform (SAP’s in-memory column store business platform), it is providing immediate insight, intelligence beyond automation and complete integration between organisational divisions and the world at large, including third party financial technology (FinTech) providers. S4B offers on top of the S/4 HANA capabilities a preconfigured Core Banking Solution that can be deployed either in the cloud or on premise.
“With an 80% reduction in time to market for real-time core banking capability, speed and simplicity is critical,” stresses Stolbrink. S4B is fast proving itself not only as the most cost-effective way to operate a bank but the simplest as well, and all with real-time capability. By making SAP affordable to a whole new customer group it is levelling the playing fields, providing both smaller and greenfield banking institutions with the opportunity to compete in today’s digitally evolving marketplace.
“The software underlying S4B is SAP’s most mature banking software,” continues Stolbrink. By keeping the backend as simple and straightforward as possible, with minimal ‘bells and whistles’, it provides for as fast and dynamic an offering as possible.  However, its frontend customer interface can still cater for a full omni-channel experience allowing today’s consumer to interact and engage via their platform of choice from online, desktop or mobile device through to telephone or bricks and mortar – a requirement fast becoming non-negotiable.
“This is of particular significance in the African market,” continues Stolbrink. Whilst a huge percentage of Africans don’t actually have bank accounts, the proliferation of smartphones is well known. “The SAP Banking offering is perfect for mobile transactions.
“It also allows banking institutions to understand its customers in real-time and react appropriately,” continues Stolbrink. Take, for example, a customer whose bank account receives a large cash injection. Typically, a bank would want to respond immediately by contacting the individual with either financial advice or relevant investment products.
“S4B builds the basis for exactly this,” says Stolbrink. “Further, it negates the need for batch processing.” The late or delayed processing of information and customer transactions, batch processing has long been a problem area for banking institutions worldwide. “SAP S/4HANA’s real-time capability completely removes this.”
But as significant, is the way in which S4B is changing how SAP engages with its customers. “As a preconfigured solution, it is about so much more than software,” enthuses Stolbrink. SAP is tailoring its approach to meet individual customer needs whilst co-innovating every step of the way, with its rapid speed of deployment revolutionising what has traditionally been long and time consuming. This, in turn, is providing the smaller banking institutions with huge competitive advantage.
“It’s difficult, if not almost impossible, for larger banking institutions with complex and sometimes quite old legacy systems to change its technology infrastructure,” says Stolbrink. She cites a recent example in Brazil where new legal requirements forced all banks to comply with updated regulations regarding customers with US Dollar bank accounts. “Our customer was able to adapt its system in only three days, enabling it to meet the new requirements, thereby winning the majority of US Dollar bank account business.”
In addition to its ability to respond dynamically to changing market conditions, S4B also enables customers to make their decisions for a software change faster. “Smaller investments and faster implementations are upping the competitive capability of our customers, providing a much faster time to market from initial vendor engagement.”
The same is holding true in the local marketplace. A leading South African greenfield services provider, whose offering includes a financial component, could see S4B deployed and configured to the existing standard in as little as one year. SAP’s partnership approach will see it initially running the system allowing the provider to transition whilst adding additional functionality along the way. “It is important to note that we have configured the system based on existing installations we have done before, allowing for rapid deployment whilst then customising and configuring in line with each individual customer’s specific requirements.”
Citing South Africa as a highly innovative marketplace, Stolbrink is in no doubt as to the readiness of local industry. “Whilst perhaps not as much money available as international markets, one only has to look at the current mobile technology for banking as proof of its innovation, rendering South Africa, and Africa in general, as ideal for both co-innovation and the resulting opportunity provided.
“In 20 years, banking will look completely different to how it looks today,” adds Stolbrink. “SAP is committed to working with our customers, across both banking and broader financial services, to help secure its place in the evolving economy.”