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Core Revival - How Financial Services companies can build unbounded

How Banks and other FIs can accelerate digital transformation and profits in 10 weeks, without changing their legacy systems in a rush.

Insights from working with Erste Group, OMV, Banca Transilvania and IBM.

Digital transformation is sweeping across financial services

Talk to any banking executive and ask them how they see their industry changing. They are going to mention their customers, a new host of competitors coming from tech industries, and rising technology and development costs. And probably, an inability to catch up fast enough.

Customers have high standards

Today’s customers are skeptical, digitally native, and have bigger expectations from their providers. They have been educated to expect amazing apps, personalized services, available fast since nowadays average customer attention is just 8 seconds. And, sadly, the average customer NPS score in financial services is just 32.

Competition is changing

Big tech and challenger banks have secured a foothold in the market and they are carving out new segments and dominating them at speed. Because they are able to understand better what customers want, deliver on those needs, all at a lower cost and faster.

Consider that the average release cycle in banking is 200-400 days. While Revolut’s is just 7 days. Or take the UK market: HSBC UK has the same amount of customers as Revolut has. And Monzo is adding 18 new customers for every one they are losing.

Clearly, there is something going on in the world of financial services.

Legacy tech costs are mounting

For incumbent FIs, the costs of maintaining legacy infrastructure with new layers of tech on top of it and spaghetti code masquerading as integrations are no longer sustainable.

Consider that: 

  • The top 100 banks have spent more than $1 trillion on digital transformation in the past 3 years, but the majority has not led to revenue growth.
  • Also, it’s not just about the money: large investments in tech see small returns. The largest banks spend almost as much on tech as big tech players but do not see the same revenue growth.

So despite throwing money at the problem, customers aren’t better off.

A new path for winners

It seems legacy tech is a bottleneck to serving banking customers better and faster. But what are FI’s to do? Ripping and replacing existing systems puts the entire business at risk, not to mention, toppling entire careers. And even if the boards sanctioned such a move, it would be a 3-4 year change project, while customers switch banks or enroll with fintechs at break-neck speed.

It seems it’s a case of building the plane while flying it: delivering great digital experiences and applications now, while making sure you’re also on a safe path to revive your core.

At FLOWX.AI we believe (and see it in action too with a few of our customers) there is a way - maybe the only way - to grow at speed and without risk. We believe there is a way to transform old, analog processes into digital experiences for your customers, employees and partners. We also believe that your core legacy stack can be revived to support these experiences and then gradually changed to prepare your architecture for tomorrow’s technologies.

That’s where Core Revival comes into play.

What is Core Revival

Core Revival is a model adapted by FLOWX.AI to explain how you can accelerate your digital transformation while making sure your core tech layer is enhanced and then rationalized as you see fit. Without business risk, technical risk and financial risk.

It requires a new paradigm in terms of architecture and custom software development. It requires an agile delivery methodology, but fewer resources and fewer IT skills compared to traditional methods. It requires businesses to be aligned with IT. But it delivers amazing digital apps in 10 weeks, on-the-fly changes, instant app updates, and incredible ROI.

And most importantly, this framework empowers your entire organization to create, transforming employees into citizen-developers, thus spurring on a crucial organizational culture change. So we’re not only talking about a new tech layer but generating a new innovation layer.

How it works

Core Revival is a framework that delivers digital transformation now. And that revives your core technologies at your own pace. With it, you’re not just fixing a “hair on fire” digital problem, you’re also laying the groundwork to update your legacy stack. You’re not just applying a band aid and ignoring the wound. You do both.

Solve for now, build for the future.

From our experience, we see it being delivered in 3 steps. How fast you want to move between those steps is up to you:

  1. Stage 1: Enable the business to deliver digital capabilities fast
  2. Stage 2: Rationalize the back-end
  3. Stage 3: Decouple the old, integrate the new

The 3 steps to Core Revival

First things first, you have to take care of your customers and employees. Because if they are not happy and satisfied right now, they will walk away fast. And that hurts your bottom line and any resources you’ve earmarked for digital transformation.

Stage 1: Enable the business to deliver digital capabilities fast

Stage 1, therefore, is about enabling the business and clients with digital capabilities fast. For example, you might want to launch a digital onboarding flow or a lending flow. You can do this by integrating your legacy stack with a mix of the newest technologies: event streams (the Engine), BPM automation, low-code/no-code capabilities, AI, and UX/UI generation without having to change anything from the legacy.

1-1

Once you have it in place - which means that integrations are made with all your legacy systems, you can start building digital journeys fast and deliver them in just 10 weeks. 

How can you achieve this incredible timeframe? By making the most of the business people, not just pressuring IT. Business people can become citizen developers and create their own apps, with minimal support from IT. So you free your IT to focus on more important things.

One FI we’re working with chose to launch as a first project an onboarding and origination application to be used by its branch employees. The employees were unhappy and the attrition rate was extremely high due to the 20 applications and hour-long onboarding process, with an annoyed customer sitting in front of their desk. With FLOWX.AI, in a matter of weeks, the employees went from multiple legacy apps and a 45-minute onboarding process to just 1 app and a 5-minute onboarding time. 

Stage 2: Rationalize the back-end

Stage 2 of Core Revival comes after you’ve dealt with some critical digital journeys your customers or employees require. We recommend this approach because first, you have to deal with the fires. Customer fires that hurt your profit and employee fires that hurt your recruitment and retention efforts. Good digital journeys have the power to increase profits immediately through better conversion rates, lower operational expenses, higher upsell rates and lower employee attrition.

In stage 2 - you start rationalizing the back-end. 

Why do you need to do that? Because keeping complexity in place will never help you achieve your goals.

Traditionally, FIs were organized around channels - so each channel be it branch, call center, or web used to have its own full-stack or semi-full stack systems. Or, over time, banks built extra functionality around their core banking system - like CRM, front-ends for branch employees, credit scoring, product origination and so on. These types of architectures and evolutions led to redundant code, systems responding slowly or complex integrations. Therefore an incomplete customer view and no ability to deliver omnichannel experiences. The things became just too complex. 

Customers do not tolerate that anymore, they expect you to know who they are whether they chat with you, call you or walk into a branch. They expect you to offer a seamless and fast experience wherever they are.

This is why you need to unpack complexity step by step.

2-1

Simplifying the complex means you need to figure out what processes and functionalities you have built into your core banking that need not be there. And then, develop them as re-usable microservices (bits of software that can be combined with others to make more complex programs). Example microservices include storing value, moving value, exchanging value, debiting, crediting, KYC.

If you build these reusable microservices, each mission team has the building blocks to solve customer problems faster without having to worry about governance or overhead from other parts of the organization. And the orchestration and management of all these microservices are done by the Engine. 

Simplicity achieved.

Stage 3: Decouple the old, integrate the new

Stage 3 of Core Revival means decoupling legacy code from the Engine and connecting the new microservice or sum of microservices. For example, say your risk matrix functionality built over the years in the core banking system is not performing well given the new regulations and customer expectations. In Stage 2, you rebuild a new risk matrix, and in Stage 3, you decouple the old one and replace it with the new one. 

All without business risk because the Engine, acting as a data, process, and functionality orchestration, can take on the load while you do the switch. Think of it as a bypass system in heart surgery.

3-1

For a large FI we’re working with, we saw it take 6 months to perform Stage 1, but only 2 months to go to Stage 2. In Stage 2, they took out of the core banking system a client enrollment process and reshaped it into a sum of microservices.

What about alternatives?

So far, in order to keep up pace with customer expectations, FIs have traditionally resorted to partnering with large vendors, developing things in-house, or launching digital banks as a spin-off, separate from the mother company.

Let’s see why we think these are not the best ways to perform digital transformation

Employ whale vendors

Vendors have misaligned incentives, typically being incentivized to bill as many man-hours as possible.  And even if they don’t, they are often as siloed and as slow-moving as incumbent FIs, so they are not able to give FIs what they need: speed to market, agility and excellent customer experiences.

Develop in-house

Working with the internal IT force is fruitless due to the decade-old disconnect between business and IT. Or due to lack of skill...FIs just end up accumulating technical debt and increasing costs without moving the needle on profitability.

Launch spin-off digital banks

Sadly, developing a digital-minded bank and then moving existing customers from the old entity to the new one doesn’t really work. Culture clashes are the most cited reason for failure. And if we look back at the history of innovation, we see that spin-offs that still have connecting cords to the mother company often fail. It takes a special kind of vision, leadership board determination and the right staff to go this way. Not to mention the huge amount of funding required to build a bank from scratch. 

As a precautionary lesson, see the stories of Bo and here, Greenhouse from Wells Fargo or Finn by Chase. While from a PR perspective the story goes that mother FIs chose to focus back on the core business, this is indicative of an underlying culture clash that killed its babies.

In light of all of this, we believe it’s safer and ultimately more successful to attempt to change from within. Design a new digital architecture, involve your staff and empower them to create, organize around agile teams and generally, keep the good and discard the bad and the ugly.

FLOWX.AI and Core Revival

The journey to this framework didn’t happen overnight at FLOWX.AI. In fact, this vision started years ago when the mother company of FLOWX.AI, QUALITANCE, used to work with large enterprise customers that tried to deliver digital solutions to their customers. From banking to retail, to furniture and media - we’ve seen the same story again and again. 

Here’s FLOWX.AI CEO and co-founder, Ioan Iacob, explaining how we reached to this framework and developed the FLOWX.AI platform subsequently: 

When I used to run QUALITANCE - a design and innovation software company, I noticed a recurring pattern with all the enterprise customers we worked with: they all desired to offer an amazing digital experience to their customers, but none were able to deliver it due to legacy tech. Old systems written in old programming languages, redundant software acquired through M&As, short term patches and fixes, all of this meant that these systems were unable to deliver the right response time, stability and reliability in an omnichannel way.

So we started thinking how we could break this lock. Because we couldn’t just tell our customers - go and replace this and that and then we will deliver the project at the quality level you desire. 

Also, we couldn’t ask our customers to change their culture (remember, you need both tech and culture to do a real digital transformation) for the sake of our project.

This is how FLOWX.AI new architectural paradigm was born - to deliver amazing digital experiences with solid AI-rendered UX (leaving the machines to do the work instead of people) while taking on the functionality, data and load of existing systems. Unbounding the experience from the backend. And leaving the enterprise CIOs decide when and how they want to upgrade the backend. 

We solved for the culture level, with the LCNC capabilities - mainly engaging business users in building their own software. We leveraged the famed IKEA effect where people tend to value the products they built with their own hands. Involving people into decisions and into building software, makes them owners rather than people on whom the top management imposed things.

It’s still a work in progress - our vision is to ultimately enable AI to build common pieces of software - from process, integrations and UI. We’re only now scratching the surface with our AI-rendered UI, freeing resources in the front-end and UX/UI. But we’re happy to already see some of our customers embracing our vision for Core Revival - building change from within.

Next steps

If you’re ready to grow better through accelerating digital transformation and Core Revival, FLOWX.AI provides you with the platform you need.

We enable your team and your SI team to develop digital experiences fast, in a low-code no-code manner, using business people to deliver on customer goals and IT as an enabler. We enable your teams to outmaneuver your competition, be the first to market with digital experiences that your customers and employees love.

And finally, we empower your team to be in control of digital transformation and reorganize your tech stack to fit the digital age.

See you soon!

Building change from within
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