Banks spend $1 trillion on digital, but few reap the rewards

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While global banks have been pouring money into information technology — to the tune of $1 trillion over three years — only a handful appear to be fully committed to a digital transformation and are therefore reaping the benefits, according to an Accenture study.

Just 19 of the 161 largest retail and commercial banks that the consulting firm examined have been focusing enough on digital strategies to "make the shift to a different sort of bank," Accenture said in the report, released Thursday. And those that did were rewarded for their efforts, the firm said.

All the banks studied, based in 21 countries, started at roughly similar rates of return on equity in 2011, but by 2017 the banks that Accenture identified as "digital focused" had ROE that rose 0.9 percentage points. The 81 least digitally focused banks, meanwhile, saw their ROE slip 1.1 percentage points — and Accenture researchers said the gap is likely to continue to widen through 2021. ROE at a middle group of 61 "digital active" banks was little changed.

"You could see in those three groups the performance deferential," Alan McIntyre, an Accenture senior managing director and co-author of the report, said in an interview. "You see a gap, and where the gap is coming from, and it's coming from digital."


The $1 trillion estimate by Accenture is for retail and commercial banks globally, and includes all internal and external hardware, software, service and information-technology staff costs. The most digitally focused banks became more profitable through cost-cutting, Accenture researchers said, and Wall Street has rewarded them with higher valuations. While the study didn't include names of the banks studied, McIntyre said that the 19 most digitally focused banks include JPMorgan Chase.

New York-based JPMorgan, the largest U.S. bank, has been a top spender among financial firms in the technology arms race. In February, it said it planned to boost its tech budget by $600 million to $11.4 billion this year.

"Everyone is trying to do something — there's not any bank in the world that's ignoring digital," McIntyre said. "Everyone's trying to become more digital, but it takes organization, evangelism, commitment and structure."

Bloomberg News