What I Want to Talk About at Sibos: B of A's Cathy Bessant

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I’m headed to Singapore to participate in this year’s Sibos conference, where as many as 7,000 financial leaders from around the world will convene to discuss the challenges and opportunities shaping the global financial industry.

In an age of digital advancement almost daily, this event will tackle a broad range of game-changing developments, like integrated risk management and real-time payments. As well, the Internet of Things will be at the forefront in a panel topic I’ll be hosting, which promises to be a thought-provoking discussion with a few of the smartest technologists in the business.

I’m looking forward to talking with peers and partners from a wide range of disciplines, to explore how these changes are affecting our customers and clients, our businesses and the economies in which we operate—and what that means for our companies’ strategies and operating models. Here are a few of the topics on which I’ll be most focused.

The Internet of Things in Financial Services – We operate in an increasingly interconnected environment. We are reliant on small, Internet-enabled devices to stay that way. The implications of this ever-changing connectivity for banks’ core businesses are serious–ranging from new payments models to new delivery channels to a labyrinth of standards and regulations.

We need to answer the question: what’s the relevance of the Internet of Things in financial services? We must shift what is largely an intellectual discussion about the benefit of the Internet of Things to how we’ll drive its commercialization. Together, we need to figure out the pieces that are critical to advance the conversation. Can our systems flex and scale to handle this increasing growth and complexity? Which changes do we need to make now to prepare for the kind of connectivity and speed that the Internet of Things will bring financial institutions? How can our work make – or break – the client experience?

Empowering Innovation – Everyone asks whether "fintechs" will disrupt financial institutions. Guess what? Financial institutions are fintech companies, though we don’t always get credit for it. My institution, Bank of America, is among the top 10 patent holders of banking-related patents, and the only bank on that list. Our patents and awards portfolio is at 2,800 and climbing, and we are frequently cited in patent applications by the likes of Apple, eBay, Google, and Microsoft. To compete, we need to think like fintech companies, using technology to make financial systems more efficient and relentlessly focusing on understanding and anticipating customer needs. Our innovation has to be directed innovation—either solving a market issue or creating a capability that is magnetic for customers. We must resist the urge to adopt every new bell and whistle, and instead seek to understand and create disruptive technologies and decide whether and how they map to the business strategy and customer needs.

Leveraging strategic partnerships with major technology companies and startups is a critical component to uncovering new technologies and markets and deciding what matters most. Areas like mobile apps, cybersecurity and software-defined networking not only meet customer needs, but allow financial institutions to squeeze more costs out of their infrastructure to free up funds for further investments in new and emerging customer needs.

Talent Is King and Diversity the Crown – The portion of people joining entrepreneurial startups or technology companies is growing, and the portion attracted to financial services has decreased. Public perception hasn't helped, but I think since the sands of time it has always been tough to convince people that banking is as dynamic as it really is.

As we look for solutions to address this fundamental need for top talent, we’d sell ourselves short if we didn’t embrace different ways of thinking. Diversity is not a nice-to-have; it is a foundational determinant of success. What matters most is that advances and setbacks are monitored, measured and acted upon. We work in an industry where numbers matter; they build accountability and action. And while we’ve made tremendous advancements, we must do better. Leveraging the power of diversity makes our industry better at serving our customers, and fostering an inclusive environment creates companies top talent want to work for.

Our industry has learned important lessons in recent years about staying better connected with our clients and addressing needs they may not even recognize yet. Sibos is the largest wholesale payment conference in the world, and my priority while there is to engage the brightest minds in the business and explore the best ways to meet clients and counterparties where they are and where they are going next. I hope to see you there or at another insight-rich venue in the future, and would be very interested in what you’re learning.

Cathy Bessant is the chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America. Follow her on Twitter @BofA_News.

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