digital transformation financial services

Is Future-Proofing a Myth? Financial Services Executive Roundtable Recap

by | Nov 9, 2020

Transform by Simon Data held a private, invite-only executive roundtable yesterday led by Katherine Kornas, VP, Growth Product & Marketing at Betterment; Philip Kim, Head of Enterprise Customer Intelligence at Capital One; Doina Harris, CPO at Simon, and Richard Demato, Head of Transformation at Simon. 

The event brought our speakers together with ten marketing and experience leaders; CMOs, CDOs, COOs, and VPs from across the financial services industry, from growth-level disruptors to F500 legacy banks, lenders, and credit card companies. Through this free-form conversation, one major theme kept arising: what is future-proofing, and is it even possible?

With the year we’ve all had, this is a burning question. What would a “future-proof system” have looked like five years ago? Would it have withstood the sudden market shifts? 

As one attendee, an enterprise consultant said at the beginning of the conversation:

“[This year,] we’ve seen a lot of the clients we work with really compress three to five years of roadmap into seven or eight months.”

The conversation moved operationalize transformation initiatives and struggle to incorporate new technologies into outdated workflows. The Head of Retail Marketing Analytics, Operations, and Planning at an F500 investment firm enumerated their own struggles with operationalizing solutions within a massive company. 

“Our challenge has not been vetting or picking the technology. The challenge is staying one step ahead, trying to weaponize new technologies and new solutions that aren’t necessarily being asked for. 

“It creates a lot of work for those of us in roles similar to me. You can’t just roll out a solution and give a seminar on how it works. You actually have to hold their hands until they’re actively using these new solutions. Otherwise, the significant new capabilities just won’t move forward.” 

At which point, the topic of future-proofing arose. The abovementioned consultant offered this:

“When I look across all our clients, the ones who are trying to future-proof things are generally about three years behind the curve. Because the effort and the thought and the calories put into future-proofing inevitably just adds time to big projects that already have way too much lead time.” 

Which is when one attendee from an F100 financial institution emerged as a thought-provoking skeptic of the idea of future-proof technology:

“I don’t think you can future-proof the technology stack. As somebody who’s gone down that road of pushing on technology, I’m increasingly of the belief that it’s more of an organizational design and data governance approach that will lead to the right answer. Part of that is because the half-life of technology keeps shortening. I don’t know what state of the art will look like a couple of years from now; I just know it will be not what we’re working with today. 

“The best strategy is to accept that things are going to change. Rather than future-proof, prepare for the future by minimizing the risk of pain and keeping your organization open to opportunities that the future holds. 

“We’ve found it beneficial to buy and design modular pieces that don’t try to solve everything but just do one thing really, really well. That way, when you need to upgrade something or swap something out, it’s more practical than if you have one solution that does five or ten different functions. That just makes it harder to move and be agile.”

The CTO of a high-growth disruptive lending service echoed this strategic mindset when explaining how their company approaches future-proofing with flexibility:

“You need very clear alignment on the specific responsibilities of each tool and piece of the architecture. Then you can tackle those responsibility-changes over time. If there’s a different way to do it, we can just replace this one piece of the architecture. That alignment and capability make it easier across the board.”

This was the dominant lesson of the conversation: the ease and speed with which a company can swap out and operationalize solutions are the key determinants of how “future-proof” a company is. These are the companies that are most comfortable with uncertainty and volatility. As 2020 taught the world, the ability to anticipate and resolve sudden problems, to quell uncertainty with specially prepared agility is a superpower worth striving for.

If you’re interested in learning more about building a modular, future-proof marketing technology architecture, check out The Definitive Guide to Customer Data Platforms.

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