Following NextBank Barcelona, Devie Monhan wrote a great piece about how banks are investing in FinTech, part of which jumped out at me:
"The FinTech firms are putting more pressure on banks to innovate and launch customer-centric offerings, and investing in FinTechs to build these offerings is another way banks have responded to the increased pressure."
With Devie's idea as a point of departure, this post explores the nitty gritty of how banks and FinTechs actually work together once the deal is signed & sealed.
Do the worlds of finance and tech collide or gel when it comes to getting things delivered? Are there certain aspects of FinTech at which banks are more adept? And when should FIs watch and learn, letting their tech partners do the groundwork?
When it comes to FinTech project implementation, I would like to make the case for the latter. Here are the 7 key success factors banks need on their project management checklist, especially when working with FinTech partners:
1. Dream big & discover sooner than later
No FinTech project can be limited to functional design and delivery. Banks must allow themselves time to broaden horizons, discover what's out there and imagine diverse possibilities.For this reason, the first step of any project should always include a discovery phase of up to 3 months (or more).
This can take the form of bank-led workshops with FinTech vendors, focus groups, product reviews and market research campaigns. The key takeaway here is to resist the pressure to start running toward the idea of launching and do the big dreaming and out-of-the-box thinking at the beginning, not the end when launch is imminent!
2. Work "robust flexibility" into the project lifecycle
Experienced FinTech companies have learned how to deliver complex projects in an agile way. Banks can learn from our experiences and implement similar agile project management best practices in their FinTech development programs.
For example, thanks to the agile scrum methodology, Deutsche Bank was able to implement its PFM (FinanzPlaner) in just 4 months: an unprecedented speed for PFM deployment.
Most of the time, some kind of hybrid approach ends up happening. In a few weeks, another European bank will release its new PFM service also only 4 months after kick-off, following an agile-waterfall model, but with a clear definition of scope upfront.
But working together with a FinTech partner can help banks shift to agile, and enable them to lead the digital transformation that's happening in finance.
3. Assemble a diverse, multi-skilled team
FinTech is multi-disciplinary by nature, meaning any project requires a trans-departamental effort. Further, the goal of agile project management is to iterate, meaning that testing and verification processes are happen constantly throughout the project. Therefore, it helps to have a number of different skill-sets, which means resisting the urge to deploy IT-only, or business-only project teams in the name of focus. Recruit key value contributors from across the bank, from IT to business development, innovation and marketing. Ideally, the multi-background program team is led by a Project Management Professional with excellent negotiation and people management skills.
4. Place customer journey at the centre of scope & requirements definition
In FinTech, scope definition is where the customer journey must be clearly defined. Before writing a detailed list of project requirements, use mockups and prototyping to communicate every step of the user journey to your FinTech partner, from beginning to end and in multiple use cases.
When it comes to critical path identification, project managers will be familiar with what's known as the Iron Triangle of project management: balancing scope, schedule and cost. But another central element must be present, and that is ensuring that efforts in all 3 points culiminate to satisfy the customer journey you defined earlier on.
Ideally you have already involved potential users from the initial discovery phase - start incorporating their feedback as early as possible and continue to do so throughout the iterative process. Communicate this feedback clearly to your FinTech partner so that changes can be incorporated early on into new versions and upgrades.
5. Make or buy?
Now that you've done your discovery, assembled a diverse team, and carefully laid out the customer journey, it's time to ask if you are about to reinvent the wheel. Chances are a FinTech vendor has already built what you're looking for, and it's ready to go. Or perhaps you want something reliable, or time-to-market still tops your priority list... in any of these cases, you would think that most banks would choose to simply buy an out-of-the-box FinTech solution.
What usually happens (again) is some kind of hybrid approach. Banks will say: "OK, we want to buy, but we also need you to build X, Y and Z features from scratch." We all know how important it is to try before you buy, but remember to try before you decide to make!
Sometimes the latter can't be avoided, which leads us to the 6th key...
6. Strike a balance between innovation and time-to-market
Even if you have a target date for market launch, defining a clear idea of your MVP can accelerate time-to-market considerably. Avoid scope creep by believing in your MVP and seeing it through to production.
Good project management practices can also speed up iteration and decrease time-to-market. Be realistic in planning an achievable project by making sure it's properly phased. Instead of pushing dates into a million-row Excel spreadsheet, classic project management techniques like critical path calculations, capacity-based scheduling, risk analysis, etc. can help even when developing agile FinTech projects.
7. Nurture teamwork-based vendor relationships
By now, the ball is rolling and the project is moving along - but not without bumps and roadblocks. Team leadership, coaching, and emotional intelligence become increasingly crucial as the project unfolds. You need leaders, not bosses, spearheading the project on both sides. To nurture positive vendor relationships means visualizing banks and vendors as one team working towards the same goal.
The main message here is that as banks shift to agile, good project management practices are not only compatible with but essential to the agile approach. These 7 keys summarize my experience as a manager of FinTech projects, especially within the core banking sector, over more than 15 years. As COO at Strands I am actively involved in a growing number of implementations across the globe. What I see is that these recommendations are applicable to any financial institution no matter its size, geographical location or budget.