Historically, the banking industry is a heavyweight when it comes to IT spending. Even though other industries are starting to realise the importance of technology, financial services firms still offer massive opportunities, says Simon Meredith
The banking and financial services industries have always been one of the largest spenders when it comes to IT. According to John McCarthy, managing director for Northern Europe at networking infrastructure specialist Systimax Solutions, they still are.
“Banking and finance are still significant spenders on IT. If they have fallen in proportion, it is because other sectors of the market are now spending heavily. However, the financial companies are still ahead of the rest,” he said. Michael Jannery, vice-president of marketing at network management software company Entuity, which lists Co-operative Financial Services among its recent customer wins, agreed with this view.
“Banking and finance have always been early adopters of new technology and have always been willing to make strategic, as opposed to tactical, investments. They require less stringent return on investment numbers than, say, the healthcare or manufacturing industries. If a new technology would give them a strategic advantage over competition, they are quick to adopt it or try it,” he told CRN.
But there is now also more caution and more of an emphasis on reducing risk rather than getting a competitive edge. “Procurement departments are taking a much larger role in spending decisions. Outsourcing is certainly considered in many firms and those options have been taken for several large organisations,” McCarthy said.
Specialist outsourcing consultancy, TPI said that financial services is the largest user of outsourcing – 33 per cent of the global contracts signed last year were with financial firms – but they strike a hard bargain. The one third of contracts signed by financial firms represented only 26 per cent of the value. However, European firms don’t seem as tough as the worldwide corporations – they represented 35 per cent of the outsourcing market and generated 34 per cent of the total contract value. This is roughly twice the size of the next largest sector – manufacturing – which had 16 per cent of the number of contracts and 18 per cent of the value.
For many businesses, the priorities are to lower costs and reduce risk, and outsourcing is one way that many of the larger firms do this. Lower down the food chain, you have to be more specific about exactly what it is you are delivering. Simon Aron, managing director of Eurodata Systems, told CRN: “Banking and finance firms are forward thinking, but only in certain areas such as networking, back office such as XP and Office, messaging, storage management and especially security.”
Located a short distance from the City of London, Eurodata has several financial services customers. Aron claimed that security is really selling at the moment, and these firms are prepared to spend money to get it right.
“In other areas we really do see them as being pretty conservative. This is because they are more competitive, have more compliance issues and have more financial liabilities if downtime occurs. They will work with new technologies as long as the solution offers clear benefits, however they will only take it on after doing a lot of research and testing,” Aron said.
McCarthy said that, as in all areas of business now, you have to prove that you can deliver if you want to win business. The more serious the customer, the more proof you are likely to have to find. If you do have something new to offer, companies in highly competitive areas of the market will listen to you. But unless it is special, you will find it hard going.
Sarah Haskell, group marketing director at Portrait Software, a specialist in CRM solutions, said: “Yes, banks and finance companies are still early adopters and the tendency is to stick with new technologies from established players. It is difficult but not impossible to break in, but you need something special as too many ‘innovations’ have at times been a costly exercise.
“Newcomers are welcome to the financial sector if they have a proposition that meets a real industry pain point – hence a surge in niche vendors dealing with compliance issues.”
This and security are thriving areas at the present time and new entrants are finding some success. But you don’t have to focus on these rather obvious and crowded areas.
One company that has recently managed to break into the financial sector is Blue Prism. It was founded in 2001 to provide business process automation solutions. The company’s first two customers were large high-street banks and managing director of the company, Alastair Bathgate, told CRN: “In our experience, driving down costs is still a key driver for bank IT projects. It is the business that feels the pain, not IT, and the business that gets enthusiastic about making day-to-day processes more efficient.”
Another approach that Blue Prism has used is identifying different processes that can be improved and addressing them one by one, rather than going in with a revolutionary proposal. “The banks are reassured that the project can stop if the first process doesn’t go to plan – they are not committing to an immediate overhaul of all their business critical systems,” Bathgate noted.
Having previously worked in the financial services industry is a help, Bathgate admitted, but while networking helped Blue Prism get started, it now takes a more methodical approach to lead generation and Bathgate claimed that it does work, provided you do have something to offer. “You can get interest from these companies if you have something that interests them and you get the timing right,” he said.
You need to look for areas of the business that might need improvement. Aside from the obvious targets of security and compliance, many businesses have been involved in mergers or acquisitions (M&A) in the past five years. As a consequence, they often have different processes and systems that need to be brought together or standardised. This is why business process automation and, to a certain extent, CRM, are fairly good solutions to take to the market at the moment.
Tom Gunther, industry solutions marketing manager for finance at Nortel, said that tailoring your selling strategy to focus on different parts of organisations is key to success with larger companies in particular. “The differences between the sub-segments within financial services are often dramatic. It is not uncommon to find divergent strategies within one organisation between lines of business. Recognising the enterprise’s objective is critical to selling to such a company,” he told CRN.
Gunther believed that where larger companies are concerned, there is a clear cycle as far as IT spending is concerned. While we are in an M&A phase now, the emphasis is on cost reduction, but this will change to customer acquisition again. Companies go from being expense to revenue-driven. This is the logical response to market conditions. The newly merged company will seek to wring out cost and wants to prove the value of the deal, but later down the line will look to cross-sell and drive revenues through the enlarged customer base.
“After finding ways to lower operating costs, acquiring and retaining customers and improving workforce productivity remain top drivers in technology spending,” Gunther said.
Entuity’s Jannery said that there is every reason to be optimistic about business spending – major blue chip and City firms will be among the first to start spending again once the pendulum swings. “Spending by financial firms did not decline as much as it did for other verticals and as the economy picks up they are picking up from a greater volume of spend,” he said.
As well as process improvements, businesses are eager to get as much value out of existing investments as they can. Jannery said: “If anything, there is a drive to understand exactly what they have, how well it is being used and where they could apply additional funds to improve.” This is fuelling demand for management applications and services and asset management as well.
Companies are reducing the number of products and vendors they work with, scrutinising point solutions and moving towards solutions that have multiple functions and are integrated, so that management cost is reduced. While there is nothing new here, the definitions are tighter than they were. Cost reduction and efficiency improvement are two sides of the same coin. The difference is the focus on the customer and on core business activities. This is driving businesses to look at outsourcing as a way to manage their IT services.
CRM went through a growth phase last decade, with Siebel leading the way. The opportunity now is to enable companies who have gone through a merger to get more out of their software. “We are seeing process integration across channels in banking and finance. Banks want a more joined up view of their customers, yet they do not want to rip and replace all systems, so they are investing in a layer of service orientated process to bring together disparate systems,” Haskell said.
That said, other areas are more pressing in many organisations. “Spending on customer insight and processes is currently strong in the financial sector,” Haskell said. “Security is still an issue in this sector, especially with internet banking where fraud prevention and authentication are still two areas of high priority.”
These are well-established areas of concern and the approach required is very different to the one needed to move into blue chip companies with new ideas and process improvement. Increasingly, said Louis Oley, UK managing director of SecureWave, the areas of security and compliance have begun to meld into one.
“Resellers need to equip themselves with a genuine value business proposition, a flexible method of access control that can enable financial services companies to prevent information leakage and overcome nuisances such as spyware. They can demonstrate extra value by providing these in one implementation rather than by continually pushing a short-term reactive approach,” Oley said.
While a different kind of approach is needed, the bottom line is that selling to the world of serious business, banking and finance, has become much more complicated as different issues are now pressing for budget.
“Competitive edge, costs and business advantage are still the key, but it is influenced by procurement, IT strategy, corporate governance and so on, where previously it was less sophisticated and had a surprising amount of autonomy,” McCarthy said.
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