The Polaris Consulting and Services business is focused on providing cutting edge solutions primarily to Banks, Insurance companies, and other Financial Services entities such as Clearing Houses and Exchanges. It also provides ‘digital enterprise’ solutions to select companies
We are evangelizing our flagship High Productivity Outsourcing (HPO) Model, predicated on three pillars – a client-specific academy, a client-specific innovation lab and a performance guarantee. The model is designed to root out the underlying causes of low productivity in typical offshore outsourcing – a rookie workforce, an order-taking mindset, and absence of skin in the game.
FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY – BACK TO THE BASICS
The Financial Services industry has gone through a seismic shift in the past few years. The sub-prime crisis in 2008 fundamentally altered the landscape of international banking. Blue chip names such as Lehman Brothers went out of business altogether. Those who survived have had to make deep-rooted changes in their business models, driven by regulatory changes as well as other factors. New regulations such as Dodd Frank and the Volcker Rule have dramatically changed the Capital Markets business, reducing the global annual revenues in this sector from $150bn to $75bn during this period. The days of socalled ‘Casino Banking’ are over, and banks
have had to re-focus on good old fashioned banking activities such as deposits, lending and raising capital through debt and equity issuances. Regulators are forcing banks to strengthen their AML, KYC and other client on-boarding processes. Banks have faced huge fines and have had to resort to severe cost cutting including big layoffs.
There are several implications for the IT Services industry. Firstly, IT budgets in the Financial Services sector have faced the chop given the intense cost pressure that banks are facing. With discretionary spending going down, many Change-The-Bank initiatives that would have otherwise been kicked off, have been put on ice. Rates have remained flat or declined. Procurement teams have launched vendor consolidation measures to reduce costs and drive up productivity.
At the same time, spending on risk and regulatory compliance has gone up sharply, as banks try to comply with the myriad rules that have been imposed on them by authorities around the globe.
These changes in the Financial Services sector can be a threat for our industry, but they can also be an opportunity. I will talk about how we are responding to these market conditions, but before that let us look at the other trends impacting our business.
TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS – GETTING 'SMAC'KED
While the business of banking has been transformed by these changes, the technology world has seen some tectonic shifts as well. Social, Mobility, Analytics and Cloud (together referred to as SMAC) have caught everyone’s imagination. Investment trends in all these areas suggest that this is not merely a hype cycle. Companies across sectors – financial services included – believe that these new technologies can help them to not just streamline processes and improve operational efficiency, but also enhance user experience and improve revenue productivity.
Many banks and companies are looking at building ‘Enterprise Social Networks’ to facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing within their organisations. ESN is the new CRM. ESN could also be the new e-mail, and a few other things too.
Mobile banking is becoming increasingly sophisticated with banks offering a plethora of apps that users can download on their mobile devices. Why bother to go to a branch (or even boot up your computer) when you can make payments, buy and sell securities, get account information and market analysis, all on your phone or your tablet? The latest buzzword is ‘Omnichannel Banking’, which essentially means providing clients with a seamless user experience across all channels including branch, online and mobile. This is the age of Digital Banking, and it is here to stay.
Analytics is an area that banks have heavily invested in the past, building huge data warehouses and datamarts, with a plethora of analytical tools sitting on top. The advent of Big Data technology, which enables identification of patterns across even larger swathes of structured as well as unstructured data, has given a fresh impetus to this space. Sophisticated data visualisation tools are also attracting a lot of attention.
'Cloud-computing' – the hosting of a firm's IT applications in a virtual data centre (the Cloud) as opposed to the traditional way where these apps would sit in proprietary data centres with huge upfront investment in infrastructure – is one area that has not yet quite taken off in the financial sector, perhaps due to data privacy laws and related concerns. However, the idea of horizontal utilities for specific activities (such as settlement or reconciliation) sitting in the Cloud and being shared by multiple banks is gaining a lot of traction.
These new technologies are fundamentally altering IT spending patterns in the Financial Services industry as well as in other areas such as retail, logistics and manufacturing.
OFFSHORE SOURCING BUSINESS – GROWING UP
Apart from the changing business and technology landscape as described above, another factor that affects us is the maturisation of the sourcing function in our client organisations. The days of large, single-vendor, lock, stock and barrel outsourcing deals led by deal advisory firms are coming to an end. Sourcing functions in most large firms now have the maturity to be able to adopt a best-of-breed vendor strategy. Two factors have made this possible – Governance models enabling firms to manage multiple vendors and the many-to-many interactions that result, and the need for highly specialised functional and technical skills in today’s environment that no single vendor can provide.
This trend plays to our advantage, as we are seen in the market as a specialist player with a strong pedigree in financial technology.
OUR STRATEGY – DRINK DEEP
We have made several changes in the last 12 months in order to unlock value and position ourselves in the market in a way that maximises our ability to leverage the trends described above.
To begin with we separated the Consulting and Services Business from the Products Business so that each business could develop its own eco-system and chart its own course, while adhering to the core values that have stood us in good stead for so long. The operational separation of the two businesses is a massive project in itself, and I am pleased to say that it has been executed very smoothly with no disruption in business or attrition amongst key executives.
We organised the Services entity into six client-centric units (SBUs), and multiple solution-centric units (Practices). Each SBU is a P&L centre, owning the relationship as well as delivery for its clients. Each client is treated as a global client and is managed by one of the six SBUs on a global basis. This ensures that there are no silos, and full accountability for delivery excellence and client relationship management lies with the SBU leadership.
The Practices are responsible for building specialised capability and solutions in various verticals and horizontals that we operate in. Vertical practices (Retail Banking, Corporate Banking, Capital Markets, and Insurance) are adopting the strategy of ‘practices as minibanks’, replicating within themselves all the core functions and roles that a bank would itself have. Horizontal practices (data, risk, mobility, testing, infrastructure) as well as vertical practices are following the ‘Exotic SI’ model, building expertise around a set of specialised third-party products that would enable us to act as an unbiased adviser and a platform neutral system integrator for our clients. We are deepening our expertise in line with the market trend of selecting best-of-breed partners for each area.
We have also created a ‘Solution Sales Group’ (SSG), teams of vertical and horizontal specialists located in the markets we operate in. The SSG team works closely with the SBU account teams and injects real expertise into client interactions.
From a strategic perspective, we have zeroed in on three ‘big bets’, areas where we are making substantial investments and positioning ourselves as the ‘partner of choice’ for our clients. The three areas we have picked are Digital Banking, Risk and Compliance, and Payments Transformation – these are areas that we already have solid expertise in, and are also in line with the industry trends described above. Our Data & Analytics practice will also see major investments and will act as a bulwark across all these three areas.
A NEW PARADIGM – High Productivity Outsourcing
Apart from demanding greater specialisation, clients are also looking for higher productivity from outsourcing partners. We are evangelising our flagship High Productivity Outsourcing (HPO) Model, predicated on three pillars – a client-specific academy, a client-specific innovation lab and a performance guarantee. The model is designed to root out the underlying causes of low productivity in typical offshore outsourcing – a rookie workforce, an order-taking mindset, and absence of skin in the game.
The HPO model makes us true partners for our clients - expert teams with an innovation mindset working collaboratively with clients, incentivised to deliver business outcomes. All in all, Polaris Consulting & Services is strategically and operationally well positioned to leverage the rapidly evolving business and technology landscape, and become a partner of choice for our clients. I am very excited about how our business is shaping up, and I believe that our best days are ahead of us.