March 12, 2015:

Oxford has launched an executive education program aimed to help bankers understand the demands of digital business. Its Saïd Business School and Polaris Consulting will collaborate in a program called the Oxford Polaris Digital Academy. While Polaris bills itself as a digital transformation company, and said the program will aim at executive across industries, it looks likely that at last initially it will focus on banking, where Polaris has done most of its business.

Jitin Goyal, CEO of Polaris, said the company has built universal digital channels for some of the biggest banks around the globe and proprietary horizontal technologies for companies looking to undertake the digital journey.

Universal digital or omni-channel are industry terms for integrating the digital experience at a bank so customer information, for example, is available from a single source for checking, credit cards, personal and small business lending and mortgages.

Banks have typically developed each of those as separate lines of business so a customer who has had a checking account at a bank for 20 years might be surprised, even annoyed, when asked to fill out a form providing his address and other information when applying for a mortgage. Integrating channels should eliminate that, but is difficult because each is apt to be running on its own systems with its own data formats.

In his discussions with bankers, Goyal has seen confusion over digital.

“As I go around the globe, most of the CXOs I meet are looking at what is happening with the digital story. I hear a lot of talk about digital. But I have realized while I am talking to some of these very senior folks that in many cases their understanding of the real implications of digital, how it is going to transform their business and what needs to be done to be part of that game, is not widely understood, especially in the board room and among senior executives.”

That triggered the idea of developing the Oxford Polaris Digital Academy, he added.

“How can we help these senior executives avoid turning into digital dinosaurs, and what better way than to tie up with one of these most prestigious universities in the world?”

Andrew White, associate dean for executive education at Saïd, said the school has a lot of experience in developing executive education for organizations going through transformations.

“In pretty much every industry there are big transformations taking place because of digital, or changes in customers values, or in globalization, so we were very interested when Polaris came to us.” The school has several faculty members who will be excellent resources for the digital transformation program, he added.
Oxford’s executive programs are highly participatory.

“We do a lot of work around scenarios, using scenarios and teaching scenario planning as a methodology,” he said. “It’s not just about teaching, but also the learning we can pick up on what is going on in financial services, because the whole financial services space is in a state of real revolution. I don’t think we have seen the full implication of what digital will do to that industry by a long way; we are at the beginning of a long run of innovation that will change the way financial services are developed.”

Goyal said Polaris takes a 360-degree view of digitalization, looking at how to implement it internally with employees and externally with customers to improve wallet share and market share. Some of the world’s largest banks have simply missed the boat in terms of creating high quality digital interfaces with their customers, he said.

“Some clients I work with spend billions on technology each year and have IT teams of 60,000 to 70,000 people. Why do you need this? The only reason is that even though we talk digital, processes are all over the map in spaghetti code and they don’t talk to each other. It becomes more and more complex and the number of manual processes is shocking.” Banks have to replace those old systems with new systems, and increasingly the new systems will be in the cloud, he added.

“CXOs get it as the conceptual level, but beyond the buzzwords they are spending a lot of money and not actually achieving very much.” The academy will approach digital transformation at a strategic level and also what needs to happen on the ground by helping participants develop a road map to make the shift.

Polaris talks in terms of user journeys to banking services – a bank might have 30 to 40 for businesses and 60 to 70 for retail customers.

“Take each user journey and see how it can be improved – automate this part, streamline that. This gives a bite-size series of things you can do, and because you have a road map, you have defined the whole picture and defined the interactions.”

The single biggest danger organizations face is what he calls the Kodak problem – you have a large investment in an existing technology with a very large workforce using it.

“Somebody else comes in with disruptive technology and the guy with investment in old technology doesn’t know what to do with it. Banks are sitting on so much old technology that writing it off, junking it and starting fresh is an almost impossible decision. The frequent choice is a work-around — adding a modern layer on top of the legacy. In the academy we will tackle this issue head on and talk about examples where this has been done in a smart and politically savvy way.”

Polaris offers a cloud-based banking solution which Goyal called bank in a box, a solution that is especially useful for a global bank to take its services into distant markets. ING used it to enter the Australian market with a digital-only offering he said.

One of the challenges at the academy will be to show executives how change is good, said Oxford’s White.

“We try to put before them evidence of why old structures are breaking down, bringing examples of their industry and other industries as well. Then we put together processes to help them reflect on their own strategy and the way that strategy will not take them into the future. We often find they know deep down that present practices are not sustainable.”

They need to recognize that is easier in a place where they will be supported in thinking what the future might look like, he added.

“We can do that as a business school in a university, we are a place of reflection about the future and reflection of centuries past. We also follow up with coaching to support participants,.”

Once an individual from a firm has a good experience in an executive education program, he often return with a bigger team and the company works with the faculty on an ongoing basis.