Tomorrow Never Dies
Experience shows that the vast majority of Finance Transformation programmes fail to deliver target benefits and cost in excess of 50% more than budgeted.
The question we ask is: how can the repeated failure of large scale Finance Transformations be prevented?
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is a quote frequently attributed to Albert Einstein.
Finance Transformation has become an accepted way of life for banks. Almost every major banking group has undertaken a “big bang” programme to improve their Finance capability; with typical objectives focused on cost reduction, standardising systems and data, adapting to meet internal and external reporting requirements and streamlining core processes. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, none have ever been publically heralded a success.
This standard approach to Finance Transformation is flawed in a number of ways:
- Lack of strategic direction and clarity – short term requirements necessitating Finance Transformation are misaligned to the overall strategic vision of the bank.
- Cost pressure – Finance is under significant pressure to reduce costs. Programmes frequently centre on building capacity and capability at lower cost rather than investing in a futureproof and agile function for tomorrow.
- Failure to keep it simple – the focus should be on fixing the fundamentals of core systems, data and processes and building the case for change from the bottom up. As a result of the complex landscape seen in many banks and transformation programmes having a narrow focus, programme priorities can become muddled and distract from the original goals.
- Long term nature – key milestones and benefits are not realised for several years, which can create significant challenges when trying to maintain the engagement of key stakeholders.
An unsuccessful programme can sow the seed for a destructive cycle of change. A long term, complex approach generally leads to under-delivery as the programme cannot keep pace with shifting external demands. Inadequate change control exacerbates the problem with scope creep further inhibiting the programme’s ability to deliver on time. Sponsors can quickly distance themselves and the withdrawal of their support makes it significantly harder to complete existing or kick off future transformation initiatives for fear of being associated with “another” failed programme.
“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often” – Winston Churchill
With considerable transformation opportunity still presenting itself to banks, change needn’t be deemed a costly and complex burden. Banks should look to learn from the lessons of the past and seek to adopt iterative, continuously future orientated change programmes. With a clear focus and a more agile approach, finance transformation can be fully aligned to the strategic direction of the bank and much better able to adapt to changing demands.
Finance has the opportunity to set the tone and lead by example within the organisation. The creation of a lean, agile environment that continuously evolves will provide a platform for success and competitive advantage.
This will lead to tangible benefits in the below areas:
- Regulation – if banks approach transformation in a more agile way they can be on the front foot when new regulatory demands are announced, allowing changes to be implemented smoothly and quickly.
- Innovation – moving away from the narrow approach traditionally taken in finance transformation programmes will create an environment which encourages lateral thinking and enables innovation to be easily integrated into ongoing change.
- Communication – coupled with transparency and a clear communication strategy, small scale, iterative change will increase confidence in the bank internally and externally, not least as it brings small, continuous success stories. Often large scale programmes are not combined with a sufficient level of communication, alienating those affected.
- Stability – key resources can be utilised on different change initiatives and rather than building a large scale programme from scratch, the foundation can be maintained and the resource base and change portfolio ramped up and down in line with strategic priorities. As a result, time is saved, overall costs decrease and operational risk is reduced as knowledge is retained.
We know that “Tomorrow Never Dies” and the need for change will always exist, so Finance will need to respond accordingly. A complete overhaul of the approach to Finance Transformation, moving from revolution to evolution will give banks an edge over competitors in the Financial Services landscape of tomorrow.