From Fragile Positioning to Agile Performance: Getting Agile Business Right
In a webinar hosted by The Wealth Mosaic’s Co-Founder Stephen Wall, the panelists looked at why wealth management firms should transition from a more traditional approach to one that is more agile, how they should do that and what to consider in doing it. The panel featuring Josh Cogan, Associate Partner and Head of Banking UK at Synpulse, and Matteo de Marchi, Head of Product Innovation at InvestCloud Private Banking, discussed the factors at play in successfully moving to an agile business framework and how an agile enterprise technology architecture will also allow for the development and delivery of an agile business framework. Find the highlights of the discussion in the videos below or click here to watch the whole webinar.
Following the publication of <The Agile Manifesto> in 2001, agile methodologies have gone on to revolutionise the software development industry, which was traditionally seen as slow and administrative. This agile approach, which was pioneered by a group of software developers seeking to evolve traditional software development methods, has since experienced success throughout the banking sector. However, few wealth managers have successfully harnessed the full potential of the agile ideology, which is to say its application beyond technology teams alone. If they are to keep pace with rapidly evolving customer demands and meet requirements on a technological, regulatory and societal level, wealth managers need to react quicker.
Business agility is about being able to adapt quickly to market changes. Companies that manage this give themselves a higher chance of being in the leading group in their industry. According to a study by McKinsey (2018)1 that examined more than 1,000 companies across 10 industries, agile organisations have a 70% chance of being in the top quartile for organisational health, which the consulting and research specialist deemed to be the best indicator for long-term performance. Recently, I met our friends at The Wealth Mosaic to discuss why I believe an agile organisation can be broken down into three key components – technology, operations, and, most critically, corporate culture – and that any journey can and should start small, before evolving into an organisation-wide initiative over time. Achieving this state calls for a shift in processes and mindset throughout the organisation. This article explores how to start a transformation journey of this kind.
InvestCloud – flexible IT architecture
Digital challengers, higher expectations from tech-savvy customers and more: to stay one step ahead of the competition, wealth managers need to become more agile. This is especially relevant when factoring in an ever-evolving business environment in which technology quickly becomes outdated. Despite these additional demands, wealth managers have been slow to respond, with many being hindered by legacy technology platforms. A significant number have failed to invest sufficiently in modernising their core internal systems to cater for a stronger focus on customer-facing applications. Others have yet to realise that investing in modernising their core banking platform and architecture is equally as important. While customer use of innovative applications is indeed on the rise, a lack of focus on upgrading the platform from front to back has led to increasing operational inefficiency and associated costs throughout the industry.
A modern technology stack and flexible technology architecture is the foundation for a beneficial agile technology setup. This, in turn, is what enables an organisation to become agile. Although a fully-fledged DevOps structure of the kind used by Spotify and Facebook would be the dream of any product owner, the reality is that many wealth managers are still burdened with IT legacy issues, with only a few release cycles per year. Even so, not being able to achieve ‘continuous deployment’ from the start of a journey should not hold any wealth manager back from planning multiple releases. When the constraints and dependencies are known, they can be managed and solutions can be developed. This is the agile spirit in a nutshell.
Characteristics of an agile organisation
Wealth managers have always prided themselves on providing exceptional customer service to their clientele and always being highly responsive to client demands. This commitment is often driven by high-touch, reactive relationship management personnel working to achieve quick turnaround times; it does not tend to be guided by truly reactive, fast-moving, customer-focused internal processes. Agile enterprises work in frequent cycles of thinking, trying and doing. Whether these development and improvement cycles are performed under the guise of lean operations, design thinking, agile development or another method, this continual iteration shapes the company’s ability to operate and innovate in an agile way. Organisations often get started with this by implementing a common framework, such as scrum. However, an enterprise is unlikely to experience success simply by applying agile methods in a ‘copy & paste’ fashion. –After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution or approach when it comes to the setting up agile organisations.
Home-grown, bottom-up transformation based on upskilling is more stable than top-down enforced agility paired with the hiring of new recruits. This is why it is important for an organisation to take the time to analyse its processes and design an agile operating framework that meets its business requirements in their entirety and accurately reflects its values.
In general, an agile organisation can be divided into two main types of team: first are ‘cross-functional teams’ that deliver products or projects where agile methods (e.g. scrum) could prove useful; second are ‘self-managing teams’ that work in areas such as customer service or production. Here, work tasks are repetitive, so the best approach may be to prioritise activities, achieve goals and improve on a rolling basis.
Ultimately, how your organisation sets itself up to enable an agile way of working will be different to how another may do so. The journey of establishing processes to support this agility goes beyond crafting a vision and rolling it out across the organisation. It is a process without a destination and a commitment to continuously evolving processes in line with internal and external demands – where agile principles are prioritised over the establishment of processes (which is not guaranteed to create value).
Some wealth managers fail to successfully implement agile ways of working because they do not truly adapt their current way of working to reflect the agile ideology. This is because many of them have become successful based on the classic top-down management approach. Whenever pressure mounts or a problem arises, their tendency is to fall back on routines that have worked well in the past. For wealth managers to become agile, there needs to be a cultural change paired with a change in mindset. This is something that can prove challenging in an industry steeped in tradition. The journey for a traditional wealth manager from non-agile to agile includes radical shifts in attitudes, values, mindsets, ways of thinking and ways of interacting with the world. Only when this cultural change takes place in a drastic, genuine way can agile ways of working make headway.
Transformation should not – and cannot – simply stem from a single decision or desire to provide support; it should be continuous and sustainable in the long run. Senior management should help to shape the business and form a shared vision (its ‘North Star’) with the company across all levels, but delegate decision-making to autonomous teams that are self-governed and empowered. Rapid decision and learning cycles are encouraged, with frequent iterations and experimentation as well as continuous learning. This enables agile organisations to adapt efficiently and develop processes, strategies, and technologies, and encourage people to keep improving.
Importance of Culture
There are several steps a wealth manager can take to become agile. The first is to set up the project as a pilot with full commitment from senior management. As the project is treated as a pilot, it is much easier to label it as a playing field rather than a radical transformation involving the whole organization. Additionally, when others in the organisation observe the pilot project in effect, this builds awareness across the organisation before a potential broader roll-out. Synpulse has successfully run initiatives of this kind in a three-phased approach, as shown in figure 1.
The project initiation phase involves securing the commitment of senior management commitment by establishing a clear project vision, governance setup, high-level plan and definitions of success. This is followed by defining the target organisation, which involves reviewing applicable agile frameworks and refining them according to the company’s specific situation, and then setting out the new organisational structure, training plan and steps to finalise the actual transformation process. The next phase is to set up the pilot project and then run, review and refine it until it meets the success criteria and is ready to be rolled out within the organisation on a wider scale.
Agile transformation can start small and evolve into an organisation-wide initiative over time. Truly agile organisations excel in continuously optimising, developing and adapting to changes within the market. Success is defined as a significant improvement in the time to market alongside greater operational efficiency and dramatically reduced decision-making times. It should also result in greater customer centricity and customer satisfaction. Finally, productivity should increase substantially and continuously, while employee engagement should increase.
Fundamentally, agile organisations do not necessarily change much from how they were structured previously; the main difference is that much of the traditional hierarchy is replaced with autonomous teams. Agile organisations use continual iterations to develop, improve, operate and innovate in an agile way that increases their competitive edge. Wealth managers would do well to embrace the agile movement, recognise the ever-present benefits observed in companies that have adopted agile approaches in other industries, and take the steps now to benefit from a more dynamic business environment – both now and in the future.
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