Accelerated digitization in a world in crisis
Gurhan Cam, Deputy CDO & President of the Innovation Committee at DenizBank in Turkey, writes about how this crisis is forcing a set of major changes onto the financial world.
Many of us who are lucky enough have been working from home for the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rest whom are essential workers are still trying to work while trying to stay safe.
This crisis put the world economy in a precarious position while also proving a lot of points about the digitalization and evolution of the workforce. At the beginning of this decade we had a lot of theories and predictions about the future and how the world would move to a more remote work economy. This has never been closer to reality than it is at the moment. And I expect some of these emergency changes to stay after the crisis is gone and the world once again returns to some sort of normalcy.
How will the world change after this crisis?
The definition of “remote work” will change. Before this worldwide crisis, we reserved the remote work usually for specific jobs such as digital artists, developers, designers etc. And as we can all guess, these jobs were not a reality before the age of “digital”. Thanks to being born out of digitalization, these jobs were allowed the option of working remotely with their teams. However, the jobs that existed prior to the digital revolution were not granted this option.
Traditional organizations such as banks still expected their accountants, procurement specialists, HR personnel, and branch personnel to be present in their offices.
But at the moment, while fighting a global pandemic we are realizing that there is little we cannot do in a digital world. While the psychological effects are a different matter, the small black screen of our PC’s, tablets and phones allows us to keep working with minimal loss of productivity.
So what is awaiting at the end of this pandemic, other than death and economic destruction? Well, for the most part, a bit more flexible working hours & flexible work spaces. A world less fearful of the negatives of “digitalization” and more hopeful about its potential. Further in this article I will answer some questions about digitalization and its effects on the financial world after the pandemic.
How the financial world was affected and how will it change going forward?
The pandemic is about to lead us into a global recession, that’s an unfortunate fact. Yet, I cannot help but think that if we were up against such a crisis in 2012 (only eight years earlier) we would be in much worse shape. In 2012, online retail was a luxury that can only be afforded by the most affluent of customers. In 2018 this luxury has become a normal part of our daily lives. We have been able to order our groceries, clothes, electronics and more from online stores and receive them within a day. However, now in 2020 this “normal” is a “must”. The shift from luxury to normal happened gradually throughout the years, yet the shift from normal to must happened in mere weeks. That’s why, if we were not able to reach the “normal” before the “must” the world would be facing a much bigger scale of health & economic devastation.
As a traditional bank we were aware the upcoming effects of the pandemic would be critical, mainly due to our wide network of branches across the whole country. Yet, we were incredibly confident in our technological acumen, which would allow us to serve our customers through our digital banking channels. In 2012, our only digital channel was our online banking. Now we serve our customers (including the niche segments) with 12 different channels. The banking and financial industry also experienced this “from luxury to normal” transition gradually.
One of the leading actors in achieving this normal is financial institutions such as banks, fintechs, and techfins. Digital payments made making and receiving payments easier for everyone involved. Contactless payment options provided by these institutions were built to provide convenient and efficient systems for their customers. And, right in the middle of this pandemic crisis they are providing necessary tools for keeping social distance.
And yet, with all of our progress we were unable to make our supply chain operations fully autonomous and “humanless”. That’s why there are people in the field working to keep these operations working, and by doing so taking immense health risks.
That’s why, in the future I foresee a world building upon this crisis. We will see a new normal, originated from the musts of this crisis. Supply chains and production infrastructures that are powered by automation and robotics, instead of human labor. Customer support lines kept open by conversation A.I’s instead of human agents. And I know, these predictions were made at the beginning of the decade too. However, humanity has never faced a power such as a pandemic in the digital age. Our hands were not forced in this manner. We expected to transition from human labor to automation when the technology was ready, but we will not get the time we need.
We will see a drastic shift in customer expectations and needs. Just two months ago, the most frequent visitors of our branches were customers aged 65+, today they are the ones needing to use our digital channels more than ever. We will also see a huge movement from traditional 9 to 5 office work to flexible remote work. We will start to see cross-country employments, the age of “digital expats”. In my opinion, this movement will benefit both organizations and workers. Organizations will be able to hire talent from all around the world with minimal costs. A pandemic is showing both organizations and workers that it is doable. Most people can work from their homes full time and will continue to do so.
While the number of “digital expats” increases, the number of digital nomads who rely on the gig economy for income will decrease for a short period of time. The pandemic induced economic slowdown is causing self-employed people to find less work, thus making this arrangement a less favorable one for the near future.