BNP Paribas’ head of digital transformation for corporate and institutional banking, Rudi Collin, talks to Joy Macknight about his vision for transforming the bank into a truly digital organisation. 

Rudi Collin

Rudi Collin, head of digital transformation for corporate and institutional banking (CIB) at BNP Paribas, took up his position a year ago with a mandate to lead the digital transformation of the global markets group within the CIB division. In January his remit was extended to the whole division.

“The idea of quick design, developing, testing and adapting products and services while involving clients – this is a fundamental paradigm shift in the development of commercial applications,” he says. “CIB in general still needs to learn from retail and e-commerce, for example, in embracing this new paradigm.”

Historically, CIB has been organised around products, but the drawback with this structure is that banks have responded to client needs from a product-centric perspective. “To significantly improve the satisfaction of clients through the use of new technologies, we need to start again from the real needs that clients are looking to address when they buy financial products and services,” he explains.
“For example, a customer doesn’t come to a bank because they want a mortgage, but because they want to buy a house. A mortgage is one way of financing this purchase, while peer-to-peer [P2P] lending could be another. That presents a completely different set of options and a bank has to adapt fast to those new developments.”
This way of thinking is also applicable to corporate financing. P2P and corporate lending platforms are already emerging and banks are under pressure to respond.

Being digital or offering a digital experience is much more than having a beautiful interface, he stresses, adding: “It is a full provision of service that must be redesigned – starting from on-boarding through to post-trade services.”

Cultural change

The position of chief digital officer should only be a temporary one, according to Mr Collin. “I believe the role is transitional because as long as a bank speaks of a digital strategy alongside a traditional strategy then it hasn’t fully completed the job of endorsing digital,” he explains.
Today, the position is essential in ensuring the diverse businesses within a bank are acutely aware that new technology is enabling completely different business models. “Understanding what these technologies can do to our business requires a function that is focused solely on that,” says Mr Collin. “Their knowledge has to be disseminated so that everyone understands that digital has become part of our daily business lives.”

Because, while technology may be developing at a rapid pace, changing people takes time. For example, user experience when consuming services on a tablet is becoming a key decision factor for repeat purchase. Yet this in itself is a discovery for many employees, especially those that do not see the benefits in using tablets.
Thus changing the culture of a large institution is a daunting task, but Mr Collin is clear that it will not transform simply by replacing its workforce. “While some may think that the answer is to hire people with the right mindset and digital savviness, which may infuse some sparks, I don’t believe that on its own this is how lasting change is achieved. Plus we have a wealth of expertise within the organisation that we need to preserve and protect,” he says.
Instead, BNP Paribas launched a series of internal ‘knowledge sessions’, which include presentations and debates on specific technological themes, such as blockchain, big data and artificial intelligence, to bring its employees up to speed with external developments. The bank also invites businesses in other industries to talk about their own revolution.
It organises hackathons internally and with clients. “The aim is to develop partnerships with clients who will be the future users of the services that are designed together,” says Mr Collin.

Fintech engagement

BNP Paribas is exploring how new technologies can be used in a much cheaper way than even a few years ago. “Designing a convenient user interface and accessing a lot of data in almost real time, with graphics to visually represent the information in a much more intuitive way, can be done at a fraction of the cost today,” says Mr Collin. “Already that means we can do a lot more for less, provided that we also invest in the underlying technology.”
The bank looks for partnerships once it has understood the benefits of a specific technology. “We are interested in tangible and concrete prototypes that we can test with clients and where we can see an impact quite quickly, in order to infuse management’s motivation and commitment,” he explains.
Whereas BNP Paribas does not often invest in fintech companies, it has taken stakes in infrastructure players; for example, it was an early shareholder in Markit. Likewise the bank joined tech company R3’s blockchain initiative in November 2015.
“Blockchain is on everyone’s agenda.” says Mr Collin. “But the whole idea of blockchain is to revamp market infrastructure, which requires a critical mass of participants. Moving at the pace of the others and developing it together is a wise decision.”


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