CGI’s What’s Happening in Trade podcast series covers the latest news and insights in the world of trade finance and transaction banking. This podcast is hosted by CGI trade expert Patrick DeVilbiss, who invites trade finance and banking executives to share their perspectives on the current and future state of trade.
In this episode, Patrick speaks with Andy Schmidt, Vice-President & Global Industry Lead for Banking at CGI. They discuss the results of CGI’s 2023 Voice of our Clients (VOC) research and what it reveals about key trends within banking organizations, the attributes of digital leaders, and actions that maximize returns on digital investments.
Key trends in transaction banking
In the wake of the pandemic, the banking industry is continuing to experience an overall shift towards digitization, with a focus on identifying new ways of working and connecting remotely. In the trade market specifically, there are several key drivers for digitization: a desire for real-time information, a move away from legacy systems, and a dynamic trade market stemming from geopolitical events, including the war in Ukraine and supply chain disruptions occurring during the pandemic and beyond. As a result, identifying new partners, maximizing relationships with existing partners, leveraging data, automating, and moving away from manual forms have all been key discussion points in the shift towards a truly digital, global world.
Customer expectations are driving technology and digital acceleration
In 2021, only 17% of corporate and transaction banks were seeing results from their digital strategies. In 2023, that number has more than doubled, with 38% reporting results. Because the banking industry is highly impacted by retail banking customers who expect services to be digital, mobile, real time and omnichannel, these service expectations have translated into the corporate and transaction banking world. The need to authenticate, digitize and access as much information as possible on as few devices as possible, are all key drivers specific to corporate and transaction banking and add a level of complexity that goes beyond retail banking.
Choosing the right modernization approach
Banks are currently focused on advancing their platforms and applications. While larger banks have the budget to build out their own capabilities, smaller banks are working with fintechs who excel at providing the features, functionality, and capabilities that their customers are demanding. At the same time, many banks are working like fintechs in the way they cooperate and compete. Success depends on identifying what the customer journey is, who can offer the best parts and pieces, and how it all ties together.
The evolution of environmental, social, and governance (ESG)
In 2022, 36% of corporate and transaction banks viewed the fight against climate change, including energy transition and acceleration towards carbonization, as having a high degree of impact on their business. In 2023, that number rose to 53% — the biggest jump in banking.
Corporate customers, regulators and clients are putting pressure on banks to demonstrate that they have a decarbonization plan in place and are moving towards a sustainable future. Banks are beginning to understand that new products are needed, and the next stage is to finance the technologies that will help banks progress in offering sustainable loan and investment products.
Because corporate and transaction banks were instrumental in helping to reconfigure supply chains during the height of the pandemic and during the war in Ukraine, they are well-positioned to help existing and future clients find more sustainable partners. This is one of the many areas where data and ESG policy can intersect with existing business and offer an opportunity for banks to determine how to make their own and their customers’ trade capabilities more sustainable.
Managing the graying of the transaction banking industry
With a generation of trade professionals preparing to retire, replacing subject matter expertise is a key concern across the banking industry. Because analytics are improving each year, analyzing historical business cycles is becoming easier and more accurate, contributing to a smoother transition. However, a mentorship or apprenticeship model could be leveraged to build the time and experience needed to develop both customer relationships and a deep and nuanced understanding of the market and how it truly operates.
Automation applications and the future of banking
As this changing of the guard unfolds, fostering a mindset that prioritizes modernization and digitization will help accelerate the efficiencies related to automation and artificial intelligence (AI). One key focus is automating and digitizing processes that are form- and paper-based. Using automation or robotic process automation (RPA) to ensure forms are filled out correctly and that people have the right form, for example, frees up time to explore more advanced forms of automation and to move on to “Holy Grail” items like predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.
The value of predictive analytics and generative AI lies in their ability to aggregate information, make predictions, and save time by doing analysis for the practitioner. At the same time, it's important to note that adoption of the simpler forms of automation is quite high, while the adoption rates of the more advanced forms of automation and artificial intelligence is quite low. With a model that can answer questions, users need to know what questions to ask and what answers they need. For example, with simple automation, the user can ask, “did I ingest the information, yes, or no?” In RPA, they can ask, “is the form correct, yes, or no?” But there are multiple answers to a more sophisticated question such as, “will the market grow by 10%?” The model can answer “no,” because the market is going to grow by 20%. Constructing the query and understanding the answer the user is looking for becomes more challenging as the stack becomes more sophisticated. Going forward, there will be a lot of opportunity and movement in the artificial intelligence and generative AI spaces. The banking industry is at the starting point of applying this technology.
Keeping pace with change is a requirement, it's no longer an option. Organizations are creating new opportunities and new data sets that have value and need to be protected. At the same time, infrastructures are aging, making legacy infrastructure one of the biggest barriers to modernization. Potential areas for improvement include replacing outdated infrastructure, creating cloud versions of applications already being used, or finding a partner to make the back office more efficient. Organizations can focus on leveraging and mining data to uncover new opportunities, new trends, and new threats to safeguard against.
For more insights from Andy about key trends in the corporate & transaction banking industry, listen to the full podcast. For questions or comments, contact Patrick.
- Chapter 1: Introductions
Patrick DeVilbiss: Hello everyone and welcome to CGI's latest episode of the “What's Happening in Trade” Podcast. I'm Patrick DeVilbiss, Head of Product for Trade360, and I am joined today by a very special guest, CGI's very own Andy Schmidt, Vice-President and Industry Lead for Banking. I just refer to you, Andy, as our guru in the banking world, but thank you so much for joining us, really appreciate it.
Andy Schmidt: My pleasure.
- Chapter 2: The Voice of Our Clients
Patrick DeVilbiss: Great. So, Andy, we've got a couple of interesting topics to talk about today, and I want to kick us off with maybe a little bit of context because we're going to be talking about and putting this around our Voice of Our Client, which is a survey that CGI puts out on a yearly basis, we go out to all of our clients that we work with.
But I wondered if you could give us a little bit of context for that survey. What is it? Why do we do it? How do we get the results? Those sorts of things. Any information you could give us about that?
Andy Schmidt: Sure. Before I start, thanks again for having me on. It's a real pleasure to be with you. The Voice of Our Clients is our annual survey with, not just our clients but also our prospects, to identify what the key trends are within their organizations. It also helps us identify the attributes of digital leaders and identify the actions that maximize returns on digital investments to satisfy the needs of, not just customers, but also citizens, as well.
We've been conducting this survey for years. We have well over a million data points, and this year's survey consisted of almost 1,800 interviews with executives across industries and geographies that we serve.
Patrick DeVilbiss: That's phenomenal. That's just a lot of data to be able to go through and a lot of data, not just for a point in time, that ability to go back and talk about what happened in the past, also very, very important, very helpful.
- Chapter 3: Key trends in transaction banking
Patrick DeVilbiss: With that kind of backdrop, let's take it more into the meat of what we want to talk about. Within that context, we ask a variety of different questions about the banking space, in particular. I guess what have you seen in terms of overall trends in banking and maybe anything more specific in the transaction banking space? What's been happening in that area, and any tie-ins to the world of trade that you can see from an overall perspective, that kind of big picture trends in banking?
Andy Schmidt: Sure. At the high level, what we've been seeing is an overall push towards digitization over the last few years. Moving away from paper-based processes and even moving away, to a certain degree, from in-person meetings. This was of course a direct result of the pandemic, and so digitization overall has really taken off over the last few years as we all identify new ways to work and new ways to connect remotely while still getting business done.
In terms of the trade market, again, digitization, moving away from legacy systems, trying to have real-time information, or at least as much real-time information as possible, has certainly been a key driver. When you think about the geopolitical stage, the trade market has been, shall we say, dynamic with the war in Ukraine and the supply chain disruptions that were going on before or during the pandemic and beyond.
Being able to identify new partners, being able to maximize the relationships with existing partners, being able to leverage data, automate as much as possible, move away from manual forms have all been key discussion points as we go towards a truly digital, truly 24 by seven, truly global world.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Yeah, we definitely saw from our client base at the start of a pandemic a little bit of scrambling. We were lucky in terms of what we deploy as a product because it's a SaaS component, so our clients, aside from dealing with some operational challenges, just switched over to, hey, suddenly you got to do this at home more than you do this at work. That's just the way it is, you got access to your digital copies, and you follow everything on the trail that's already there.
- Chapter 4: Technology and digital acceleration
Patrick DeVilbiss: Let's shift gears a little bit and dig in a bit deeper. I want to start off by talking about technology and, generally digital acceleration, right? You referenced up front, as one of the big trends, that digitization piece and what it means to the world of trade. How have customer expectations changed? In terms of the use of technology and digitization, what kind of trends have we seen there more recently?
Andy Schmidt: Sure. One other thing that's important to note is that the corporate and transaction banking world was not very digital at all going into the pandemic, and so again, lots of paper, lots of face-to-face meetings. When we looked at, in 2021, the percentage of corporate and transaction banks that were getting results from their digital strategies, that number was only 17%, and that was the lowest across the banking world. Since then, it's grown to 38%. So, 38% in 2023, more than doubling over just two short years, and now it's actually pulled ahead of the capital markets segment in terms of digitization, in terms of getting results.
Now, you asked about customer expectations. When we talk about banking overall, the retail bank really sets the high watermark for customer expectations: digital everything, mobile everything, 24 by seven everything, omnichannel everything. The corporate and transaction banking space isn't far behind. The reason for that is twofold. One, we're all consumers, we're all retail banking customers, and there's a certain element of that expectation or set of expectations that translates into the corporate and transaction banking world. Part of that is the desire to see everything in one place. Look, the idea being you could have a central dashboard to see where your cash is, what your loans outstanding are, et cetera. We can see that largely in the retail banking world. The expectation is for corporate and transaction banking to have the same types of things.
But the corporate and transaction banking world also has a certain amount of complexity that goes well beyond retail. For example, KYC or know your customer, being able to open up new accounts, onboard new subsidiaries, change signatories, those types of things take up a lot of the administrative load for the corporate and transaction banking side of the house, and that's before you get to customer service. Being able to authenticate, being able to digitize, being able to access as much information as possible on as few devices as necessary are all key drivers within the corporate and transaction banking world as we think about digitization overall.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I think the number of times that we've heard from our banking customers who say to us, "Look, if X, Y, Z corporate talks to us and says, well, I can do it on Apple, why can't I do it with you?" It's just kind of that expectation of this is how things work in the modern world, that's just how it is. It's kind of been interesting to see that shift over time, and I think it's somewhat generational too.
- Chapter 5: Choosing the right modernization approach
Patrick DeVilbiss: On that note, that heightened expectation and the depth to which and complexity to which in the transaction banking side you have to manage. Are banks best positioned themselves to deploy new technology solutions to address that modernization approach, or should they really be thinking about partnering with fintechs, third-party organizations, those sorts of entities as they look to advance their platforms and applications?
Andy Schmidt: The answer is yes. What I mean by that is that they certainly, in some of the larger banks, are building out their own capabilities because they have the budget to do so. There are also a great number of banks that are working with fintechs who are very good on a very specific thing to obtain, to provide the features, the functionality, the capabilities that their customers are looking for.
You're also seeing banks working as looking like fintechs in terms of the way they cooperate, the way they compete, as well. One area is in the embedded finance segment, where a bank offers financial services capabilities in a non-financial way. There are certainly fintechs that can do that type of thing, but it is a very, shall we say, nuanced world in terms of where the features and functionality come from. It's really about identifying what the customer journey is, who's got the best parts and pieces to help you get there, and then how, of course, you tie it all together.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Yeah-
Andy Schmidt: Of course, sorry.
Patrick DeVilbiss: That mentality has certainly changed. I've seen it change anyway in the last five to 10 years, right? At the outset it was, oh no, these are our competitors out there, we can't work with these folks, but it seems like there's been a lot of opportunity. But to your point, you need to think about strategically: where are you leveraging those partners, how are you leveraging them and what may be potentially compromised in the process as you go through that?
- Chapter 6: Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)
Patrick DeVilbiss: Let me take us in a slightly different direction, Andy, and talk a little bit about ESG as a topic, right? I think that this was reported within the survey, there were some questions around ESG. We certainly, in the trade world, talk about ESG all the time. In terms of rolling out new products from ESG standpoint and just interest generally, is there a sync-up between what we're seeing in the banking space versus expectations in the corporate world, or is one side ahead of the other?
Are corporate clients expecting that there's a plethora of ESG products that are out there to match their needs, or are banks rolling out new products that maybe are not necessarily being taken advantage of by corporate clients? How is that kind of aligning at the moment?
Andy Schmidt: Yeah, I'd say it's a mix of the two. I mean, there's certainly specialty groups within a number of the larger institutions. There are certainly sustainable corporate loans that exist, even sustainable investment vehicles that exist. What's important is that the percentage of corporate and transaction banks that saw the fight against climate change, including energy transition and acceleration towards carbonization as having a high degree of impact on their business rose from 36% in 2022 to 53% in 2023.
It's the biggest jump that we saw in all of banking, and it is because pressure is coming from multiple different directions. It's coming from the customers of the corporates, it's coming from the regulators of the corporates, and it's coming from the clients of the corporates. Being able to demonstrate that you do have a decarbonization plan in place, that you are moving towards a sustainable future are all factors driving the increase in corporate and transaction banking interest and impact in terms of sustainability.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Then, how far do we have to go in this space, right? Do we feel like we're just kind of burgeoning? Do we feel like maybe we've made some headway; we still have a bit of a ways to go? Do we feel like we're a bit more advanced? Where do we sit in the scale of what we've achieved and what we can achieve, I would say at the transaction banking level across the board?
Andy Schmidt: I'd say that we're at the end of the beginning in that we understand that products are needed, and the next stage is really to finance the technologies that will help us get to where we need to be. Certainly, there are a lot of investment dollars out there, but that is slightly different than what we're talking about in terms of loan products. There are certainly a number of investment products out there, but again, that's different than investing in that next wave of technology.
Now, will corporate and transaction banks be the organizations providing services, providing funding, sometimes even providing capital to these new firms as they mature? Absolutely, but at the moment it's really very much the basics. Providing funding for greener initiatives, working with clients to help create a greener future, a better carbonization plan. But there are also some opportunities that have yet to be capitalized upon. One is a more sustainable supply chain.
When you consider that the corporate and transaction banks were front and center in terms of helping to reconfigure supply chains during the height of the pandemic and to a lesser extent during the Ukraine war, these institutions are well-positioned to help existing clients and even future clients find more sustainable partners. This is one of the many areas where data and ESG policy can intersect with the existing business, and it's an opportunity for banks of all stripes to figure out how they can make their trade capabilities and their customer's trade more sustainable.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Yeah, I think overlaying that concept of value-add to customers with ESG in the banking space, that's massive. There's a lot of upside and opportunity there. We talk about it, I feel like I've harped on it a couple of times in the world of trade, that trade globally, of absolutely critical importance, right? The role that a trade bank can play as a result could be massive if you so choose to, but I think we're still at the end of the beginning, good way to put it.
I think there's still a lot of room to grow, a lot of ground to cover in the space and more opportunities, more new products and services that will be rolled out over time to address what is a growing need from a market standpoint.
Andy Schmidt: When you figure that trade is one of the truly global businesses, it's a brilliant opportunity to help make it more sustainable.
- Chapter 7: Graying of the transaction banking industry
Patrick DeVilbiss: Yep, 100%, 100%. Let's take this in a different direction and talk a little bit about ... we spoke earlier on the end of digitization and the impact of digitization to customer expectations. I want to talk a little bit about internal social demographics and what's happening within, in particular, the world of trade, but I think it's broader to transaction banking. We've talked about it as the graying of the industry, that sort of thing.
There's a whole generation of folks that are moving out that have finally reached a point in their careers where they're saying, "Well, I'm ready to retire." I think what we've seen is that there's a challenge to replace, in particular, subject matter expertise for those folks, because just the way we structure corporations these days is not quite what it was 30 years ago. The learnings aren't the same, the speed with which folks move from job to job, it's much faster. I guess one of the questions I had was, are we seeing technology helping to maybe smooth this transition a little bit and prepare the next generation coming in?
Andy Schmidt: Sure. Well, yes and no. There are certainly insights that we can create now with existing technology that we couldn't do five years ago, let alone 10 or 20. The challenge, though, is the one that you raised in terms of having that experience. Years ago, when I was on the industry side, we were having a conversation about liquidity management, and the feedback that I got at the time was that you needed three ingredients to have an effective liquidity management solution. Solution really is in finger quotes. It was gray hair, gut and a spreadsheet. Those were the three things that you needed.
The idea was that you needed the experience of multiple business cycles, of multiple downturns, of multiple even seasons, depending on the business, to get a sense of what the rhythm of the industry was. Then you needed your gut to tell you when something was off, and you needed the spreadsheet to confirm what the problem was or where you might be able to solve it.
Now, we still have spreadsheets, and the analytics is getting better year over year, day over day. You're able to tell, for example, whether or not bank ABC's payment batch has made it to the network yet, and if so, is it late? Is there a problem? Is there something else? We're certainly able to analyze historical business cycles much better than we were able to in the past. But that changing of the guard, that creation of the customer relationship, knowing what you've been through with the client to help them in their business is something that is largely oral tradition.
Some of it may be in the file, but I remember when I was a commercial banker, you often had to read between the lines in terms of what was in the file, and the best way to get the information was to talk to the accountant themselves. The technology aspects have certainly improved and made that transition earlier, or easier rather, but we definitely still need that, whether it's a mentorship model, whether it's an apprenticeship model, you still need that time and seat with the customer, the time and seat with the market to get a sense of how it truly operates and what the nuances are.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Yeah, it's interesting. What we've observed in the world of trade, I would say, is two things. One, that there's now an ability to use tools that will let you create institutional knowledge that are built into your applications, which didn't exist before, particularly in the operations side.
You can take any of these intelligent process automation solutions, for instance, and set them up to be catered to the manner in which your bank operates, right? That was otherwise a subject matter expert who had 25 years of experience and could tell you based on date and time exactly how you were supposed to handle this transaction. Now, you get that institutionalized.
I think the other side that I found kind of interesting is that there's also a whole new generation coming in, that when we talk to them about trade, it's not just, hey, you're going to get these physical documents sent to you with the coffee stains, and you won't even know what a Phytosanitary Certificate is, that sort of thing.
Instead, we're going to deploy you on the latest artificial intelligence solution, which also kind of changes the mentality of what it's about, what the world of trade and transaction banking is. It's much more modernized, much more interesting, which I think then appeals to a whole new generation, which is quite interesting.
- Chapter 8: The importance of automation applications in the future
I'll take that as a great transition point then to say, let's talk about that automation side of things. I noticed in the survey we had a couple of breakouts or a couple of slides that were talking about automation generally, the use of artificial intelligence, use of intelligent process automation. What should banks be thinking about in terms of using those sorts of applications in the future? It's a big open-ended question. Take that as you want to, but there's a lot of open space there. What do you think is top of mind right now?
Andy Schmidt: Sure. One of the things that's important is that as we have this changing of the guard, being able to bring up a mindset that is much more about modernization, much more towards digitization will help accelerate the efficiencies that we can see in the market, and accelerate the use of, while not new in general, newer to certain parts of the banking world, like automation, like artificial intelligence.
Where should a bank start? I came from the banking and the consulting world, so of course my answer's going to be it depends, but one of the key parts to focus on is processes that are or have been very form-based, very paper-based. Using a form of either automated or robotic process automation to handle that piece of it for you to make sure that the forms are filled out correctly, that people have the right form, et cetera. That frees you up to take a look at more advanced forms of automation and even to move on to Holy Grail items like predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.
So back to the gray hair, gut and spreadsheet, be able to take the data that you've ingested through either an automated or robotic process and compare that to historical data, and say, "You know what? I'm predicting that this event will happen in the next 30, 60, 90 days based off of what I've seen." That way, you have a much better compass in terms of how you run the business.
As you look at predictive analytics, as you look at generative AI, which is the hot topic right now, being able to aggregate that information, make predictions and save time for the practitioner by doing the analysis for them are certainly areas where we're seeing a lot of conversation, a lot of discussion, a lot of proof of concept, proof of value.
At the same time, it's important to note that as you look at the data, the adoption rates of the simpler forms of automation is quite high, the adoption rates of the more advanced forms of automation and artificial intelligence is quite low. The reason for that is that when you have a model that can answer questions for you, you need to know what questions you want to ask, what answers you're looking for.
If it's simple automation, you can say, did I ingest the information, yes or no? Robotic process automation, is the form correct, yes or no? But if you're asking is the market going to grow by 10%? And the model says, well, it's going to grow by 20, the answer technically is no, it's not going to grow by 10%. Being able to construct the query, understand what you're actually looking for becomes more challenging as you move up the stack in terms of sophistication in both automation and artificial intelligence.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Makes a lot of sense. I think there's going to be a ton of opportunity and movement in the artificial intelligence space and generative AI. We're just at a starting point there for sure.
- Chapter 9: Closing remarks
Andy, kind of wrapping things up a little bit, what do you want to leave our audience thinking about today? What should they be thinking about from a business standpoint as they head into their day tomorrow? What kind of critical pieces are out there, and what should they take away overall from our discussion today?
Andy Schmidt: Sure. I mean, there are a number of facets to it. One, modernization is key. Being able to keep pace with the pace of change is a requirement, it's no longer an option. Securing your data and your infrastructure goes along with that. As you create new opportunities, new data sets, those data sets have value, and you want to protect those from those who might want to interrupt that value chain.
At the same time, infrastructures are aging, and legacy infrastructure is one of the biggest barriers to modernization right now. Looking at ways to modernize your infrastructure, whether it's through replacement, whether it's through cloud versions of the types of things you're already using, whether it's partnering with someone to make your back office more efficient, these are all areas of potential improvement.
Then lastly, look at that data, leverage that data, mine that data to uncover new opportunities, new trends, and just as importantly, new threats to safeguard against. Because the data is there, but again, you have to understand what question you want the answer to before you delve too deeply into it.
Patrick DeVilbiss: Great. Andy, look, thank you so much for joining us today and offering your insights. A really good session. I think you brought a lot to the table. As always, thank you to everyone listening in, and expect to hear from us soon with more insights from the world of trade and transaction banking. Thank you all.
Andy Schmidt: Thank you.