The transition within financial firms toward more digitized communications, including investor documentation, is accelerating as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, panelists at SIFMA’s Annual Meeting said.
Financial firms and other institutions worldwide were already undertaking digital transformations prior to the onset of COVID-19, but disruptions from the pandemic forced a massive acceleration of their efforts, said Mark Foster, senior vice president at IBM Services.
About two-thirds of the 3,500 executives that participated in a recent IBM survey said they’ve seen a massive acceleration in their digital journeys as a result of having to respond to the pandemic, Foster said.
“Here is a case where necessity has really driven innovation,” said Foster. “It has actually compelled all of our client organizations to leverage technology to connect with customers, to connect their employees with each other and with customers, and to drive their digital journeys even deeper.”
The trend is driving more demand among financial firms for widespread adoption of digital communications, including electronic delivery of investor documents, said Broadridge CEO Tim Gokey.
“Digitized communications are clearly the way forward,” Gokey said
SIFMA and other trade associations last month issued a discussion paper calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission to update its rules to make electronic delivery of investor documents the default option. The groups say e-delivery is faster and safer than processing hard-copy paperwork, and allows investors more options and flexibility in how they review documents.
“We are definitely supporting and investing in these initiatives, and it is one where there’s a great opportunity to have it both ways: To increase client engagement, and to save money at the same time,” said Gokey.
Gokey said institutions should take a three-pronged approach to their digital transformations, which begins with integrating and modernizing their digital communication infrastructures.
“Too many firms have multiple archiving, composition, conference management, e-delivery solutions across their different product areas. Modernizing that can save money, but more importantly, it can enable a much more integrated conversation with clients,” Gokey said.
Secondly, firms should be more aggressive in targeting ways they can reduce their use of paper.
“Integrating e-delivery preferences within the firm, combining multiple communications to the same client on the same day in one envelope, reducing white space in summary statements — it can all drive paper down,” Gokey said.
Finally, firms must focus on providing a “truly next-generation digital experience,” Gokey said. Incorporating features like clickable content into client communications “creates a digital experience that is much more interactive, much more valuable than paper.”
While these moves and others in firms’ push toward digitization have ramped up because of the pandemic, it is unlikely they will go away once the virus has abated, Foster noted.
“I think what we’re starting to see now is that organizations are recognizing that this new normal will be around for some time,” said Foster. “The digital transformation that’s been accelerated here is now going to need to be put in stone as part of a new long term strategy for our clients’ organizations.”
Firms are also ramping up their transition to the cloud, the panelists said, with Google Cloud Vice President and Head of Platform Amit Zavery noting that “the future (for financial services) is going to be around hybrid and multi-cloud.”
Zavery stressed that financial services firms could benefit greatly from the innovations currently happening in the cloud space, which are tackling many issues facing the industry.
“I think there was always this worry before about security, as well as data residency, compliance, regulation — those kinds of things. I think we have come a long way with vendors… who have solved some of these complicated issues,” Zavery said.