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The emerging commercial and operational landscape

Digital innovation and transformation have rapidly accelerated over the last 25 years. Technology does not only drive the way we communicate but shaped commercial models, operating platforms, and the broader customer engagement. This development leads to challenges but also immense opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurship. An analytical framework is required on how to commercialise and operationalise technology innovations.

Transformative technologies

Digital transformation in the financial sector has been driven by open and decentralised finance. These two overarching trends are underpinned by three key technologies that constitute the value-creation pillars of the industry’s digital transformation agenda.

Open architecture has substantially improved operational efficiency through automation and collaboration as the first value-creation pillar. Advanced software solutions such as application programme interfaces (API), cloud computing (CC) and smart desktops drive today’s open architecture models. Open collaborative architecture allows incumbent organisations to specialise in their core competence and to embed best-in-class services with the objective to provide customers a comprehensive experience through core platform offerings.

Artificial intelligence (AI) with its focus on big data and advanced analytics represents with augmented decision making the second pillar. Machine learning (ML) is a key field of study of AI that uses mathematical procedures, algorithms, for the analysis, manipulation, pattern recognition and prediction of data. This allows to process large data with mathematical accuracy and objectivity which leads to unbiased results, substantial efficiency gains and new insights. It allows the optimisation of decision analytics and leads to a more comprehensive, objective and accurate decision making such as the prediction of specific political, macroeconomic and/or corporate events. With robotic process automation (RPA), AI further allows the autonomous replication of repetitive tasks through intelligent behaviour.

Decentralised technologies such as distributed ledger technology (DLT), the parent technology behind blockchain facilitate identity management, value storage, and back‐office operations such as settlement of payments and securities transactions. DLT and blockchain digitise and renovate todays financial and legal infrastructure. DeFi utilises smart contracts on blockchains to perform financial services functions but without the traditional intermediary model. With Web3, an even more ambitious vision of digital decentralization and tokenisation is emerging.

Specialised commercial propositions and operating platforms

The integration of key technologies and the specialisation of the value propositions on large-scale operating platforms are the core driver of the financial industry’s reorganisation efforts. Digital business models with their technology-enabled services that apply the open design principles follow a model of collaboration and integration. An operating platform with an open-source architecture builds on a universal offering by integrating best-in class services. There is a role for specialised, the challengers, but also for large-scale incumbent players, the established financial institutions. On the one hand, utility-like product and services can operationally only be delivered through scale and efficiency while making sure that the regulatory requirements are fulfilled. On the other hand, there is inherent value in specialised risk-transfer and distribution capabilities.

Specialty finance has become a widely used term. It has historically been defined as any financing activity that takes place outside the traditional financial system. Most specialty finance businesses have been established as alternative lending and investing platforms, targeting segments that find it difficult to obtain financing through traditional channels. We are using the term broadly for specialised risk-transfer businesses that target consumer and commercial segments with dedicated and tailored propositions. Their approach is focused on the performance of the underlying asset, and funding often provided through innovative facilities and structures.

Specialty finance players focus on assessing risk in a more tailored and effective manner, looking at a broader range of available data as opposed to the more ratio-driven, formulaic approach that traditional financial institutions have been using. A thorough level of underwriting allows them to provide debt financing in special situations, often declined by traditional lenders, while obtaining a premium price to cover the work and risk. This dedicated approach applies in a similar fashion to equity investments where big data and machine-learning algorithms are used to screen and assess the investment universe. In addition, specialty insurance business focus on insuring and reinsuring specific lines of business. The combination of alternative investment strategies with reinsurance and the reengineering of life insurance assets have released capital and provide specific risk mitigation across different asset classes.

These reorganisation trends need to accelerate and requires substantial investments and the break-up of the industry’s existing organisational structures. Regulatory and capital requirements under Basel IV, for instance, concluded in a funding gap of over EUR 3bn, while certain customer segments such as European small- and midsize enterprises (SME) have been underserved and neglected by incumbent institutions. SME borrowers and sponsors are engaging nonbank providers and frequently seeking holistic financing solutions and execution certainty. Specialised direct lending platforms have rapidly accelerated the disintermediation of the European banking landscape. This trend will continue and eventually conclude in an ecosystem of specialised providers who will connect to each other to open-source standards.


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