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Bank’s Top Priority is to Boost Boardroom Tech Expertise

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Global pressures have forced banks to significantly increase their adoption of digital technologies over the past few years. Yet, there is a continued lack of technology expertise and digital fluency in the boardrooms of the world’s largest banks, according to a new research report from Accenture.The report finds banks increasing their technology investment, as they are looking to enhance their resilience and efficiency. But increasingly, they need technology to address changing customer demands and drive growth.Banking customers prefer the seamless, high-quality, hassle-free service the right digital tools can enable. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened customers’ interest in interacting digitally. For example, before the pandemic only 15% of customers used video calling, while 46% are now ready to do this when banks reopen—and 35% prefer this to face-to-face.Nearly four in five banking executives see a need to dramatically re-engineer their technology-people interactions to achieve a more human-centric approach. Banks are leveraging technology such as cloud to boost service levels and accelerate offer development.

But as they increase their technology investments, banks face a key question: Does their board have the digital fluency and expertise to assess and support these new solutions?

Missing: Tech-savvy bank board directors

Banking personnel and executives see value in rapidly increasing their digital technology investment. What’s missing, though, is technology expertise at the board level.

Some banks do have high-profile technology experts on their boards, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Our research finds only 10 percent of banking board directors currently hold or have previously held a technology role, or a senior role at a technology company. Among those with tech expertise, roughly a third are women.

These numbers are low, but the improvement has been seen since Accenture research team first conducted this research in 2015. Today, 67% of banks have at least one board member with technology expertise, compared with 57% in 2015. Also one out of 10 banking board directors have tech expertise, a modest improvement over 6% in 2015.

This progress is indeed slow. The researchers believe banks should aim for technology expertise in at least 25 percent of its board directors. But at the current pace, most won’t reach that goal until the end of this decade.The board’s technology expertise and digital fluency matter because firstly, without it, banks could make mistakes in developing their digital strategy, evaluating potential vendors or rolling out new systems. Secondly, lacking coordination from a tech-skilled board, different business units might choose different—and incompatible—technologies.Technology risk is on the rise, so banks cannot afford to be guided by boards that lack adequate technology expertise.“While it’s not practical for banks to make a rash number of tech-savvy board appointments to fill the gap in technology credentials, they should consider technology expertise as a factor for new appointments,alongside their other evaluation criteria,” said Mauro Macchi, who leads Accenture Strategy & Consulting in Europe.

“There are also other, more immediate ways to increase technology expertise among board members — for example,coach members on the latest developments on key technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence and the internet of things to better understand how the combination of technology and human ingenuity unlocks value. Boards can also tap into the expertise of third-party suppliers and make time to specifically discuss the technology strategy during board meetings to get the most out of their investments,” Macchi said.

Building bank boards’ tech proficiency

Banks can take steps toward upskilling to build a tech-savvy board, better positioning themselves to respond to new consumer demands in the post-COVID era. Here are actions they can pursue:

Boost directors’ tech savvy

Ongoing coaching can help them improve their understanding of technology and their usefulness in guiding tech investments.

Listen outside the boardroom

Leveraging partnerships with fintechs, technology consultants, suppliers and other business partners can draw in technology know-how.

Add technology to the agenda

Technology can only come to the fore if board agendas incorporate it. Forming a technology board committee can keep the topic included.

Assess new appointees’ tech skills

Evaluation of technology skills should become a factor— albeit not the only factor—in assessing potential new board directors.

Get smart about human-technology interactions

Boards should carefully consider how technology and humans interact, whether it involves customers, bank employees or the bank’s extended partners.

Spark a transformation mindset

Technology can be transformational. Boards that support a transformation mindset pave the way for bold efforts that can take hold across the business.

Banks with tech-savvy, digitally fluent boards are better positioned to avoid the risks inherent in new digital technologies. But even more importantly, they are equipped to maximize what technology can offer, to deliver valuable customer experiences and profits for the bank.

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