A Handy Introduction to Digital


I hated Latin at school.  Don’t know why – Latin is very structured and as a mathematician by training I like clear structure.  Maybe because it’s rule based and I’ve always had a thing about rules. Not that I don’t see the need for rules, it’s just that a rule is a decision made in advance of the facts at the time.  So sometimes rules have to be broken. I don’t mean breaking important rules like driving on the left (or right, depending where you are). But rules that are essentially good advice, best practice etc.  Here’s the conundrum: if you follow best practice, you’ll get – guess what – best practice (at best).  But no better.  You won’t be a leader. But if you don’t follow best practice, you’ll get – guess what – something less than best practice.


But sometimes, just sometimes, people find a new way, a new best practice, that upends received wisdom.  From this flows progress. GBS put it better: “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Quick aside

One reason English is so difficult for machines to parse and understand (and I suspect other languages are the same) is because you have to have some knowledge of the world to interpret it correctly.  Consider the differences between these two “rules”, (1) on a building site: “Helmets must be worn” and (2) at the top of an escalator “Dogs must be carried.”  Do I have to go and find a dog?

Anyway, back to my main point.  Latin.  I think the real reason I didn’t get on with Latin is that I spent two years learning it the “traditional” way – bellum bellum bellum, bli blo blo, bla bla bla, blorum blis blis – I can still remember it (strange, I always thought, that they call it declining – I would have, if I could have.  Declined, that is) – and then they changed the scheme and we started learning it more organically, conversationally, as if it were a tourism language course before a trip to Latinland. Had to read little newsy stories about fictitious Romans doing ordinary everyday things.

So when I spend my time hearing everybody talking about Digital – digital this, digital banking, chief digital officer, – basically it has become THE word you must get in your job title and THE word you must put in every utterance (“why have you sent me this for review…it doesn’t say anything about digital?”), and also have spent a life time of crusades against anything manual (“how do you do that?” – “oh, it’s manual” – “oh!”, hollow laugh, “I see the problem”) – some education must have penetrated my skull because I am inescapably drawn into thinking about fingers (digital) and hands (manual).

Digital good, manual bad.

Fingers good, hands bad.

But it’s all true, interestingly.  Getting your hands dirty is sometimes necessary but suggests something unpleasant, risky, ought-to-be-unnecessary and full of effort.  Just like manual processes.  Whilst getting your fingers in the pie is often associated with something beneficial and making sure you get involved.  A bit like what we’re all trying to do with Digital.

Of course, like any fashion, the word means what you want it to mean.  One digital conference I went to recently was all about marketing.  Another was all about the product experience (as banking is essentially what they call an invisible product it is especially ripe for digital). Still others follow our “Digital 360” definition – Digital Outside being the access to the organization by digital means, from the outside-the-firewall (marketing) experience through to the inside-the-firewall (product) experience – oh and face to face channels are just as digital as purely electronic ones, because the teller, relationship manager and call centre operative are all dependent fully on the digital systems they have access to (sometimes called Digital Outside In).  Digital Inside, however, is where it gets really interesting, looking at how the banks transforms all the products it sells its customers (letters of credit, property finance, single debit multiple credit payments, whatever) into the things that (should) happen as a result – usually some sort of cash or asset flow, through clearing, SWIFT or other industry scheme.

Some thoughts on this whole thing:

Best practice says look at user journeys. I disagree: look at customer journeys.  For example, looking at what the accounts payable clerk’s journey is presupposes all his or her needs are a given, blocking us from challenging them root and branch. Our mantra is “What if your e-banking actually understood what you (ie the business client) were trying to achieve?”  We define the customer journey as activities that are there to promote the health and wealth of the business customer. Not preserve the job of the accounts payable clerk.  If we can find a way not to need the clerk, whoopido. Manual bad.

Best practice says you must present the customer with all the data and let them have access.  I disagree: more data ≠ better information.  Less is usually more.  Also an incorrect fundamental assumption: that the business user knows what they want to do always – often true but not always, they often need guiding, especially for SMEs.

Best practice seems to be to share with the client all the inner workings of the product.  I (and, to be fair, all the people I know) disagree.  You don’t know how your cell phone call gets routed to the other side of the world to make a call; you don’t need to know all the airline protocols to make a multi-leg journey. Yet you seem to have to understand what SWIFT Field 72 is just to pay a bill, don’t you?  At least banks are now, slowly, beginning to use the “When do you want it paid?” approach.

Best practice says clients won’t divulge other data to their banks.  I disagree.  Research shows repeatedly that people will disclose data to trusted parties – provided doing so gets them a clear benefit. In consumer land this effect reaches dangerous proportions. In business land, I was talking to a small oil company manager the other day who would be happy to share their client, invoice and other data if it means he had fewer activities and clicks to make to get his oil to his clients – whilst securing the payment he needs.

Best practice says  the back office doesn’t need as much thought and skill in its user experience as the client portal.  I disagree.  The bank itself has things it is trying to achieve (sell more, for example, or comply). That’s the digital outside, but inside. Not just customer facing staff, but also operations staff and managers with their dashboard needs.  How can the back office be digitised equally as  well as the front?

Best practice says that the bank digital access channel is all about banking and nothing else.  I disagree.  The web (i.e. DigitalLand) is full of clever capabilities – we are now using artificial intelligence techniques for customer screening, we are now able to use natural language parsing to anticipate events that affect our cash flow forecasting, we are now able to use predictive modeling to fill in otherwise blanks in corrupted data and, more simply, we can look up a ton of information – find out what sort of car it is from just its registration number as a simple example: what will be possible when LEI really comes in?

Best practice says clients won’t change bank however good the digital experience is.  I disagree.  Changing cosmetics won’t.  But giving real value can.  Like all these provocative statements, the ‘best practice’ is not exactly wrong, it is just not always true, at face value.

Anyway, you get the drift.

By the way, customer or client?

Customer.  Just, don’t get me started on what client meant.  Not what you think, that’s for sure.  Latin, again.  If you were my client – in Ancient Rome – you’d have to do whatever I wanted.  Not the other way around.  And I would be your patron.  And patronize you. Try explaining that to my banking ‘clients’.  No chance!