Financial Darwinism is quite a catchy phrase. And how appropriate in our current economic environment to highlight the need for financial services companies to evolve. I just began reading Leo Tilman's book on Financial Darwinism. I'm only about halfway through, but you can fairly quickly discern some good insights into what financial companies must do to survive. The two most significant ideas I've gotten from this so far are that financial organizations must:
- make changes to their underlying business models to survive
- begin incorporating risk management as an integral part of their enterprise-wide business decisions, not just as an after-the-fact policing or compliance function
One of my favorite quotes comes from W. Edwards Deming in an attempt to stress the importance of having the appropriate information
before making decisions. "In God we trust; all others bring data." Once again, W. Edwards Deming provides some great perspective which Tilman uses to stress the importance of change for financial companies. "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
The need for change though is not necessarily what is illuminating. It is the type of change that companies must start to make.
No one will deny that financial companies have been making some significant changes over the past several years to deal with factors such as increased competition, reduced net interest margins, compression of banking fees, limited global inflation, the global savings glut, and other pressures to maintain the growth rates investors and shareholders had come to expect. However, what Tilman argues is that the primary reaction of finance companies was to pursue a variety of corporate finance activities to reduce the cost of captial, increase fee-based business to supplement earnings, and pursue alternative investments and complex financial products, which inherently involved higher risks necessary to provide the higher returns.
Tilman suggests that banks and other financial services organizations must begin to make more full-scale transformations to their underlying business models. Only then will they be able to adapt to the new economic reality. And this ability to evolve from their current, static business model to more dynamic business models is the core driver of Financial Darwinism.
As organizations move to more dynamic business models, the ability to understand and take into account the associated risks of any business pursuits will become that much more critical. For example, companies need to move beyond understanding customer profitability to take into account risk-adjusted profitability. To date, risk management has primarily been driven by regulatory and compliance requirements, such as Basel II. It has provided organizations with a view into risk, but even that now appears tainted.
However, if organizations can figure out how to more effectively incorporate risk management directly into their core business processes, there could be signficant benefits. I've already seen a harbinger of this at a large Korean bank. As part of a Basel II project, they chose to perform the analysis of risk data at the beginning of their credit review process. As a result, they were able to reduce credit application processing errors by 30% and dramatically improve the overall quality of their loan portfolio...in addition to becoming compliant with the Basel II regulations.
Of course, these suggestions will not ensure the survival of financial companies in today's environment. But they should at least improve the chances for success and help banks start thinking about how to create the competitive advantage they need.