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Blazing the Path to the New World of FI Operations

By Mark Dixon, AAP, APRP, NCP posted 10-08-2020 10:54


If this year has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Even still, 2020’s steady stream of change has disoriented us, upending our “normal” and creating a new operational paradigm. In fact, we’ve all been moving so rapidly to respond to new demands that we’re in danger of losing sight of where we want to go.  

I don’t know about you, but I feel a little like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, because we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore.

That’s why a little over a month ago, NEACH issued a call for participation for a New Role of Operations Workgroup. We designed this group to come together to reign in the unknown and look at the landscape with fresh eyes. We know that our operations have been impacted by many factors (such as evolving technologies and ever-changing customer services).  Not to mention that operations is different today than it was even back February, but to what end? And what opportunities arise with that organizational shift?

Now that we have had a little space from the instant pivot in March and the ensuing PPP madness immediately following, where do we want to head? What plans should we make based on what is happening in the industry, and how do we take what we’ve learned these past few months and apply it to the future of our business?

Last week, the Workgroup convened for the first time to discuss just that. We brought together 16 NEACH members from diverse backgrounds to explore exactly what has changed and how it impacts where we are heading as an industry. As our first line of business, we had a robust discussion of what operations actually means to each of us, and where it falls within our individual institutions. That discussion offered clarity that how we’re structured and what’s defined as “operations” varies widely by organization.

But amidst those differences, we also recognized similar responses to changes. Customer and member demands have shifted our priorities over the last few years, and more prominently, these last few months. For example, with the increase in digital banking, we have successfully put more payments into the hands of our customers and members, and as they test those waters, they want more. While that speaks volumes to the potential expansion of digital banking products and solutions, it also creates a new workstream within our organizations.

This explosive growth in digital services has facilitated a shift in how we respond to customer needs. In providing them with ease of electronic banking and payments, we have inadvertently blurred the lines between operations and retail. Responsibilities for call centers and interactive teller machines may fall within cash management operations or they may find themselves firmly planted in retail or even elsewhere within the FI. It depends upon the institution how and where the delineation occurs.

With this dialogue as our backdrop, we decided to make our first Workgroup deliverable a concrete definition of operations. What constitutes operations as we define it? Why? Setting that baseline will guide our plans in the coming months as we unpack just exactly where operations has landed and where it is going to head next.

As we continue down this path, we hope you’ll follow along here in our Innovating Payments member community where we’ll be marking our progress as a group. In addition, we’re hosting a session at our upcoming virtual Payments Management Conference where we’ll explore work to-date and perspectives on the evolving landscape. Ultimately, our goal is to produce a white paper that offers insights into how operations have evolved and where we will head as a collective industry in the future.

Because, as we continue to explore this brave new world of banking operations, we have an unprecedented opportunity to chart the course. Just as Dorothy learned when she reached the end of the yellow brick road, we have the answers inside us; it just takes a little prompting from one another to draw them out. I, for one, can’t wait to see what we uncover together.