Corporate Banking Circa 2030: 7 hypotheses (Second part)

Christian G. Lauron

Second of two parts

Previously, we discussed how banks can leverage ecosystems to organize integrated networks and how they can expand services beyond banking to help clients focus on their core activities. These are among the seven hypotheses on how banks will transform to build the next generation of businesses. The second part of our two-part article continues by discussing how banks can provide leadership on critical societal issues to strengthen trust with the next generation of clients.

Reduced trust in financial services poses a serious threat, pushing some banks to prioritize making a credible and high-profile commitment to helping businesses address their challenges and risks. This may be achieved through establishing and executing a clear social purpose and creating measurable non-financial value. These efforts extend beyond expanding environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments and enable the growth and development of profitable operations, benefiting stakeholders beyond a bank’s bottom line. This way, sustainability becomes more than a public relations or branding exercise — it becomes a cultural mindset.

The mindset shift will require substance and depth in the banks’ sustainability agenda, which may currently revolve around the prioritization of ESG-minded business practices to ensure operational resilience, the development of forward-looking multi-year roadmaps with interim targets and intergenerational narratives, and the implementation of responsible banking targets, categorized mainly into climate action and provision of social equity. These roadmaps should include solutions for societal challenges, particularly to help restore socio-economic growth in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the climate action agenda, banks can prioritize investments in, and extend credit to, sustainable companies so that those ventures can scale. Banks can help provide direct incentives for clients that commit to and meet sustainability targets, and in the process offer robust and intuitive solutions for businesses to track and report on carbon consumption and other metrics while developing exchanges and marketplaces for the trading of carbon credits. Mark Carney, former head of Bank of England and now a UN Special Envoy, has suggested that “the transition to net zero is creating the greatest commercial opportunity of our age.”

It is estimated by the International Energy Agency that $3.5 trillion of annual global investments would be needed to build the infrastructure of a green economy, requiring the coordinated management of finance and investments during the transition phase of climate change mitigation and sustainable development. During this phase where forests are replenished, oceans and supply chains cleaned up, clean technologies replacing dirty power plants, banks will have to face the financial risk and capital implications of stranded assets in their portfolios, particularly to clients exposed to fossil fuel reserves becoming stranded resources. The regulatory stress testing exercises and the launch this year of a sustainability standards board by the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation are twin developments that are expected to accelerate the surfacing of these issues.

Depth is a characteristic that banks will need to embrace on the other agenda of sustainability, which is the provision of social equity. While this can be a highly ideological issue, stakeholders often find common ground on jobs generation, a concrete manifestation of participation by individuals and communities in socio-economic growth and recovery post-COVID. Banks need not go far — they can look at the supply chain for instance, where banks can play a role in deepening the supply chains notably for the following sectors that face varying levels of distress or flourish — construction and real estate, industrials and manufacturing, semiconductor, energy and utilities, agriculture and technology. In these supply chains, there is often a high proportion of underserved suppliers with poor or opaque creditworthiness. At the current state, and as reconfigurations take place, supply chain participants have greater financing needs to enhance resilience, fund reshoring and diversification, and in the process, generate jobs. 

Banks have for some time been strategizing along supply chains, with capital allocation being driven into SMEs through direct credit enhancements of anchor buyers while employing advanced analytics to identify early warning (and conversely, recovery) indicators. Some of these involve spatial, sentiment and mobility indicators to supplant lagging financial indicators. The increasing visibility on movement of cash between and across tiers of companies in the supply chain correlate with an increase in penetration of underserved SME segments, with FinTechs upping the ante on competition with their adoption of emerging technologies across the value chain. The blurring of the line between the physical supply chain (e.g., sourcing, production, shipping and tracking) and financial supply chain (e.g., ordering, contracting, payment and settlement) is being accelerated especially with the rise of networks and platform solutions like the electronic invoicing utility. One can easily be swamped by these developments, and this is where the banks should discern their purpose, assessing which sectors and value chains to focus on and correspondingly, finance based on size, fit and feasibility, while distilling the value proposition and business case and contributing to whole-system transformation — whether in manufacturing, services or even housing.   

Banks are critical in the development of inclusive capitalism, and they can create clear market differentiation by expressing and maintaining a clear social purpose. The rising generation of small business owners and entrepreneurs, as well as consumers, prefer to do business with companies that share their values on sustainability, and banks can exert clear leadership by revisiting their social contract and acting upon societal issues, particularly climate action and reduced inequalities, to foster client loyalty.

The way forward in a transformation journey, though unique for every bank, starts with a clear and client-focused strategy, strong vision and purpose, sophisticated technology, and a strong and flexible operating model. In many cases, this will require uprooting structures and processes built around a model largely unchanged for a century. While business case development and strategic planning are necessary, banks should not delay action. Securing future market leadership will require addressing the difficult questions in managing transformation; defining clear, long-term business strategies and innovative, client-centered solutions; and sustained execution. By recognizing the opportunities in the present and taking bold action, banks can better capitalize upon what the future holds for the banking industry and thrive in it.

Much has been said about banking functions remaining necessary, but as to whether they will continue to be performed by banks is another story. Banking — notably corporate banking — will inevitably have to undergo transformation that goes beyond the technology dimensions. These functions will become not only commoditized — they are becoming complex, networked and distributed, to mirror the continuing need for relevance and utility to bank clientele. Banks may want to take a leaf from the etymology of corporation — corpuratus, to form into a body — why were these groups or bodies formed? They are bound by common aims and aspirations that resulted in a sense of being and action. Corporate banks who find a way to rediscover their purpose will find a wellspring of transformation from within and provide the energy to sustain their transformation journey.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Christian G. Lauron is a Financial Services Partner of SGV & Co. He also leads the Firm’s Government & Public Sector.

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