The impact of cloud technology on the banking industry was on full display at the AWS Financial Services Cloud Symposium in London this week. Along with my colleagues Jamie Macgregor, Zil Bareisis, and Monica Summerville, I was fortunate to be invited to join AWS for both the client and partner conference as well as the dedicated analyst summit on the previous day.
As with any vendor event (and I’ve been to my fair share over time), it was hearing from the financial institutions actively using the technology that generated the most memorable takeaways. Nothing speaks louder than a customer testimonial after all, and it was notable that the event agenda featured several clients willing to share details of their current and future projects. This included speakers from NatWest, JP Morgan, Chase UK, Barclays, and Citibank.
The AWS customers on stage covered a wide range of topics and business areas, and Generative AI was understandably also high on the agenda. However, there was one clear and unifying theme through all of this. As Colin Kerr also noted in a post after the US version of this event, the industry conversation around cloud has visibly shifted towards ‘how’ and ‘how fast’ to take advantage of cloud tools and capabilities. The more fundamental ‘why’ being a question that is now well understood.
Aside from this, there were three main messages to take away from the event.
The importance of pragmatism around Generative AI
While the hype around LLMs and Generative AI has been impossible to avoid, AWS is keen to strike a measured tone. This technology is very early in its development and, while there are many potential use cases being explored today, there are also some important challenges and limitations to consider. Aside from the investment required to train a model, there remain potential accuracy and consistency issues that need to be addressed.
None of these challenges is unsurmountable though, and the potential of the technology to revolutionise important aspects of bank operations and product delivery is undeniable. AWS also has an impressive set of off-the-shelf services to support its customers with their experimentation. We're still early in the understanding of Generative AI though, and activity in the short term will be focused on a range of moderately sized use cases to improve employee efficiency and (thereby) the customer experience.
From shifting workloads to a dose of ‘Vitamin Digital’
Coming back to the theme of the shift in bank attitudes towards cloud services, the clearest proof point came from one of the bank speakers. Following an 18-month project to migrate their online and mobile channel applications to AWS infrastructure, the bank had begun to feel the expected benefits around scalability and resilience. More importantly, it was also able to make and deploy updates on a monthly cadence; something that was not possible in its previous environment. The learning: “It’s not all about workloads. This is about change in a way that delivers”.
In other words, banks are more alive than ever before to the potential to use cloud technology to accelerate the modernisation of their products and processes. Richard Caven, the event host, put this in slightly tongue-in-cheek terms of the audience being given a dose of ‘Vitamin Digital’.
Hyperscalers must grow their focus on strategy and product teams
Delivering on these opportunities will require cloud hyperscalers such as AWS to evolve their own positioning, services, and go-to-market activities. With many technologists aware of the potential benefits of cloud technology, the next competitive battleground will be about forming ever-deeper partnerships with financial institutions when it comes to supporting areas such as product innovation, new business models, and partnership-led activities. Increasingly, these engagements will become more strategic in nature.
This will require some new thinking, and potentially a new approach to creating industry-specific services, for some providers. One thing is for certain: the next 3-5 years are not going to be boring!