Global transaction banking has never been a glamorous, attractive business, but it has, for a long time, been viewed as the workhorse of the wholesale banking world. It generates around USD1tn in revenue each year, according to a McKinsey report, contributing more than 40% of wholesale banking revenue.
The transaction banking business enables management of short-term cash, payment, securities services, trading and settlement, and cross-border commerce for corporate and banking clients. Transaction banking facilitates global trade and commerce, as it provides three foundational services:
First, remittance resolution and short-term cash management products such as digital or physical payment, settlement of receivables, liquidity management solutions and computerised delivery mechanisms for global companies, small and medium-size businesses, financial organisations and governmental authorities.
Second, securities solutions offer corporate and institutional clients in-depth international and local securities services through custody, fund management, clearing, corporate trusts and loan brokerage agreements.
Third, trade and supply chain finance assists a wide range of clients (from small and medium-size enterprises to global multinationals) with trade risk mitigation, deal financing, document processing, e-commerce trade products, structured trade financing and supply chain solutions.
Notwithstanding its success so far, the global transaction banking business has suffered from challenges faced by the rest of the financial services sector – from low-interest-rate environments and regulatory crackdowns to a technology transformation that is altering customer beliefs and the wider competitive landscape. As the business world continues its journey towards digitalisation, banks are pressured to keep up and satisfy customer demand for more innovatory products and services, leading to increased market disruption.
Research has revealed the surprisingly high cost of financial services, averaging around 2% of asset value. This cost has, strangely, remained the same over the course of a century despite technological innovation. The question arises as to why banks have not passed on these perks to their customers by reducing transaction costs and fees. The banking industry has benefited from imperfect competition and significant barriers to market entry and exit. Banks have also gained from the information asymmetry that exists in the space.
At its core, the banking business is concerned with solving information problems among debtors, savers and other market participants. Typically, banks have reaped the benefits of an information monopoly over their customers, as it has historically been difficult to process data perfectly and safely without the participation of a financial intermediary. However, innovation and technological revolution in big data and increased computing capabilities have disturbed this information monopoly. For instance, Square has changed the way financial data is aggregated and handled for small firms in the US.
Banks, however, do have two advantages. One is their huge global networks. The other is their breadth of product. If they can make better use of customer data to put payments into context, they can cross-sell. However, their current business model is not competitive when it comes to pricing. This is something they can change, but it would require facing the situation even in prosperous times. In a zero-interest world, banks depend on fees, for example, for foreign exchange, but these are exactly the areas in which fintech companies excel, at least at the consumer level.
Since 2010, banks have invested heavily in the fintech sector, with most individual investments being in private companies within the capital markets subsector, followed by investments in the wealth and asset management, and small and mid-size business solutions categories. Banks are generally invested in fintech rounds with two major motives: the possibility of significant returns and to develop strategic alliances. In the second instance, a bank would invest in the hope of creating synergy with the fintech company, collaborating to facilitate both organisations’ objectives. For instance, in 3Q20, JP Morgan declared a partnership with Taulia to create a trade finance solution for its institutional customers. Capital One’s acquisition of United Income, a retirement planning service and digital wealth platform, further enhanced the bank’s proficiencies.
Banks’ transaction banking businesses need to reconfigure their business models to be compatible with the rapidly evolving world, or face the risk of being cut adrift. There are imminent challenges that banks would have to anticipate in order to survive, for example, creating apps that provide a more pleasing experience and where customers feel emotionally connected. Since most banking transactions are now processed online, whether through a web portal or an app, banks should ensure they are able to process transactions in such a way that customers feel emotionally connected and find it a pleasing experience rather than feeling pressured or frustrated. Banks also have to proactively ensure they engage with cognitive technologies for intelligent automation that would lead to economies of scale and scope, rather than only being reactive and trying to meet customer demand for overhaul.
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About the Authors
Pranav Aranha has over 3 years of experience in the financial services industry. In his current role, he supports the investment commentary team in the fund marketing services department. He has previously worked in private wealth management at Anand Rathi, and Investment Performance and Analytics at State Street. Pranav is a certified Financial Risk Manager(FRM) from GARP ,along with a CFA level 3 candidate. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Honors) from Christ University, Bangalore.
Ashutosh has 14 years of total work experience in sales enablement and operations management, with expertise in proposal and bid management. In his current role at Acuity Knowledge Partners, he is supporting the RFP/RFI/DDQ processes for the banking sector. Prior to this, he was part of the Sales Enablement team at BNY Mellon India Operations. He holds a Master of Marketing Management from Pune University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Business management with dual specialization in Services and Marketing Management.
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