In the banking industry, the stable running of IT systems is imperative. This is what drove the industry to begin IT construction relatively early and what continues to drive it to make significant investments each and every year. And yet, argues Vincent Chen, the IT architecture of the banking industry - particularly the core system - has stood still for decades. This year, in particular, it has become clear that banks need to change their architecture.
Mobile internet technologies - such as 4G and 5G and intelligent terminals - are now popular and widespread. Open source technologies based on cloud computing are developing rapidly, and the banking habits of customers are changing fast. In this environment, traditional bank services - from deposits and loans to remittances - are quickly evolving to include payment and investment services.
Meanwhile, fintech companies have used new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, cloud and big data to quickly gain a large number of customers, particularly Millennials, with enhanced business competitiveness.
In China, alongside fintech companies, internet giants such as Alibaba and Tencent already occupy a majority of customers' portals through their own business ecosystems, including almost all payment scenarios. These enterprises also encroach on traditional financial service scenarios, posing a huge threat to traditional banks.
Digital banking trend gains momentum
For banks, as markets continue to become increasingly open, financial services are disintermediating, with traditional interest margins shrinking. An increasing number of newcomers to the market have also exacerbated the decline of intermediate businesses. In these circumstances, traditional banks must not become complacent. Instead, they must digitally transform.
To implement digital transformation, traditional banks require new technologies to reshape businesses and upgrade core systems, reduce operation costs, improve risk control capabilities, simplify methods to acquire customers, and optimise the customer experience, as well as enter the long-tail market, which has yet to be penetrated.
Meanwhile, through service transformation and the upgrade of core service systems, the lifecycle of financial products is significantly shortened, with faster service innovation required. With such transformation, banks can also integrate into - or build - more open banking ecosystems, transforming into a Banking-as-a-Service platform that connects various fields, including government, tourism, healthcare and transportation. This enables banking services to be accessed anytime, anywhere, creating new digital banks.
It's not the case that traditional banks are simply trying to transform into digital banks; they're looking to build entirely new digital banks instead. fintech companies have identified huge potential in this area of the banking market, and their aim is essentially to become technology giants with a banking license.
The construction of digital banks needs a suitable market environment, which should feature adequate network and smartphone coverage, low loan coverage for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - which increases the need for digital banking platforms - and fintech with specific functions.
In terms of services, the process requires scenario-based products, fast market entry, simpler interactions with customers, cooperation in the ecosystem, always-online services — and strong connectivity. In terms of technology, digital banks require high performance, high scalability and high availability. They also need open source technologies, distributed architecture, a micro-service design, and a continuous integration and continuous delivery model.
Unlike traditional systems, a new-look digital core banking system must be constructed using new technologies, with support for digital banking services. There are various ways to construct this new digital core in different countries and regions, and for different banks at different stages, but dual-mode architecture is the most common strategy.
The mainstream architecture of bank digitisation
The core systems that banks have developed over several years are supported by traditional, stable IT architecture and can't simply be disregarded or rebuilt within a short period of time. However, banks do need new architecture to support applications and services such as mobile payments, micro-finance and e-commerce in open banking environments.
Such applications can't simply be built and tacked onto the core, stable systems of traditional banks, which are designed for deposit, loan, and remittance services. Instead, most of the new services are cloud-native applications, developed based on new technologies that are open and agile. A dual-mode architecture therefore consists of two types of architecture: stable and agile.
This new type of agile architecture is generally open, distributed, or cloud-based. Chinese financial institutions have been progressing relatively fast over the last 10 years, not only as a result of the natural evolution of their own business development, but also in the face of competition from domestic internet companies.
China is also arguably the most developed e-commerce market in the world. During annual shopping events, banks - whether traditional or more innovative - need to be able to process massive amounts of online transactions in a very short timeframe. This has driven banks to update their entire technical architecture, to support fast and elastic resource deployment, as well as quick iteration of applications.
Changes in expectations regarding user experience are also driving traditional banks to quickly develop new applications, such as marketing applications (for flash sales and similar) and non-traditional financial service applications (for life and e-commerce services), with the aim of attracting new, younger customers.
In this context, traditional banks need to quickly build a new digital core based on open and distributed technologies, to better support the rapid development of next generation applications, improve the customer experience and reduce the overall IT operations and maintenance cost per account. This new digital core must also support the construction of a next generation data platform, to enable banks to quickly reconstruct the data plane - with big data, data lakes and data factories - as well as support the rapid development and deployment of innovative banking services.
Meanwhile, banks still need to maintain the stability of their traditional core, to continue to provide traditional banking services, such as processing savings and general ledgers. As these services have been running stably on traditional platforms for years, any benefits or incentives for changing these services aren't particularly significant. So, although many banks are migrating service applications from the traditional core to a new digital core, using dual-mode architecture will continue to be the mainstream approach for many years to come.
Vincent Chen is CTO, Global Financial Industry, at Huawei Enterprise Business Group
Chinese financial institutions have been progressing relatively fast over the last 10 years, not only as a result of the natural evolution of their own business development, but also in the face of competition from domestic internet companies."