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Product and proposition innovation in commercial banking has been on overdrive for decades, ever since the arrival of ATMs in the 1960s, credit cards in the 1970s, the variable rate mortgage rush of the 1980s, the birth of online banking amid the dotcom boom in the 1990s, and mobile banking since the turn of the century.

Innovation has continued, with growth in fintech, neobanks and new lending modes, as consumers’ evolving needs and the new technology at their fingertips have remapped the operating environment.

In Accenture’s recent report on banking trends in 2024, Generative AI (Gen AI) could increase a bank’s operating income by an average of 20% along with a productivity uplift of 22-30%. The report adds that Gen AI could offer commercial banks a competitive advantage while also serving as a powerful tool for innovation and differentiation with sales and customer advisory expected to account for 40% of the total value unlocked by the technology.

It’s an exciting area to work in, says Brian Li FCCA, a director in digital and customer proposition at a multinational bank in Hong Kong, whose role concentrates on business clients. ‘I collaborate with entrepreneurs and business executives across various industries. The diverse range of businesses I encounter, spanning from startups to multinational corporations, has significantly enhanced my comprehension of different business models. It instils in me a profound sense of purpose as I contribute to supporting real businesses that form the backbone of our economy.’

Career scope

Commercial banks serve individual customers in day-to-day banking and lending, as well as businesses and corporations of all sizes. Product innovation means discovering and understanding customer needs, and designing products and services based on these, which can involve establishing both internal and external partnerships to deliver products. This can mean co-designing products with business units in various countries and regions to create and run propositions that fit with the business strategy and meet the specific needs of local clients.

In designing propositions, a bank needs curious professionals capable of closely understanding client needs, strong planners and analysts who can effectively allocate resources, elevate the customer experience and design a winning commercial model.

Certain qualities and soft skills are universally important, says Li. ‘Honesty, conduct and integrity are of utmost importance in the financial services sector. Both customers and businesses have high expectations of banks, and it’s crucial for everyone in the industry to uphold a high standard of integrity.’

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Soft skills such as teamwork, communication, presentation and influencing skills are equally important, given the collaborative nature of product design and development.

Lastly, the ability to learn and adapt to new environments is crucial, says Li. ‘The industry is constantly evolving, with changes in the business environment, regulatory landscape, business models and risks. The capacity to react quickly is a determining factor for success.’

Getting in and getting on

ACCA’s focus on digitalisation, sustainability and professional ethics holds great significance in today’s business and banking world. It also provides a solid foundation in the universal language of accounting, while placing significant emphasis on commercial application, strategic thinking and business acumen.

‘Additionally, as an internationally recognised and respected qualification, ACCA enhances employment mobility and creates abundant opportunities in different locations,’ Li says.

‘It not only equipped me with essential financial and accounting skills to address diverse business needs but also provided a valuable platform to establish a robust business network,’ he says. ‘Its global recognition holds particular significance within an international organisation.’

If you’re moving into banking from another sector, proposition design elsewhere will still hold value, while an accounting and finance background will always be beneficial, as would experience in financial planning and analysis, digital transformation, business partnering and working with startups.

And while you won’t be expected to write code, advancing technology will highly likely play a role in product development.

Some may need to get sector experience before moving into product development, in which case consider frontline client-facing roles, such as sales.

‘This hands-on experience not only granted me invaluable insights of various industries, but also provided me with a profound understanding of the intricacies of the banking industry,’ says Li. ‘Such knowledge has proved indispensable in my subsequent role within the corporate office, as a strong business acumen and grounded perspective are critical for effective strategy development.’

More information

In the evolving landscape of finance careers, finding your path can be a challenge. ACCA’s revamped Career Navigator offers the tools needed to set you on the route to success. Discover roles that are relevant to your current skillset, plan for future opportunities and equip yourself to get there, fast.

This article was first published in AB magazine July 2024

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