In today’s dynamic world, treasurers’ expectations of the banking experience are changing rapidly. As Lucia Li, Global Market Management, Wholesale Payments at J.P. Morgan, explains: “Clients are looking for an intuitive and seamless experience that enables people to focus on what’s really important for them.”
She notes that this represents a convergence of the consumer banking experience and the wholesale banking experience. In the consumer world, people are used to being able to access balance information via banking apps and take advantage of self-service options, as well as being able to speak to their banks when needed. Increasingly, treasurers expect the same capabilities – and they also expect to be able to access a wide range of banking services in a streamlined and convenient way.
As such, organisations need to have access to a range of connectivity options, including plug-and-play bank platforms, treasury management and ERP systems, and customised bank connections. And there is also a continuing focus on the banking capabilities that can solve perennial treasury challenges, such as gaining visibility over cash, accessing liquidity, automating processes and freeing up working capital.
During the pandemic, many companies have had to pivot their business models at short notice. Li cites the example of a business-to-business client that had to switch rapidly to a direct-to-consumer model – “and now we’re working with them to help them make that pivot permanent, from ensuring the company can accept customer payments, to understanding the impact on the company’s liquidity and supply chain.”
Meanwhile, banks have acted rapidly to address another of the challenges treasurers have faced during the crisis: the need for a physical signature. “Before the pandemic, everything had to have wet signatures,” says Jennifer Fedora, head of North America Client Service, Wholesale Payments. “In the retail space, people could already use virtual signatures through products like DocuSign. So we immediately pivoted to avoid wet signatures and have got most clients onto e-signatures.”
Fedora notes that other recent developments include a greater focus on enabling corporate clients to track their payments in real-time, as well as the development of Virtual Assistant tools for corporate banking. The adoption of APIs has been another important focus, with the number of users taking advantage of J.P. Morgan’s APIs rising by 60% during the early weeks of the crisis.
Much progress has been made – but are these changes here to stay? Li argues that recent developments such as the rise of e-signatures “are a one-way shift”, adding that the urgency brought by the crisis has meant that projects that would previously have taken months to complete are now just taking days. “That sense of urgency is really important,” she adds. “Our clients are talking a lot about how they can keep that momentum going forward, and continue to benefit from shorter decision times and execution times.”
While the crisis has brought numerous challenges, Li says that clients “are now looking forward to 2021 and asking how they can emerge stronger.” She adds: “This means improving visibility and unlocking their sources of liquidity, whether they’re undergoing a business model pivot, embarking on M&A or looking at their holistic supply chain strategy.”
For J.P. Morgan, Fedora says the crisis has intensified the need for global consistency, with a particular focus on achieving a seamless country-to-country relationship model. “The other thing that’s been a big pain point for our clients is the need for resiliency modelling,” she says. “For example, this week I’ve been working with one of our clients on how to build them a resiliency model playbook to help them adopt best practices.”
As they focus on the coming year, companies are also paying close attention to fraud. “Fraudsters are getting smarter – so we’ve done at least 50 different fraud workshops to make sure that our clients can get ahead of this,” says Fedora.
Banks, meanwhile, are looking closely at how to provide the level of transparency and real-time visibility that clients increasingly expect. “One of the big areas of focus for us has been on how we get information that we have as relationship managers to our other partners around the world, so that we can continue to support our clients effectively,” Fedora comments. “That means tracking information, documenting information so that our clients have that seamless experience, and then making sure that clients have the right solutions.”
Supporting clients effectively
Investing in innovation has proved crucial when it comes to supporting clients in times of crisis. “As a firm, we invest US$12bn every year in technology, and 40% of that is spent on innovative technology,” says Li. “This has really helped during the crisis – within the first three weeks, we had more than 40 instances where the investments we’d already made in our solutions and digital capabilities were able to help our clients solve some of their most urgent problems, include making payroll in a virtual environment.”
J.P. Morgan’s other achievements during the crisis include onboarding one client onto APIs in only nine working days, accelerating the launch of the bank’s self-service Payment Tracker Tool, and expanding its Virtual Assistant tool from 3,000 users to over 200,000 users in a matter of weeks.
Last but not least, Fedora and Li emphasise the importance of building strong relationships in a virtual environment. As well as enabling treasurers to share their views on key topics via client roundtable discussions, maintaining a social connection is also crucial. “We’ve had client meetings which have been about having a connection that focuses more on the human side, and letting them know we’re still here,” Li explains. “As you look towards 2021, it’s more important than ever to build trust in this uncertain world.”