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Digital products in banking: Walking through the creation process with Nullgravity’s Igor Pyatnytskyy

On the path to digitalisation, financial institutions stumble upon perceptional obstacles — delusions, fears and conservatism steal the chance of being innovative. VP of Business Development at digital partner & product development company Nullgravity Igor Pyatnytskyy shares his expertise, and sheds light on digital product creation.

Information technologies have had an immense influence on the way people think. The human brain works differently than 5 or even 3 years ago. In the relationship with information we used to be divers: finding necessary data took time and effort, we used to immerse ourselves in the topic, slowly exploring it back and forth.

What have we become with modern tech? We are surfers in a sea of information — sliding fast on the surface. The growth of the digital population and its sophistication raises the bar for the businesses: The wise one-step access to services is a success differentiator whatever industry we enter.

As per Deloitte’s report, the majority of Generation X individuals surveyed will be digitally-adept by 2025. The end-client digital landscape will rely upon trends in the spending power of digital-savvy generations.

Source: Deloitte

Digital adaptation is no longer an option for financial entities — it is a must in any bank’s agenda. Embracing the digital mindset allows for exceptional user experience, time and cost efficiency. The dynamics of the data-driven approach boosts customer acquisition and engagement, reduces human error and builds customer loyalty. The paradigm shift, however, is a bumpy ride as many financial institutions find it hard to ditch traditional practices and obsolete perceptions.

“Truly innovative products are changing our three dimensions — traditional approaches, technologies, and ultimately lives. True innovations act as a disruptive factor. Therefore, first and foremost, the main thing is not to be afraid of these changes, not to be afraid to try.

“Secondly, innovation is not an isolated phenomenon, it is a process. And in any process, vision plays a huge role (hence the role of innovative visionaries is vital). The ongoing process needs a roadmap, a vision of the development over time and a clear understanding of the goals and stages of the path,” said Senior Director of Emerging Markets Digital at Visa Dmytro Mamzeliev.

Digital reorientation: the major challenges

Despite the unstoppable nature of digitalisation, banks, in general, struggle to provide innovative functionality. Theoretically, the necessity of going digital is obvious; in practice, financial enterprises do not seem to have a clear idea of how to prioritise, strategise and fulfill the digitalisation.

There is a lack of coherence between the idea of digital transformation and the business strategy. The same thing is with the actual focus on execution of the digital strategy and business strategy itself.

A tiny ratio of board directors and CEOs of market giants (6% and 3% respectively) are professionally experienced in technology. What is even more saddening, over 43% of banks have no board members with professional tech expertise (Accenture).     

Source: Accenture

In addition, embracing digital technologies by banks is hindered by dated architectural solutions, old business models and legacy systems; they prevent entities from engaging in quick experiments and innovation.

The frequency of app updates is characterised as low, and the update of key banking systems is a real challenge. Back offices change as machine learning and cloud technologies are deployed.

However, only 15 per cent of businesses claim that their back and middle offices are able to correspond with customer requirements. At the same time, technical skills deficiency and the lack of sufficient expertise belong to minor challenges of financial companies contribute to a delay in the frequency of app updates (Genpact report).

Even though the majority of financial institutions have moved towards digitalisation, only 20 per cent of companies believe they succeed in that. Only 15% of businesses feel they are capable of optimising the interaction with their clients, which is much more than integrating client web interface into back and middle office supply chain.

The successful adopters of digital technologies emphasise the positive changes in multiple areas such as cost of service (90 per cent), client loyalty (75 per cent), revenues (75 per cent). Thus, the opportunities for financial domain are quite obvious (Digital Human: The fourth revolution of humanity includes everyone).

The top management of a bank tends to focus on individual technologies and systems rather than the big picture. It is widely believed, that achievement of digital transformation can be fulfilled via covering specific areas of the bank — mostly operational ones — but not the entire entity.

Given that, the bank management sooner or later questions itself: To what extent should we embrace digital products in banking? What areas of the business require transformational approach and which of them should be slightly changed? This mindset is rooted in one big misconception: Digital transformation is not about individual technologies and software — it is all about customers, as well as their needs and expectations, and their entire user experience.

There is a huge market in Eastern Europe for digital wallet integration. Some things for merchants to consider are the steady growth of smartphone usage, next-gen broadband access, and the overall tech sophistication of population —  all of which form a solid ground for digital transformation.

As far as Western Europe is concerned, the digital payment landscape is far more mature, and digital wallets are expected to grow in popularity in parallel to the rise of card penetration.

The prospects on the American continent is somewhat uneven. While saturated markets such as Canada and North America can derive competitive advantage from ease of use and convenience, Latin America finds itself in an infancy of digital commerce and is sure to confront fraud and other challenges. 

Old mindsets prevent financial entities from being innovative. Still, a lot of banks cling to legacy systems hindering the change in IT architecture and making this transformation hard, costly and slow. In essence, banks try to figure out how to apply new technologies to the existing financial product, service or process.

Meanwhile, fintech startups think otherwise, specifically on how to use technologies for creating financial product, service or process. This mentality is exactly what allows startups to be flexible and dynamic — they are free from historically accumulated constraints in the form of legacy systems.

Agility deficit gives birth to risk aversion when it comes to choosing a digital partner. Judging from Nullgravity experience, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for Western enterprises and banks in Central Asia. The application of best practices will simply not work due to behavioral patterns and financial habits being drastically different across countries.

It follows that digitalisation of an enterprise is based upon a deep knowledge of the culture both inside and outside the specific corporation. Software development is just one side of the coin. Digitalisation demands a holistic perspective, where digital partner enables innovativeness while preserving the unique identity of the business.

Far beyond the software

Visa is perfectly aware of how things are in different markets and what digitalisation looks like on global scale. The company realises the necessity of different products that are enablers of digital transformation for banks across various regions. Nullgravity established a collaboration with Visa Ready, a partnership program supporting cloud-based payments, IoT, business solution and mPOS.

Despite the fact that the mVisa technology has been successfully used in many countries, Visa realised the necessity of adapting to different markets and localising the product. The transnational company was looking for digital partner with extensive fintech background, and Nullgravity was privileged to be chosen.

The project included three customer companies: Visa (tech vendors), Kyivstar (customers and product owners), and Alfa Bank (vendors ensuring payments). Our task was to develop two applications to form one ecosystem. A unified digital environment was aimed to ensure convenient and secure mobile financial transactions for business and individuals.

The project complexity implied a large number of stakeholders: The solution had to satisfy the needs, requirements, and restrictions of three customer companies. Nullgravity targeted three segments: Small horeca companies, large retailers and end users. In view of this, we needed to adjust the processes and the decision-making with three customers.

Visa’s vision has always been to help consumers, businesses, banks and governments in digital currency usage. In the new cardless digital world, one-touch transactions should be faster, easier, more secure and less expensive. In the new application we reimagined, user experience redesigned and enlarged — the way transaction is performed through mobile channel.

From a merchant’s perspective, the solution provides an easier way to sell. We turned their mobile phones into a mPOS so that POS terminals are no longer necessary. In the eyes of customers, our solution provides an easier way of buying something, regardless of what bank one uses or whether a smartphone supports contactless payment or not.

For B2B, we sought a compromise that solves the key problems of both small horeca and large retail companies, while it should not be burdened by complex and cumbersome functionality. As a result, all wishes were taken into account and all black boxes were identified.

For a B2C application, we determined early adopters and customers’ persona. Based on the information received, we made a prioritised list of features important to potential users. The list was divided according to three criteria: Importance for the end users, importance business, complexity implementation.

During the development stage, one of the most important aspects was ensuring the ability to use the product both as a separate application and as an integrable part in an existing product line. We provided a balanced formula: The product gave the sense of security and privacy, and, at the same time, the design concept was all about minimalism, simplicity and intuitiveness. By implementing prototypes and responding quickly to changing requests, we managed to save a great deal of resources.

The solution came inductively: At first, mockups of screens were made with the full volume of features. Then we gradually “erased” certain features from the screens, depending on the version of the application. We provided clear contrasting elements, large buttons, clear icons and captions. We designed the application architecture so that it was easy to make a library from our sources and connect it to third-party services.

Each module of the system is independent. This ensures the autonomy of the components and eliminates the risk of breakage of the entire product, due to the modules adjustment or removal. Payments in applications are implemented using P2P transactions with QR codes.

“The selection criterion for a digital partner is quite transparent. It is the scale of a partner’s thinking that determines the possibility of scaling the product he offers. The second criteria is a portfolio, given that the choice of a digital partner should not be a lottery. The number of projects launched, and their scale, are not a success guarantee, however, they increase the chances of success.

“Finally, it is important to speak and think in the same language — in this case, the language of innovation. A fruitful partnership implies the alignment of core values. The choice of a digital partner for an organisation extends beyond commercial terms; it requires sharing a common value scheme and striving for common goals,” said Dmytro Mamzeliev.

Visa acquired universality — our solutions can be connected to the application of any Visa partner, assembled into various types of applications and change their content. The entire new digital dimension encompasses a large number of people who acquire new tiers of user experience.

Consultancy is at the core of our business and that is what makes us different from being a contractor. We are a digital partner that drills into requirements, pain points and walks all the way from A to Z, starting with decision on product we make and finishing with product launch, go-to-market strategy and further scaling. While both businesses and individuals use easy and secure services, a market marks one more step towards transparency in digital banking processes.