ROUNDTABLE: Achieving true digital transformation needs C-level buy-in

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Our recent breakfast roundtable, in partnership with Paragon DCX, brought together marketers from some of the biggest investment management companies to explore the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation. Here are some of the highlights.


Digitisation vs digital transformation

Andy Farmer, Chief Strategy Officer at DCX, shared some highlights from Paragon DCX’s recent research. Most of the findings showed much was still the same compared to 2019, with data still siloed and a lack of organisational buy-in to major digital projects. Some innovation and new thinking was being brought from marketers coming from other sectors where digitisation is more advanced.

This sense of a lack of major change tallied with the results of a pre-event survey of attendees: asked to rate the sector’s digital readiness on a scale of 1 to 5, the average was 2.3. This was despite the importance of digital transformation in the next 18 months being rated at 3.9.

Why is this? One attendee argued that the true potential of digital transformation was being missed as companies became mired in a shorter term focus on smaller programmes.

In other words, companies end up focusing on “digitisation” rather than anything that will actually transform the business.

As one attendee remarked, this is because it is “cheaper and easier to get sign off”. In a pre-event survey of attendees, 56% of attendees said that a lack of organisational buy-in was one of the biggest obstacles to digital projects, with the same number citing a lack of budget and lengthy approvals processes.

The challenge is that higher-ups in the organisation are really seeking “tinkering” rather than “transformation” – they tend to come from legal and finance backgrounds, tending to be more risk-averse.

As one attendee put it, in the C-suite’s mind the risk of doing something outweighs risk of doing nothing.

This translates to inadequate budgets and inadequate technology. As one attendee said, “the best is not cheap, but the board wants cheap so you end up with substandard data or processes.”


Winning support

Accordingly, one attendee said that the key to success was achieving buy-in from the C-suite; without this, digital projects tended to stagnate. These people can be hard to persuade, unconvinced by insight that contradicts their established points of view.

This was the case in the attendee’s current organisation, where leaders in the business had resisted moving into digital until fairly recently. Once these leaders got behind it, however, progress had been swift.

The C-suite tended to be more amenable to approaches based on hard metrics. Representatives of one asset manager present had struggled to get support for five years for upgrading a poorly performing website but got buy-in when they directly evidenced how reducing loading times would translate to better retention and inflows.

In addition, as one attendee put it, “consumer duty is your friend” in terms of getting support. While many organisations view the FCA’s landmark outcomes-focused regulation as a burden, it has created a necessity for change and this can be harnessed to achieve real transformation,

Attendees also discussed the challenges of getting teams to collaborate in areas such as data-sharing.

“Data is the fuel for change, you need to get that right.  If you get it wrong you skirt around the edge and end up with digitisation not transformation.”

As someone else noted, you have to make things easy for sales as if they don’t use tools such as the CRM correctly then the marketing groundwork can be negated.

One suggestion was to create a new position of a digital executive which interfaces with marketing and other teams.


The growing role of automation

Some attendees also shared how they were using automation to reduce onerous manual processes and offer a better overall customer experience.

For example, one firm which produces a regular sustainability report was using automation to help package up the report for different formats such as shorter form articles and videos.

As the attendee pointed out, people no longer read content in the same way as print and may simply want a page-long precis of key points.

Attendees noted that these short term customer experience wins could provide the groundwork for larger projects and long-term digital transformation.



Overall, the main insight was that digital transformation was about engaging people rather than about technology. To get projects started, the C-suite needs to be engaged. To get these projects to succeed means engaging the rest of the organisation, working with other teams and ensuring everyone is aligned on objectives.



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