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The theme of last week’s Sibos 2021 financial services event was “Recharging Global Finance — the digital journey evolves” — with the opportunity to debate how to recharge global finance and accelerate change for the better.

It was a very fitting and thoughtful discussion, given the seismic shifts within the financial services industry. As we all know, the pandemic caused major disruption. It accelerated transformation at a record pace. It heightened awareness around both environmental and social justice issues. And it cemented the value of digitization and digital channels, with no signs of slowing down.

With 19,000 attendees from nearly every country in the world, Sibos 2021 offered a pulse on where the industry is today, and where it’s headed. Here are my observations and thoughts:

1. Customer engagement is the next competitive battleground.

While customer experience isn’t a new topic, at this year’s Sibos there was a renewed focus and sense of urgency. As the pandemic changed customer behaviors and expectations, financial institutions need to take their client engagement to new levels. To successfully compete means investing in new business models, products, and capabilities that are built around customer needs and create long-term loyalty.

2. The next great disruption is hybrid work.

We are all experiencing a once-in-a-generation shift in how, when, and where we work. And while we’re all learning as we go, there are a few things we can be certain of. Today’s collaboration tools empowered financial services employees to perform incredibly well in a remote environment. Flexible work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted. A thoughtful approach to hybrid work will be critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent.

 3. The industry is opening up to open platforms.

As part of the need for differentiating new experiences, risk management, and compliance, we’re also seeing the shift towards open and interconnected ecosystems through modernization of core platforms including payments and core banking systems. At Sibos, I heard several exciting, real-world examples of open APIs enabling new partnerships that drove faster value, innovation, and enhanced customer service.

4. Security and compliance remain at the core.

Financial institutions that can best manage their regulatory and compliance data will be on an accelerated path to stronger risk management and improved operational efficiency. And while financial institutions want new innovations to deliver better value to customers, they will not make the cut unless they are operating within appropriate compliance constructs.

5. Committing to sustainability.

It was clear from this year’s event that the financial industry is prioritizing sustainability and taking responsibility for its role in climate action. Discussions spanned from what sustainable finance is, to its risks and opportunities, to key steps financial institutions can take to create meaningful action on climate change. A lot of great food for thought!

6. Building a more equitable future for all.

I was incredibly pleased to see so much discussion around diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s important we continue to make a focused effort to build diversity both across the financial services industry as a whole and at an organizational level. And we are just scratching the surface of technology’s potential to help the industry make a bigger impact and create more inclusive, accessible, and responsible banking experiences that will enrich the lives of people around the world.

7. Banking on data.

Data has been talked a lot about in the industry, but now there’s a huge focus in all business areas across the financial institution, certainly in the payments space. Those that had digital and artificial intelligence (AI) in place had a much easier time responding to the pandemic and have a jump start on continued agility, innovation, and transformation. It’s about having the ability to take available internal and external data and turn it into analytical and predictive power using cloud and AI innovations. We believe the leading indicator of digital transformation success can be measured by an organization’s ability to build these predictive and analytical capabilities.

Accelerating innovation for responsible and sustainable growth

At Microsoft, understanding the financial services industry’s needs and objectives is very important to us. We want to ensure that every organization has the digital capability required to succeed going forward and are committed to helping our financial services customers improve time to value, reduce costs, increase agility, and accelerate innovation for sustainable growth.

At Sibos, we shared how the Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services provides capabilities to manage data to deliver differentiated experiences, empower employees, combat financial crime, modernize payments and core banking, and enable green initiatives while facilitating security, compliance, and interoperability.

Our subject matter experts also participated in thought-provoking sessions on a variety of topics—from the latest in cybersecurity, to payment hubs, to the future of ecosystems, and real-time Treasury capabilities.

And in a significant development for the global payments industry, BNY Mellon announced the successful migration of Microsoft Treasury’s wire payments into the cloud, using Microsoft Azure, marking an exciting milestone in the modernization of payments.

The opportunities ahead

I’m excited about the industry’s future. With today’s digital acceleration, financial services organizations have tremendous opportunities to stretch the boundaries of what’s possible in ways we wouldn’t have believed just a year ago while generating value not only for their customers but also for the global communities in which we all exist.

To learn more about Microsoft’s activities at Sibos and our ongoing work in the financial services industry, visit our virtual exhibition booth and Financial Services page.

I’d also like to invite you to join me at the Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services Industry Digital Forum, October 26, 2021, where we’ll introduce our attendees to Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services and show you its new capabilities in action.