The best time to plant a tree
The UK is melting this week. Literally. Some rail tracks actually melted.
And all of a sudden, the news is paying attention to the climate emergency, acting all surprised and urgent.
Where have you been the last 20 years, mate?
The time to act was then.
And don’t get me started on the deep frowns and faux surprise our news pundits parade around their bulletins when it comes to the energy crisis. Suddenly our dependence on fossil fuels and a couple of exporters whose political credentials are less than savoury right now is front and centre in sharp relief.
Where have you been all this time, mate?
The time to act on solar energy, and wind turbines, and alternatives was… every time you turned the option down because carrying on as you were seemed easier and cheaper.
The time to prevent this crisis was then.
When you walk in an arid landscape, desperate for the shadow of a tree, the time to have done something about it was 20 years ago.
The second best time, however, is now.
And that applies to the climate crisis, the energy crisis, planting a tree… and your creaking technology.
See what I did there?
I love doing this.
Hear me out.
When Covid hit, I spoke to a lot of banks who lamented that they hadn’t invested in cloud-native, flexible capabilities that would have allowed them to amend interest rates and payment schedules at the click of two buttons and instead they needed to deploy teams of engineers for weeks on end.
When they had the option to invest the time and money in uplifting their infrastructure before the situation was desperately urgent, it seemed like it was too much time and effort to fix something that wasn’t on fire. But by the time it was on fire, it was too late to make it fire-resistant.
But immediately after you put out the fire is when you think about fire-proofing the future, right?
Wrong, as it turns out.
‘Now is not the time’ is a common refrain.
Now is not the time, says the bank, for big investments and big commitments.
Our systems are expensive and fragile, they take up a lot of our energy and money.
The world is on fire. War, a looming global recession, supply chain crises.
Now is not the time for big plays.
My boss many years ago had a Winnie the Pooh poster in his office.
This was a big bank in a more traditional time and that was in itself a subversive move.
We were a process re-engineering function and the poster was apt.
“There must be a better way to come down the stairs,” thought Pooh, as he was descending the stairs backwards, Christopher Robin clutching his foot, head banging on every step. “If only my head could stop hurting long enough to think about it.”
Too busy banging our heads against each step to think about what we are doing? Perhaps.
Too scared to get it wrong?
Too timid to be the ones to say ‘let’s change direction’?
What will it take to change this mindset of ‘now is not the time’ when we are already late to the party?
But not too late, before you shrug and go ‘oh well’. Not too late.
There are two advantages to being late to the party, actually. Only two. But they do exist.
The rest is indeed all downside.
Being late means your problems are bigger and the context more complex. Goodwill of clients or regulators may have been squandered and your competitive landscape will have changed.
But there are indeed two advantages:
One is you feel the pain more than you did before. And that is often the nudge an organisation needs to act. What didn’t feel urgent now does, the thing that was dismissed with ‘now is not the time, it’s not on fire’ is now very much on fire.
The second reason is that the tools and solutions you need have been maturing in the time you’ve been navel-gazing. So the risk is minimal when it comes to the viability and robustness of the technology you need to make the change. In fact, the risk is zero. I said minimal because I am yet to see a bank that doesn’t want to drag some piece of its archaeology into the future and that always introduces risk, but the customer is always right, right?
Otherwise, the technical capabilities that you would need, Mr Bank, to reduce your time to market, to create flexibility in your reaction times (be it pricing or timing – if it takes you six months to deploy a change, you miss the boat), to create scalability at cost and reduce your exposure and footprint… all that technology is here and while you’ve been saying ‘now is not the time’, this technology has been maturing and scaling.
How very dare they? You may ask.
Or, more realistically, who with? Since you think your peers are like you.
The answer is twofold: the first part is not all your peers are like you. Some banks are bolder and realise that the time is very much now. Some are well on this journey of changing the landscape and by changing themselves they increase the pressure on those who lag behind because now the regulator knows their vision works and the consumers have better options.
That should be scary for you.
The second part should scare you even more. The rest of the economy is digital. Not sort of, not a little, not a Frankenstein of patched-together solutions, but digital. And that sets the tone for commerce, logistics, human interactions, news, education, art… the works.
These are the people who when they saw the emergence of new technologies thought ‘the time is very much now’.
And admittedly the leaders in this were not bankers, but bankers have followed. In small numbers, but it’s not zero, and that matters.
For everyone else the refrain of ‘now is not the time’ has been constant.
Either because the change seemed big and inconvenient and the thing was not on fire or, perversely, because the thing was on fire and therefore it was too late. Only to return to ‘now is not the time, we are under pressure’ the minute the fire cedes its place to a smouldering ruin.
And, sure, avoiding the fire would have been ideal.
The time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The time to replace your core capabilities was before they failed. The right time, was indeed, then. In the past. The right time, the best time, has indeed, past.
But that doesn’t mean don’t act. It means act doubly fast.
The work ahead will only get harder, exactly because you didn’t do it all those years ago when it was the right time.
So now is the second best time. And the only time you have.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!