“Technological revolution is not eroding the company, it is reinventing management”

09.01.2022 4 min
Read my column published in "Revue Banque" n°871 of September 2022

The bank sees new technologies as both drivers of change and opportunities to facilitate the necessary transformations. In organisational terms, they do not erode the company; rather, they serve to reinvent management.

The bank operates in a highly dynamic environment. It must continually adapt, anticipating economic and behavioural changes as accurately as possible, and pursuing the transformations that are essential to ensure that it remains economically and socially useful and competitive. New technologies are both drivers of change for the bank and opportunities to facilitate the necessary transformations. Contrary to the predictions of a number of commentators, the technological revolution, with the rise of digital and artificial intelligence, has not “disrupted” banking. Indeed, the commercial bank has been able to take advantage of this to sustain and strengthen the very essence of its business and its added value: intermediation and advice. The key importance of its role has been widely confirmed during the health crisis. This talent for continual self-reinvention in the face of historical upheaval requires us not to give in to the temptation of Brownian movements, nor to lose sight of what makes the bank useful to its clients. This can be achieved by cultivating the field of both human and digital investment.

This is true of the relationship between the bank and its customers, and it applies equally in its internal functioning. The traditional organisational structure of any company – including banking – has been based on centralised decision-making, highly structured hierarchical relationships and top-down information. This approach had ceased to be compatible either with the practices the digital revolution has enabled in terms of the circulation of information within the company, or with the transformations required by the profound changes taking place. Instead, there is a strong need for agility and innovation, as well as the development of a sense and taste for entrepreneurship (or rather intrapreneurship). Both are necessary for the ongoing process of adaptation, which is the only way to survive and develop in a rapidly changing environment. And of course, this is also true for the banking sector. 

Work even more desirable and motivational

At the same time, employees’ expectations have changed, with a growing need for autonomy and a quest for meaning. They want to understand the strategy and feel involved. New generations believe that work must be even more desirable and motivational.

All these considerations are prompting a rethink of the structure of the company and the role of the manager. This means reinventing the way in which we organise work. But not “uberising” it in an attempt to respond to some ephemeral, evanescent conception of the company which, via digital technology, some see as coming to resemble a community of contributors brought together for the specific projects to be carried out, and thus driving out salaried workers. In an economy driven by innovation and knowledge – both of which are central to competitiveness – only the company, with its organisational and financial resources, can provide training for employees throughout their working lives and meet their need for professional development. In addition, all complex activities require a strong organisational structure, significant capital, material and technical infrastructure, and precise linkage between its different components. This does not lend itself well to ad hoc associations of discrete individuals. Banking is an obvious example, among many others. The pandemic has further highlighted the economic, social and human limits of teleworking itself: while useful, it is no panacea. In many cases, teleworking is certainly effective in ensuring business continuity and smarter time and transport management. But it is not a solution for meeting the fundamental need for socialisation that can only be met by working together, in the same place. Nor can it claim to match the effectiveness of fluid and physical relationships, communication and interactions. The company thus creates a community of men and women whose projects and activities are useful to society and thus have a meaning. And digital technology is a facilitating force here. 

In addition, the company – in the manner of a living organism that has to transform continuously in order to survive – must intelligently combine two indispensable organisational principles. The first of these is the necessary level of order between the parties, thus ensuring coordination and continuity for the activity through compliance with operating standards and rules, and management “routines”. The second is autonomy and empowerment for the teams and employees themselves, providing the necessary flexibility and adaptation to handle the long-term transformations essential to the survival of this living corporate organism.

Autonomy and empowerment

Consequently, in order to encourage the autonomy and entrepreneurial capacity of teams, managerial culture must also evolve. The manager, whose role is fundamental to successful transformations, is now required to assemble a community of players around projects that are relevant to the company. Gone are the days of supervising managers whose power derives from the possession of information. That information is now freely available, and circulates within the company without being “handed down” to employees by management alone. Managers must communicate the bank’s strategy, provide meaning and perspectives, be able to anticipate sticking points, and remove obstacles to change. Similarly, they must help to train and coach employees to enhance their skills and added value, develop their ability to be self-reliant and experience the pleasure of giving their best. And individual managers must create a structure for transformation in their own field, and ensure that organisational and technological innovations are understood, shared and experienced. Lastly, managers must ensure that each employee is, wherever possible, an active participant in the change process, in line with a process built on joint efforts. Such a philosophy calls for action and transformation.

In this respect, new technologies are once again very useful, but they do not “disrupt” the very concept of business and management. Rather, they facilitate greater efficiency.

In the bank – which is a service company – this approach is all the more essential given that human capital is the primary driver of competitiveness. We must make a commitment to the human element at a time of increasing risk of disintermediation and the “uberisation” of banking. Digital technology is certainly necessary and useful, but the human element is the differentiating factor.

Such a managerial paradigm shift is thus essential to ensure the changes already underway are managed as successfully and harmoniously as possible. This is a far cry from “disruption”, which often stems from a failure to anticipate long-term developments. 

Olivier Klein
CEO of BRED and Professor of Financial Macroeconomics and of Monetary Policy at HEC Paris