Industry Insights: ICBC Standard Bank and Financial Services in the Digital Business Era

For our final Industry Insights talk this year, we were delighted to welcome Mr. Huihong Cai, the CTO of ICBC Standard Bank.

Mr. Cai’s talk focused on how digital is changing financial services, drawing on his personal experience of going back to China after a few years working in the UK and finding out that his ICBC credit card was not accepted at the restaurant he ate at – they only took WeChat or Alipay. This demonstrated how fast things can change in the digital business era.

My Cai pointed out that IT has gone from being perceived as a cost centre in businesses (something that had to be implemented but was a cost to the business), to now being seen as a profit centre. In fact there is no point differentiating between technology and the delivery of the products and services a business offers it’s customers. This is an important change in the mind-set when technology is deployed.

Just how technology is changing financial services was illustrated with a couple of examples. Investment Banking has traditionally relied upon information asymmetry to profit from understanding complex risks on behalf of customers. This understanding was driven by having close relationships with industry players and having knowledgeable people to analyse the information, but today it is increasingly driven by using technology to gather and process data. Commercial banking has conventionally been based around distributing loans or saving products via branches, but now it is becoming based around selling services via generic channels (internet and cloud based services).

However, Mr. Cai did sound a warning note – too many businesses rush to invest in technology without properly considering the costs and benefits. He emphasised the importance of looking at the management and operational aspects of implementing new technology – conventional business skills rather than digital business skills. He highlighted:

“It is not about the technology – it is about your mind set and methodology.

Ask “What technology shall I invest in?”

−And you will probably be lost in the marketing materials and events by various vendors

Ask “Why am I looking for new technology?”

−And you will be able to make a decision that is meeting your needs.”

We’re grateful to Mr. Cai for delivering an interesting talk and mixing with students afterwards!

Mr Huihong Cai

Mr Huihong Cai, has worked in various senior roles for ICBC since 1997 and is currently the CTO.