COO Magazine Q1 2024

2024 The Year Ahead: Part 2

We ask a panel of leading industry experts what they think the key challenges are that lie ahead for 2024.

Laura Ahto

2024 will be a year of thinking and working positively amidst the complex global, domestic and geopolitical challenges bubbling around us. AI is here to stay, and continuing to work it in to Cost and Process transformation, and improving Client and Employee experiences, while managing Cyber and Fraud challenges, will grow in importance.

Preserving the world for future generations will require continued investment in Sustainable Finance/ ESG. Central banks around the world will continue to implement digital currencies, impacting individuals, institutions, payment systems. Employers must continue to reflect on and evolve their cultures to provide employees the “true north” they seek in organizations they wish to contribute their time and talent to; this will be more important than ever in a complex world where valuing diverse talent will determine winners.

Richard Austin

2023 was a better year for many banks in part driven by a higher interest rate, higher volatility environment helping to improve RoE performance. The outlook for 2024 is uncertain but as ever provides opportunities for those prepared to embrace transformation and deliver results. COO capability will be pivotal by working across silos, effectively implementing and creating new operating models. These are some of the key areas that will determine who will be winners and losers:

1. Strategic Purpose: The “North Star”. Amidst macroeconomic uncertainty, increased non banking competition, global, regional and local threats a clarity of purpose is needed to set tangible goals, optimise the business model and to eliminate wasteful indecision or competing outcomes. A well defined strategy sets the tone from the top and provides the roadmap to align the organisation.

2. Technology and Digital Transformation. Over 75% of Banks are already actively adopting generative AI and / or data analytics to deliver efficiency and improved business performance with numerous applications organisation wide. However, the challenge is to optimise use cases vs outcomes and manage the change to the new ways of working. Banks have been effective at more closely integrating technology front to back particularly by Agile delivery but to get the benefits of emerging technologies requires a step increase in collaborative capability.

3. Risk, Reg and Governance. Not only are these items mandatory they can also be a differentiator not least as the consequences of not effectively governing are always far more costly. The winners in 2024 will actively manage more risk in the First Line of Defence rather than relying on subsequent controls functions. This leads to more efficient resource allocation and provides a competitive advantage.

4. Talent / People. Specialist skills including ESG, AI, Cyber and Data will be increasingly in short supply and getting to a more diverse and equitable workplace quickly enough remains a challenge. External talent acquisition will always be important but 2024’s winners will be better at retaining and developing people by an inclusive, supportive culture, targeted training and enhanced mobility.

Georgina Phillipou

A COO’s work is never done, and COOs around the world will have a very full calendar in 2024, with the main areas of focus being geopolitical, ESG and tech, plus all the operational resilience challenges those issues individually and collectively will raise.

These areas of focus are reflected in the UK regulators’ planned work in 2024, where the key interventions include: the SMCR review Consultation Paper expected in the middle of the year; new D&I rules later in the year; the cost of living crisis continuing to generate new consumer protections including extending the Consumer Duty to closed products by the middle of the year; continuing work on the impact of big tech on retail financial markets; a final statement on governance and remuneration in the first half of the year; a new ESG regime and voluntary code of conduct; and continued work on impact tolerances and critical third parties.

This means that COOs need to ensure that their firms have a robust culture, resilient teams, and constantly horizon scan and scenario plan for shock events. COOs will need to work closely with the second and third lines, and even with other COOs to share best practices.”

Andrew Murfin

The mulit-faceted levels of disruption and uncertainty in the world be that geo-political, economic or social, continue to bring a unique set of challenges to people in leadership roles. It will be very easy to be consumed by the immediacy of these issues and ignore the compelling need to continue on the transformation and digital journeys that many have begun.

In my mind, its even more critical for organisations to adapt their business models, accelerate these plans and embrace the opportunities to create fully digitised products and services, where people and AI work in unison to deliver dynamic outcomes for clients that can be applied at a local, regional or global level. It will be this agility, flexibility and responsiveness to rapidly changing clients needs, for example the demand for ESG products and access to Private Markets, and significant external pressures which will determine how successfully an organisation navigates its way through the next 12 – 24 months

Virginia Laird

With 2024 being the biggest global election year in history, I suspect the COO community in both regional and global Financial Services firms will need to hold on to their hats as the inevitable consequence of, at least, some of these elections will be a change in government and therefore policy.

For the COO this may result in a change in prioritisation of some of their current transformational projects and an adoption of new targeted national or regional goals especially where emerging regulations may deviate from a global approach we have grown so used to over the last decade or so. Maybe the end of 2024 will see the re-emergence of national boutique financial services firms in the face of growing challenges faced by many of the global power houses of our industry (think David and Goliath). Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Ted Macdonald

The whole of our attention is easily drawn to the dramatic events in our daily diet of news. It is easy to overlook the single biggest factor driving global change. This, of course, is our individual selves. It is commonly observed that others need to re-evaluate and change. In fact, we may all be under-investing in self-reflection and our own abilities to evolve, develop and behave well. Even though we may not be in a position to directly impact history, our collective, positive behaviour and good judgement helps build the momentum that makes great things possible.

Meena Anand The Careers Company

The biggest challenge that lies ahead remains Leadership. As we move away from the militarily defined “VUCA world” where the focus was more on the impact of the external environment, organisational leaders need to embrace BANi (Brittle, Anxiety creating Non-linear and Incomprehensible) described as a “framework for chaos” by its author, Jamais Cascio. Absolutely nothing is certain. Therefore leaders need to move away from familiar explanations and hone their resilience, empathy, intuition, and pattern-seeking skills. 2024 is setting up to be quite a ride!

What does Armstrong Wolfe’s leadership think?

Piers Murray, COO

Going into 2024 on the back of late year rallies in both equity and fixed income markets, it may be tempting to want to forget the banking events of early 2023. For the COO community, 2023’s confluence of financial, geopolitical, governance and climate events offer many lessons learned that can be added to crisis management scenarios and playbooks, to enhanced controls processes, to succession planning and to ensuring operational continuity in the face of multiple challenges.

COO leadership means not just nailing down the day-to-day for your teams, but fully imagining the challenges that may confront them tomorrow. At Armstrong Wolfe, we look forward to enabling those discussions with our membership in 2024.

Clement King, Head of Banking & Markets

The focus for 2024 will center on expanding business within a cost-constrained environment. This involves enhancing efficiencies and effectiveness for both customer and employee experience, while exploring new technologies, notably artificial intelligence.

Additionally, there will be an emphasis on the fundamentals of robust leadership, essential for navigating the complex regulatory landscape with various other priorities across banks. The geopolitical environment is expected to yield unintended consequences, and will need to be carefully monitored.

Leadership in 2024 remains a cornerstone for managing risks and fostering business growth. This parallels the pace of change; both leadership and change are inevitable elements that cannot be avoided.

Terry Yodaiken, Head of Asset & Wealth Management

2023 was a year full of regulatory developments and geopolitical, economic, and social challenges. The impact to asset and wealth managers continued resulting in further pressure on margins as firms deal with operationalising for new or changes to regulations as well as increased volatility and declining AUM due to the condition of the global economy and markets.

Although, the economic outlook looks better for 2024, the challenges brought by increased regulation show no sign of slowing down. M&A for asset managers is likely to pick-up as small-to-medium firms struggle in this environment and the pace of consolidation across the wealth management sector in the UK is likely to continue with many wealth managers looking to invest in developing or acquiring their own funds businesses.

Looking to the year ahead for the UK, Consumer Duty is once again going to be on the top of the agenda for both asset and wealth managers as the FCA moves into a period of expected thematic review and enforcement. The same is true for ESG and Sustainability regulation globally where there are new regulations in the UK to be implemented and proposed changes across the EU considered and lobbied for.

While there are less obvious regulatory themes for the US, ESG integration and its place and positioning for many managers continues to be a hotly debated topic with significant socio-political pressures from all sides. For all managers globally the continued development and integration of AI technologies across the front-middle-back stack requires strategic consideration and implementation support.

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