Truly agile banks and insurers are intelligent organisations—they adapt and self-tune to disruption, an evolving strategy and changing market conditions. Our research has identified five common traits of truly intelligent organisations: living, enhanced, modular, liquid and human.

In my last post, I talked about how there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to organisation design for financial services (FS) firms. And while all different models of organisation design require customisation based on the unique needs of each firm, our research has identified the common traits of truly intelligent organisations.

In an age when many FS firms are struggling with the drive for productivity, the quest for agility, the pursuit of innovation and the need for employee engagement, leading organisations exhibit common design traits.

The top five characteristics of truly intelligent FS organisations, according to our research, are: living, enhanced, modular, liquid and human. Depending on the business model and market conditions, these will not all carry equal weight in the organisation.

Intelligent FS organisations display a ‘living’ culture. They have adaptive work structures that continuously self-tune to market needs. Living businesses rely on self-organising agile teams and are stakeholder- and customer-centric. They sense and experiment without fear of failure, learn from past mistakes and adjust quickly. This helps to improve time to market and responsiveness to customer needs. Examples of this go back to Toyota’s empowered teams on production lines, but other more recent examples can be seen. Michelin, for example, has driven responsiveness and productivity by pushing operational responsibility to factory-floor workers, while WL Gore has created much more broadly defined jobs and responsibilities.

In intelligent FS organisations, humans and machines are always enhancing each other. Intelligent automation and augmentation are paramount to their successful workforces. In FS there is a wave of automation driven by the maturation of robotics. This is now giving rise to a wider discussion around augmentation of the human worker and productivity through machine learning, artificial intelligence, analytics and other more intelligent technologies. More broadly, the use of collaboration technologies such as Microsoft Office 365 can move beyond a technology deployment into something that transforms work, especially for distributed and multi-disciplinary teams.

Modular building blocks are the foundation of many intelligent organisations. Leading FS firms can build flexibility and efficiency by developing multi-engine models. They excel at strategic venturing, working with ecosystems, and maximise ‘plug and play’ capabilities—think of these as organisational APIs or Lego bricks. This helps to build new ventures quickly, access new ecosystem capabilities and innovate faster. In particular, it is needed where different business models exist across a corporate structure. Haier, the Chinese white goods manufacturer, has divided itself into 4,000 microenterprises, each with 10 – 15 staff members and capable of being spun off separately.

Seamlessly accessing the best capabilities from anywhere is what gives intelligent FS organisations a ‘liquid’ trait. The leading firms make the best of ecosystems by sharing or renting assets, including talent, bringing the best skills to problems and opportunities at the point of need. Examples of this range from Unilever’s marketing supply chain of freelancers and agencies, through to Pfizer, which has a program where employees can bid for work internally.

Last but not the least, intelligent FS organisations are unabashedly human. Unleashing passion, purpose and performance in the workforce is paramount to the successful rewiring of any FS firm. The leaders not only provide personalised, authentic work experiences, but also encourage entrepreneurial learning. I am particularly proud of Accenture’s own work in this space. We are leading the way in inclusion and diversity, using savings from AI to reinvest in new-skilling people, and embracing a truly human culture where we help our people bring their whole selves to work.

FS change leaders have embraced innovation, agile methodologies and ecosystems as concepts, but too few have fundamentally changed how they work. Our research shows that FS change leaders have made some progress using artificial intelligence, building collaboration, introducing multi-disciplinary working and reorganising around customer journeys or propositions. However, they still struggle with short-term prioritisation, legacy complexity and moving mindsets and skills. To change the way a bank or insurer works requires much more than just changing an organisation design, especially if that entails copying someone else’s structure without embracing a new way of working.

Truly agile banks and insurers need to be intelligent organisations—adapting and self-tuning to disruption, to an evolving strategy and to changing market conditions.

How well is your organisation doing with regard to these factors: living, enhanced, modular, liquid and human? What does it need for the future? How can you start to experiment with and iterate a different way of working?

To find out more about intelligent organisations, please contact me here, or @andyyoungACN.

I’d like to acknowledge the work of Kent McMillan and his team in developing our cross-industry research into intelligent organisations, and Neetu Mishra for her work bringing this into a financial services context.

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