Thomas Soede at BNP Paribas creating a first class digital strategy resulting from a top-down commitment to e-banking

Thomas Soede, Global Co-Head of Electronic Markets at BNP Paribas Corporate and Investment Banking talks to e-Forex about the major advances the bank is making in its institutional and corporate electronic platforms.

First Published: e-Forex Magazine 54 / e-Forex Interview / October, 2013

Thomas SoedeThomas what are your day-to-day responsibilities within BNP Paribas?

An electronic capability like ours has several streams of the business upon which it depends. This includes, for example, the functioning core of the system, the audiences including Cortex our institutional platform and Centric our corporate one, a painless enablement process for our clients, marketing and branding and our data mining capability that enables us to understand our customers’ needs. Consequently I spend perhaps 80% of my time managing the dependencies of the different streams and delivering something that works to our internal distribution partners.

Making sure that all of the streams are synchronised is vital. So when I say that we are going to deliver a capability or a product on a particular date I need to make sure it works, that there is a distribution strategy attached to it, we can service and enable our clients, we have regulatory approval and we have a strong brand and marketing message. 

How do you view technology? Are you a great advocate for it or do you see it as just a useful but important tool that finds natural applications in a fast moving, dynamic environment like FX?

We see distinct roles for technology. The first is an enabling one that helps us do things faster, better and cheaper. What I would call a “factory” element. Within that, we aim to automate complex workflows that were previously carried out with a high degree of human intervention. 

The second role is innovation. This I see as being in two parts. The first is in pricing, credit checking, controls and other functions. Then there is delivering content to our clients. 

Some banks have chosen to go into a defined segmentation approach with a pre-set journey; others have chosen to go into the application world. We decided on a balance of these two approaches. Innovation allows us to deliver content to clients in a smart, intuitive way. For example, for certain types of client we use a social media, Facebook-like technology to bring them content. Another example is how our communications centre enables us to adapt our content to the needs of different levels in the client company. Our relationship managers communicate certain content to the CFO for example while our operations people communicate with accountants at the client company. In this way, with different touch points, we create a social network with the client.

What’s driving the development of BNP Paribas’ digital strategy? Is it mainly client demand or competitive pressure?

From a client perspective we’ve decided to use client segmentation in terms of access point. So Centric is our corporate access point and Cortex is our institutional one. 

Then within those two container-like access points we’ve decided to deliver functionality through apps. So having entered through an access point a client sees all of the apps that we think are relevant to him or her. They will see pre-trade, trade and post-trade applications. The client is left with the ability to augment his journey and add additional functionalities, work-flows and products.

Some of these journeys can be used by different groups. So the FX journey has built apps for FX trading, options, NDFs, algo execution etc. We can deliver this content into different client sectors by having this digital strategy. This gives us the client level approach with a service level agility to be able to drag and drop content into those client journeys.

The other valuable benefit of this approach is that it allows us ease of launching new products. New products become commoditised very quickly, so we want to get new capabilities out there rapidly. 

This is particularly true of changing regulations in new markets where, by attaching new capabilities that help our clients automate their workflow, we can make their journey easier.

Thomas Soede at BNP Paribas   creating a first class digital strategy resulting from a top-down commitment to e-banking

BNP Paribas has a large and varied global client base. How hard has it been to formulate digital solutions that can meet all their diverse needs and how have you and your team gone about achieving this?

This is all about BNP Paribas’ top-down commitment to e-banking as a group. Refining different workflow tasks by country, satisfying different segment needs, dealing with differing regulatory frameworks; this is where the technology and the commitment to invest in technology is so important. BNP Paribas’ commitment to invest in flow products over the last few years has been relentless and I don’t see it abating any time soon.

 

Thomas Soede at BNP Paribas   creating a first class digital strategy resulting from a top-down commitment to e-banking

Last year the bank launched Cortex, its innovative new electronic trading brand. What were the reasons for developing this?

This sprang from the aftermath of the banking crisis. Because the bank emerged from that period in better shape than some of our competitors, institutional clients came to us and asked if we could help them with their flow banking.

Our single dealer platform is part of what we developed to meet this need and as we’ve gone forward we have added more functionality. Since then we have been receiving awards for Cortex and indeed, I have just come back from New York where I collected one of these. We’ve been voted fourth in Euromoney’s options trading on CORTEX in volume terms and have been moving from strength to strength. 

Cortex is becoming our multi-product platform for fixed income. Moreover as regulators are pushing people towards swap execution facilities (SEF) compliance under Dodd Frank, there is no reason why in future Cortex should not be able to supply a SEF-compliant price in multiple assets. This is an example of how Cortex allows us to grow with change. Agility is built into Cortex so we can react very rapidly. The response we are getting from clients is very positive. As we explain to clients why they should transact with Cortex rather than with their incumbent provider we are winning the displacement battle and rapidly growing our market share. Clients like the functionality we can offer and resiliency of the system. It is a hard battle but we are making good progress. 

Thomas Soede at BNP Paribas   creating a first class digital strategy resulting from a top-down commitment to e-banking

Your application-based approach to delivering trading solutions is organised according to client segment rather than providing a factory of apps for users to choose from. What benefits does that have for both the bank and your customers as they proceed through their own individual client journeys?

We’ve put a lot of effort into separating the entry point and the service layer. And we have been very keen to remain agile in what we can change and add to the basic system. 

So the whole development cycle and the whole user experience and relevancy of certain content becomes our prime focus rather than re-engineering, changing and having what we call “point-to-point technology.” 

In what ways have you engineered your digital services to provide and facilitate a more engaging and collaborative relationship with clients?

This works on three levels. First of all apps need to be able to communicate with each other. Then you can create smart workflow. 

Secondly, some clients are not interested in delving into all of the capabilities an app may offer. They just want a quick view. So we have a strong widget focus, providing clients with the quick views they want, such as cash account balances for our corporate clients for example.

Thirdly, is the communications centre. This is about collaboration and creating a constant, relevant stream of information between us and our clients. This works on several levels, such as push notifications for maturing deposits among other things, there is the role based network between people in particular roles within the client and their counterpart within the bank. 

Our apps also enable communications within client firms for things like four-eye authentication and sharing information such as regular reporting. The communications centre is a many-faceted tool for interaction and workflow.

“Refining different workflow tasks by country, satisfying different segment needs, dealing with differing regulatory frameworks; this is where the technology and the commitment to invest in technology is so important.”
“Refining different workflow tasks by country, satisfying different segment needs, dealing with differing regulatory frameworks; this is where the technology and the commitment to invest in technology is so important.”

Some banks are still fearful of social media and the risks it can present. Do you see social media applications becoming an increasingly important part of your digital strategy?

We believe social media has an increasing part to play. But if you are going to use social media you have to set it up and maintain it properly, otherwise the user will quickly lose interest. As yet we have not seen a bank that has been outstandingly successful in using social media. We observe cases where it is being used to strengthen brands, especially in retail, but we are some distance from full use of social media at present.

Looking ahead, what plans do you have for further developing the bank’s range and scope of digital services and consolidating BNP Paribas’ position as one of the leading global players in the electronic markets space?

BNP Paribas’ appetite for developing technology continues on the same scale. We are continuously investing and we will continue to focus on client segments and cross-business line technology development within BNP Paribas. This will enable us to deliver smart bundled products across different business lines. 

Secondly there are still refinements to be made in terms of simplifying processes and making them more efficient. Innovation will drive efficiency. Our approach will continue to be an agnostic one. We will not second-guess what are going to be the dominant technologies of the future but we will buy some best of breed capability and also develop what we need in-house. Retaining agility is key to our approach.

We think if we are doing the right thing and if we are focusing on our clients in the proper way - that is, delivering what clients want, on time, not just “E” solutions but also voice - that we will be rewarded by securing a larger amount of our clients’ business. 

Thomas Soede at BNP Paribas   creating a first class digital strategy resulting from a top-down commitment to e-banking