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John Dovaston joins panel of judges in this year’s Asian Banking & Finance Awards

For PwC’s Asia Pacific Financial Services leader, the lines between business, digital, and technology are blurring.

As the Asia Pacific Financial Services leader across 18 countries, John has delivered results for clients in the areas of international strategy and execution, transformation, digital, deals, risk, and regulatory and financial reporting. John has gained this experience working with companies globally, including the U.S., Australia, Korea, Japan, India, Chile, and Brazil and has lived in New York and Tokyo. John relocated to Jakarta in early 2021 to co-lead PwC’s Consulting business. 

An avid traveler, John also enjoys keeping fit through running, having moved from marathons to half marathons. Especially during the pandemic, it has been important to stay healthy and focus on what you can do as opposed to what you can’t do. 

Sharing his expertise in finance also extends to other ventures, such as being one of the judges in this year’s Asian Banking and Finance

In this interview, John shares some of his key insights about the foundations of a digital business, the importance of a crisis response plan, keys to surviving the pandemic, challenges that banks are currently facing, and new opportunities for businesses during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital transformation has been getting the spotlight lately. Should all banks jump on this bandwagon? How can a bank know if it's well-equipped and ready to undergo digital transformation?

Digital transformation is now part of business, it is no longer something that we can look at as owned by a department or optional to our business, people, and customers. We now live, work, and play in a digital world. A world where the lines between business, digital, and technology are blurring. Many banks are already on this journey, such as moving to public and private clouds and adopting the technology created in those environments.

There is no singular approach to becoming a digital business. A digital business strategy sets the direction of travel; the path you take is influenced by strategic choices around growth, customer and employee experience, and operational efficiency.

Whichever path you choose, developing the right culture, uplifting skills, promoting new ways of working, and having the right technology foundations in place is paramount. At the core of any successful digital business is the ability to be adaptive.  

In your opinion, what are the most important traits that a business should have to survive the pandemic's challenges? What should they avoid?

Plan and Prepare. By having a crisis response plan, you can mobilise more swiftly, stabilise business operations, and respond effectively to the shockwaves of disruption.  

Break down silos. Post the initial shock of adjusting the business operations due to the pandemic, many companies found that change programs, that had been caught up in silo behaviours pre-pandemic, were now being accomplished in record time. This was largely a result of people engaging effectively as x-functional teams to solve business-critical issues collectively.  

Build Resilience. Organisational resilience is critical and it is important to understand what resilience, in the context of business, really means. It’s the ability to bounce back from disruption - to persevere. However, it’s also about being prepared to enable and secure new possibilities.

What's the current status of banks in response to keeping economies afloat during this crisis? Have there been any changes compared to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic? Or are things still the same?

First, if we look at the impact on banks in contrast to the global financial crisis, the pandemic triggered initial impacts in the real economy and will increasingly manifest itself in a second stage throughout the financial sector. Many industries have suffered significantly, all of which are served by financial institutions. With continued lock-downs and social distancing measures imposed by governments around the globe, banks will continue to be exposed to top-line losses in line with GDP and consumption; increased migration/credit risk driving loan loss provisions; and risk-weighted asset requirements.  

Banks have scrambled to keep their distribution channels open, manage revenue and customer expectations, and address the strategy and brand issues that may shape their future. By most accounts, they have succeeded. But, in mobilizing their response to the crisis, they have left some big gaps. For example, many banks still depend on highly manual and paper-based methods to support critical processes and controls. In some cases, their credit models are proving to be inadequate for the new economic reality. And many banks’ extensive physical infrastructure (branches, ATMs) have been significantly underutilized. Traditional banks weren’t built to deal with this pandemic.  

What do you think are the new opportunities for businesses during and after COVID-19? 

The pandemic has altered customer behaviour and accelerated the move to digital. The shift to a more platform and ecosystem-based industry, including more digitised client interactions, will create a new set of challenges and opportunities.  

Long-term positive outlooks for banks include advisory revenues driven by increased refinancing needs; risk-driven shifts in trading; increase in contactless/mobile payments to continue with potential for significant bank intermediation and reorder of supply chain and structured change to eCommerce. 

How can a financial institution achieve a high level of sustainable growth even during a crisis? 

In a world working and interacting nearly 100% remotely, institutions that have made investments in their technology infrastructure and developed digital channels before the pandemic have fared better in the crisis than those that hadn’t as the pandemic accelerates digital trends and punishes laggards. Leading institutions will further digitise their customer interaction models, strengthen digital sales and service model interaction, and materially cut back on support functions and branch infrastructure that failed to prove their value during the pandemic. This, in turn, will put increasing pressure on legacy infrastructure and the need to accelerate the shift to cloud-based, modern architectures. The post-pandemic world creates even more prospects for digitally skilled workers–and greater demand for training.  

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