Financial services companies have become leaders in agility

The sector should see major payoffs from investments since the pandemic

Key investments during the pandemic drove financial services companies to rank 2nd in agility.

At the start of the pandemic, 10% of financial services companies had the technology infrastructure needed to make the transition to remote working, according to a new ServiceNow/ESI ThoughtLab survey. Sales and marketing departments also struggled to keep pace with customers’ digital needs, the survey showed.

The crisis spurred these firms to adapt quickly. A year later, a new survey about enterprise agility in five major industries—financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, public sector, and telecommunications—found that financial services companies are now considered leaders in business agility, defined as the ability to rapidly pivot people, processes, and technologies to maintain business growth and competitive advantage. The sector ranked second in overall agility, after telecom, and first in agile customer experience, risk management, and finance.

Here are some of the other sector highlights from the survey:

At the beginning of the pandemic, just 13% of executives said their data management and security processes were agile; a year later, that ration had risen to 55%. Executives also cited roughly three fold gains in agility finance and budgeting and IT architecture.

Of all the shifts brought by the pandemic, none was as swift as the move to remote work. Only 13% of financial services firms showed agility in workplace management at the start of the crisis, and only 10% cited agile employee services. But as a result of their investments in remote working, 25% of firms report agility improvements in both areas.

Executives reported that they are already seeing significant returns on investments in agile remote working and change-management processes, and that they anticipate greater returns over the next two years. They also expect big gains from investments in customer-workflow technology and IoT tools.

The telecom sector led all five sectors in digital platform integrations, but financial services made important advances. Within two years, all executives said they expect to fully integrate their technology and data assets into a digital platform; 75% also reported that their financial and accounting platforms will integrate multiple functions.

[Read also: The secret to leadership success: fostering business agility]

Even as financial services firms rushed to improve agility, the goal hasn’t been easy to achieve. Poor data quality and a lack of data access are the main culprits, followed by uncertain ROI and the lack of a compelling business case. More than half of executives cited a lack of leadership in developing agility plans.