Survey: 76% of banking execs say sector has ‘obligation’ to pursue social good

SAS-sponsored global survey of banking executives by Economist Impact shows an industry preparing for post-digitalization, purpose-driven banking by 2035

From shifting market dynamics and mounting geopolitical tensions to skyrocketing cyber threats and a worsening climate crisis, the world faces risk and uncertainty on many fronts. How are these and other prevailing trends reshaping financial services? A global future of banking survey by Economist Impact – and sponsored by analytics heavyweight SAS – snapshots a sector in transition, its leaders contemplating a more conscientious, purpose-driven trajectory.

The Banking in 2035: global banking survey report explores insights shared by approximately 500 decision makers, director-level and above, from corporate, commercial, retail and digital banks worldwide. Supplementing the report, users can explore the survey data in-depth via SAS’ online dashboard, which enables regional filtering and more.

Banking for better

Notably, the report reveals overwhelming support for more socially responsible business practices. When asked about the financial services industry’s role in promoting social good, the survey found:

  • Three-quarters (76%) of executives believe the industry “has a strong obligation” to address societal needs and issues – and a third (32%) say the industry must play “a central role.”
  • About four in five (79%) think that the industry should be “more engaged” in addressing societal issues.
  • A large majority (82%) believe that financial services organizations can simultaneously better society while pursuing profit. Among C-suite respondents, that figure is even higher, 91%.

“The rallying cry is resounding for the financial services sector: Purpose-driven banking is the future,” said Theo Lau, renowned industry commentator, author and founder of Unconventional Ventures. “Investing for social and environmental good, promoting forward-thinking transparency beyond compliance, and making banking fully digital and more accessible to under- and unbanked populations – these concepts are not superfluous. They’re essential to helping banks evolve their missions and business models to deliver new value to stakeholders and drive toward a better future for people and the planet.”

Risks abound – but also opportunities

The survey captured a cautious optimism among bank executives, even as they confront disruptive trends, internal and external barriers, and mounting societal and environmental issues, including:

  • A burgeoning digital revolution: The “digitalization of financial services and adoption of emerging technologies” topped the industry’s most influential trends, cited by 55% of respondents. The emergence of digital currencies followed closely behind, cited by 49%. These trends also capped the industry’s greatest opportunities, each noted by 54% of respondents.
  • Rising cyber risks: The increasing threat of cyberattacks arose the most cited risk among the trends, identified by 53% of respondents. How are banks responding? Nearly half (49%) of executives specified security and data protection investments as a top strategy for staying ahead of trends; 44% also pointed to enhanced data sharing between their fraud detection, digital payments and anti-money laundering functions.
  • Vexing environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. The majority (64%) of executives believe banking trails other sectors in advancing its ESG goals – but it’s clear banks’ ESG agendas are coming into sharper focus. Two in five (41%) execs selected ESG as among their organizations’ greatest opportunities. About half (52%) named environmental sustainability and climate change among the top issues in which their organization is most engaged in addressing societal needs.

Analytics paves a path forward

This survey report marks the second installment in a two-part study. The survey itself helped underpin the initial Banking in 2035: three possible futures report, a qualitative exploration of three potential future states of the industry, brimming with insights on how major trends, and banks’ responses, might reshape the landscape.

Come what may, executives recognize the importance of technology in building resilience and forging a brighter future – both for their own organizations and the entire industry. Almost half (48%) identified advanced analytics as the most important technology needed to keep their organizations competitive as long-term trends redefine the banking world. Likewise, more than three-quarters (77%) rate their organization as either on-track (35%) or ahead (42%) in meeting their digital transformation goals.

Indeed, digital transformation topped the list of strategic priorities where executives will focus over the next three to five years, noted by 57% of execs, followed by security and data protection (55%). Customer experience and risk management followed with 39% each.

“The great potential we’re seeing now for banking in 2035 will be powered by analytics and AI in the cloud,” said Alex Kwiatkowski, Director of Global Financial Services at SAS. “Banking leaders understand that they can’t scale a sea change without rendering their organization’s functioning into insights that are easy to share with stakeholders and the public. Achieving optimal performance is accomplished by making optimal decisions, informed by data.”

To learn more about how better insights fosters better banking, download the Banking in 2035 reports or delve into the companion materials at SAS.com/betterbanking.

About Economist Impact

Economist Impact combines the rigor of a think-tank with the creativity of a media brand to engage a globally influential audience. We believe that evidence-based insights can open debate, broaden perspectives and catalyze progress. For more information, visit impact.economist.com.

About SAS

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The Banking in 2035: global banking survey report is the second installment in a two-part study by Economist Impact, sponsored by SAS.