Spanx and the core issues with digitization – part 2

 Sam Maule photo
Sam Maule Managing Partner, North America
5min read

I love the Showtime drama series Billions. It gets two big thumbs up from me and I highly recommend binge-watching the series. You'll thank me later.

I recently finished season 3 of the program and I actually burst out laughing during the beginning of the show. Real-life celebrities and billionaires are a constant staple of the series. Past guests have included Mark Cuban, Maria Sharapova, and even my beloved Metallica. But what made me chuckle was the brief appearance of Sara Blakely playing, well, herself.

And why not? She's a self-made billionaire and founder of Spanx as I detailed in my first blog post on the commonalities between the Spanx product and the digitization of financial services. Seeing her pop up on my screen while watching the season finale prompted me to sit down and write part 2 of this blog post.

Spanx Life

What in the bloody hell do Spanx, the incredible fashion line of compression undergarments, and the digitization of financial services have in common? More than one would think. In part 2 of this series let's explore the act of buying the product and wearing it in public to the transformation of legacy banking products to the modern tech age.

What can a 51-year-old white male possibly know about both the joy and self-confidence achieved by donning the equivalent of a slim fit Victorian girdle, while at the same time suffering through the agony of wearing a portable hidden sauna suit for a whole day? Everything, trust me.

I spent the entire three days of Money2020 Europe in Amsterdam this year wearing my Spanx undershirts in order to boost my already aging and fragile ego. Do you recall ABC Sports' “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”? I exemplified this every time I was on stage at Money2020. There's nothing quite like wearing a compression t-shirt on stage under the lights to increase your perspiration.

And this, ladies and gentleman, is one of the key similarities with wearing the Spanx product and the digitization of Financial Services. Both will make you sweat, toil in heated agony at times, can be expensive as hell, and are a bitch to put on and to take off. At the end of the experience you'd think you jump at the chance to exercise instead of wearing the product again. Or, in the case of banking, go ahead and modernize the damn core. Ah, but how we love to suffer in denial.

Move Forward

Our good friend Chris Skinner has been the equivalent of John the Baptist now for at least a decade, calling for real core legacy system transformation to real-time cloud based digital systems. You can check out his multitude of blog posts on the topic, such as this gem from 2013.

Okay, those of you that know Chris well will know that John the Baptist is just about his polar opposite. Let's go with Arnold Schwarzenegger instead, a digital transformation fitness guru, if you will. Chris has been championing the concept of going all-in on core platform transformation now for years, and I know from personal experience he's growing tired of stating the same damn thing over and over. Yet he persists.

Look, I understand the complexities, risks, and fear associated with truly moving forward on a platform transformation to a cloud-based digital core. If it was easy everyone would have done this by now. Just ask TSB how much fun this process is. But I can also attest that ignoring the issues at hand from not having a real-time cloud-based core processing system that can compete with the technology stacks of GAFA or the Chinese tech dragons or any of the other emerging unicorns in technology is simply the equivalent of pulling on your Spanx t-shirt and plowing through a box of Domino's pizza while downing a liter of Pepsi. In other words, you're only delaying the inevitable health issues that you know are on the horizon.

Under Pressure

Wearing Spanx can be a heated and pressure-filled experience. The physics of the compression material result in all of your flop sweat being captured within your skin and the undergarment material. Yeah, this can be load of fun on stage. Try it sometime.

The same is true when you honestly undertake a digital transformation project within our industry. You're gonna feel the heat and pressure from the executive team, business and product team, technology team, audit team, procurement team, risk team and so on. The current culture and process structure within banking isn't set up to allow this effort to succeed.

So guess what - you have to break the mold. Digital transformation is just as much a culture and process transformation as it is a technology shift, just as losing weight is. Diet and habits such as sleep, drinking, and mindset are actually more important than exercise in the weight-loss process. Equally, the culture, executive management coverage, and process transformation are just as important and must be included in the digitalization of core banking.

So let's make a pact, a New Year's resolution, a virtual handshake. Let's not go through the motions of simply digitizing an analogue process for the hundredth time and then high-fiving each other and declaring we've conquered digital banking. Let's go after the real core issues our industry is facing. Let's accept that digital banking really is only 1% finished and we've got a job to do. And the 11:FS Team will be more than happy to help you with your diet and exercise plan.

You can catch Sam as a host on Fintech Insider where he'll be wearing Spanx, even though it's a podcast.