By Aqsa Zubair

The COVID-19 pandemic was life-changing in many ways. For business leaders, it forced a break from simply focusing on routine day-to-day tasks and emphasized the necessity for thinking future forward.

For me, it solidified the hard-earned lessons I have always applied to my work. My experience growing up in Pakistan allowed me to see first-hand how labourers must rely on cash payments for survival, resulting in cashflow dependencies. In the event of any unexpected delays, such as natural disasters causing lack of physical access to working sites, payments would be delayed or halted, with many downstream issues to follow. As a result, I’ve always approached my career as a problem solver first.

As the world emerges from the pandemic, it’s with the knowledge that things can suddenly and unexpectedly change, and companies must be agile and flexible if they want to adapt. It’s very likely the past 18 months have changed the financial services sector for good – but it’s also pointed to some ways in which the sector can thrive no matter what comes next.

Integrate technology into every aspect
One of the big changes the pandemic made clear for businesses, small and large, is the need for digital integration. Even before the pandemic, the rate of technological evolution and adoption had grown exponentially, with companies investing in digital-first products and services to meet individual, client, and employee needs, either by necessity or business strategy. The financial services sector is no different; according to Accenture, 50 per cent of Canadian consumers now interact with their bank through mobile apps or websites at least once a week, compared to 32 per cent in 2018.

Yet there’s more to technological integration than simply providing digital-first services. With integration comes the ability to drive data-led decision making, enabling businesses and entrepreneurs to build financial products that cater to an array of customers and market segments. Emerging technologies, including blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, are assisting with the automation, security and innovation of existing processes, resulting in potential efficiency gains, as well as specialized services to meet evolving customer and employee demands.

In my work, I have seen how blockchain technology has enabled both employees and entrepreneurs to take control of their data and finances in bold new ways. Blockchain has also provided the masses with more access to the financial services that they need. Blockchain innovations have brought efficiency gains, reduced costs for businesses, and enabled the development of innovative products that cater to global markets.

Innovate and plan to innovate again
There is no doubt that innovation will be key to keeping financial services relevant in a post-pandemic world. Whether it is customer or client demands, the need for employee support, or unexpected industry changes, maintaining an innovative mindset will ensure you and your company remain adaptable and in demand. While this mindset is fostered in many up-and-coming technology companies, the financial sector has not always been this way.

Many common practices in finance have been developed by predecessors; without looking forward, you may miss out on better solutions that have emerged since then. Challenge yourself to identify where you’d like to see your organization in five, ten, or fifteen years. As a professional or an entrepreneur, think about the type of projects you wish to work on or have in your portfolio – and start working on them now. Dedicate a few hours every week to innovate and envision what you want to achieve in your career.

Whether it’s your business or a current project; considering anything you work on as your own will deepen your investment in the outcome, and help you think with the bigger picture in mind. Be comfortable with the idea that your industry will likely shift drastically throughout your career – being open may bring new opportunities you could have never imagined.

Be collaborative
Never be afraid to draw parallels to other verticals within your organization or pursue collaborative efforts. Gone are the days of siloed organizations and closed thinking – the more diverse your stakeholders, the better solutions you can develop.

My work with the Bermuda Monetary Authority is focused on creating a novel regulatory framework for digital assets that is setting a standard for blockchain regulation globally, as well as cultivating an innovative culture within the organization and with external fintech and blockchain ecosystems. Collaboration is an integral part of every stage of this process. This can allow you to benchmark progress, provide and solicit feedback on regulatory and market innovation, and supervise all regulatory frameworks collaboratively.

The financial services industry will be different in a post-pandemic world, but it will also deliver new opportunities for growth and innovation. Reimagining the future of our industry is exciting – there are tremendous gains to be made for those who play an active part in it.

Aqsa Zubair is one of the world’s first and youngest blockchain regulators – on the leading edge of creating regulatory frameworks, technical solutions, and thought leadership for FinTech and Blockchain regulation globally. She delves heavily into internal innovation transformation projects to transform processes, build innovative products/solutions, and embed innovation within the organization. Aqsa was Sage’s Canadian winner of the Finance Futurist accolade.

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