Udo Jenner is Global Head Bank for Banks Relationships at UBS.

Everyone is talking about the great transformations happening in the financial industry today thanks to digitalization. But most of this discussion revolves around the technology or changing business models. There is far less talk about the human side of the equation.

Yet, having worked in this industry for more than 30 years and watched it evolve, there is no doubt in my mind that digitalization is changing what it means to be a banker as profoundly as what it means to be a bank.

This is certainly true in my particular specialty of inter-bank relationships, where we are seeing a profound shift in the way banks interact with each other and – as a consequence – in the crucial and very human role of the client relationship manager (CRM).

This is an important development, and I think worthy of closer examination. As I see it there are three main shifts occurring in this space:

  • Fewer but more complex relationships. While banks tend to maintain fewer direct relationships with peers, the ones that remain have become more intense and complex. This mirrors the complexity of the industry: today banks are interconnected at many more levels than in the past, meaning far more touch points between the respective organizations. It is the job of CRMs to keep track of who to talk to about what at the partners they work with as well as within their own organizations – not always an easy task.
  • More substantive relationships. Today’s inter-bank relationships are about much more than just keeping in touch. They are about substantive industry and product issues, exchanging best practice and supporting partners through real thought leadership and collaboration. The good news is that banks are far more open than in the past to such exchanges. The flip side is that partners now expect real advice and support from each other in their respective areas of expertise. It is the CRM who needs to enable and guide these diverse discussions.
  • More complex preparations. In the older and slower days of our industry, people had time to discuss issues in detail. Today when banking partners get together – especially at the C-Suite level – those meetings must be substantive and efficient. It is the job of CRMs to make sure this is so, by preparing short but effective briefings, by often sitting in and facilitating the meetings, and by providing the crucial follow up. That means understanding not only the nature and history of the relationship but also the details of the subjects on the agenda.

Brave new role

As the role of the CRM has changed, so too has the job profile. While as in the past today’s CRM needs the empathy and communications flair required to keep relationships functioning well, he or she now also needs analytical skills.

That covers everything from being able to read a balance sheet, to a detailed understanding of the business of the bank and how its products and services function, to being on top of all relevant industry trends and being able to connect the dots in a wide variety of disciplines.

Because it has become so multifaceted, the CRM role between banks is now in my opinion one of the most interesting jobs in our industry. And while I may be biased, I think it is also increasingly one of the most important ones.

As banks become ever-more interconnected, the relationships between them become ever-more essential to keeping our system running. And while our machines can connect us together, they cannot relate for us. That is a job that only people can do.

When it comes to inter-bank relationships, we are indeed experiencing a significant transformation thanks to digitalization – but it is also a very human one.

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