Embracing Agility: Case for Shifting Banking Focus to Quarterly Projects During Budget Season

By James White

Here’s the irony of the so-called banking revolution: There is no night-and-day change, no watershed moment—the revolution is that every financial institution today lives in a state of constant evolution. Rapidly shifting customer expectations, accelerating tech transformation, the ever-present fintech challengers, and now economic volatility force the urgent question: How do we adapt and thrive amid constant disruption? 

A savvy crowd would no doubt immediately respond with shouts of, “Speed!” and “Agility!” So, the more pressing question is how do banks and credit unions operationalize those nebulous concepts? One surprisingly simple answer: We need to pivot from a focus on traditional long-term projects—long considered the cornerstone of strategic planning—toward a new paradigm that prioritizes adaptively planning and quarterly projects. 

Speed-to-Market Unlocks Competitive Advantage & Growth in Today’s Financial World 

The smart play has always been to put your effort and resources behind long-term projects: Steady efforts to build complex solutions to stable goals. Long-term projects facilitate clear strategic planning and confident stakeholder alignment toward infrastructure development. Yet, the rapid advancement of technology and customer expectations has rendered the prolonged timelines of these projects a liability. According to McKinsey, speed (or lack thereof) is a primary reason that a staggering 70% of banks' digital transformation efforts ultimately fail.

The speed advantage dominates across sectors: McKinsey’s broader study of digital transformation across all sectors similarly identified speed as a key factor in success. Where “wait and see” used to be the smart strategy, today it’s the first and fastest that reap the competitive advantage: McKinsey’s study found that the most agile, fast-to-market companies grew revenue at nearly double the rate of their more conservative competitors. 

Operationalizing Agility: Shifting to Quarterly Projects 

Digitalization, technological advancements, and changing customer expectations have necessitated a shift towards shorter project cycles. Customer expectations and needs evolve at breakneck pace, and the banking industry has been upended by new entrants focusing on speedy, agile response to customer needs, above all else. A recent Ernst & Young report concluded that financial institutions need to accelerate their transformation and adaptation to the evolving market. Putting an even finer point on the recommendation, EY simply stated financial institutions should “Learn to fail fast.” 

This acceleration is certainly far easier said than done. Changing internal culture takes time, to say nothing of the technological changes often required to enable more agile business practices. But one of the most straightforward, yet most impactful ways to operationalize the strategic move toward speed and agility is to shift from long-term or annual projects toward a focus on quarterly projects. 

Quarterly Projects Create a Flywheel of Agile Business Advantage 

The relative advantages of quarterly projects are manifold. Quarterly projects offer financial institutions the ability to respond swiftly to market trends, regulatory changes, and emerging opportunities. Banks and credit unions can remain competitive, stay relevant, and better serve their customers’ evolving needs by focusing on shorter timelines.  

Faster time-to-market stands as a pivotal competitive advantage, enabling financial institutions to deliver innovative products and services with unmatched speed. Being at the forefront of change is essential, and speed is the engine that drives that advantage. And faster time-to-market also means faster time-to-value. Quarterly projects enable banks and credit unions to start generating ROI earlier—and parlay these returns into later phases and future projects. 

Beyond this, early access to real customer feedback is a hidden treasure of value. By getting products into the hands of customers more rapidly, banks and credit unions can gather essential insights and iterate based on genuine feedback. The best products are crafted with the market, not just for the market. 

This is just one face of the adaptability enabled by the shift to quarterly projects. Greater speed to market and a more rapid feedback loop equips banks and credit unions to pivot and realign their strategies as market dynamics evolve. This significantly mitigates the risk of investing in obsolete initiatives—an increasingly common torpedo to financial institutions’ financial and competitive success.

Moreover, sizable change is not out of reach with this approach. Rather, banks and credit unions can adopt a more incremental approach to larger-scale transformations—continually evaluate these projects and their discrete steps every quarter, adapting as necessary and reinforcing effective risk management practices. 

Easing the Transition 

Transitioning to a quarterly project focus is not without its growing pains. Resource allocation, talent management, and stakeholder alignment require careful planning and strategic execution. Yet these are the same factors that have always shaped the success or failure of longer-term projects. The same keys to project success remain, no matter the timeframe: implementing effective project management practices, nurturing collaboration across teams, and providing comprehensive training and support to employees. 

Agility in the Short Term Unlocks Success in the Long Term 

It’s not just clichéd to say the banking industry stands at a crossroads; it’s an imprecise way to describe our situation today. Rather than facing a definitive shift or change, banks and credit unions are staring down a continuously undulating landscape. The challenge isn’t to identify a single course of action or path to success; it’s to prioritize and operationalize the adaptability and responsiveness needed to survive and thrive in this environment.

In the face of these challenges, shifting the focus to quarterly projects is not merely a transitory trend brought on by budget pressures. It’s the smart, strategic imperative for every financial institution. By operationalizing agility through short-term projects that speed time-to-market and enable continuous evaluation and adaptation, banks and credit unions can navigate the turbulent waters of the industry, delivering innovation, improving customer experiences, and achieving sustainable growth. It is time for banking leaders to champion the quarterly project approach, leveraging technology, talent, and forward-thinking strategies to secure a prosperous future in the dynamic finance landscape.  

About the author

James White, General Manager of Banking at Total Expert, has over 25 years of experience helping modern depositories grow market share and drive profitability. James’ leadership experience spans strategic planning, product development and delivery, professional services, sales and marketing, and customer success. Having worked with the largest banks and credit unions in the world, James believes in the power of an empathetic bank or credit union to create customers for life. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.