“The business world is changing and with it, the type of skill sets demanded across industries. Technology is already threatening to make office-based professionals like accountants, estate agents, auditors, administrators, bank tellers, and so on, obsolete, as AI and machine learning have been able to manage these roles more efficiently and at minimal cost and without the politics or drama associated with human involvement.”
Article by Dr Oliver Gottmann, FCCA, MBA, DBA
The emergence and growth of fintech has been widely regarded as a positive in moving industries toward more automation, and with it increased efficiencies, less resource requirements and access to greater analytical data, amongst a plethora of advantages. In summary, it is the use of technology to improve activities in finance.
The business world is changing and with it, the type of skill sets demanded across industries. Technology is already threatening to make office-based professionals like accountants, estate agents, auditors, administrators, bank tellers, and so on, obsolete, as AI and machine learning have been able to manage these roles more efficiently and at minimal cost and without the politics or drama associated with human involvement.
Having carried out research on the online gambling industry, focusing on human decision making around change in complex environments, several findings emerged that are relevant to the advent of Fintech, not just in the gambling industry, but all industries embracing such technology.
This article considers the challenges that executives are faced with and questions whether the longer-serving executives are ready, and relevant for the new challenges and forms of complexity that Fintech brings. Whilst the initial research was on online gambling, the findings and message are relevant to all industries, that being: there are risks from FinTech implementation that business leaders should be aware of.
The period of scaling-up in the online gambling industry has been ongoing for the last 6 or so years. Scaling-up being where operators are consolidating or acquiring one another in an attempt to maintain competitive advantage, additional liquidity pools, access new markets, reduce costs and realise synergies.
The industry has now also become heavily reliant on third party technology providers, who wield significant control in the industry and form an additional threat to operators in terms of industry control.
If we consider the introduction of FinTech alongside the above and the already complex industry, with overregulation, levies and increased markets and product offerings, the role of the senior executive in managing these issues has become extremely challenging.
For some long-standing senior executives in the online gambling industry, the challenge for them is in continuing to remain relevant in the face of change. With significant evolution across the industry, they face increased pressure to steer the ship and in doing so, justify their positions. This is a personal challenge that these long-serving executives should expect to be facing in this changing and increasingly complex industry, and they need to be able to address them!
As with most industries, online gambling is in a state of change. External forces have had a significant impact on the face of the industry. Together with greater competition and the enhanced influence of technology providers, this has further muddied the waters and taken some of the control away from the organisations in terms of shaping their own destinies. This has been something of a catalyst for the M&A activity we are seeing as firms look to retake control and dominate by size. The more strategic operators scale up through clever acquisitions or mergers, targeting the stagnant competitors that have fallen behind. The sharper, more agile operators would already have strong consolidation strategies in place. This facilitates seamless acquisition or merger processes, thus helping them to remain ahead of the market.
But of course, as the business grows, it become more complex and difficult to manage. If we consider some of the factors that increase this complexity: variety of product offerings, numerous departments, active in multiple-markets, cultural diversity, platform integrations and so on, we get an idea of the challenges faced by senior executives. These, together with regulation, taxes & levies, increased competition and M&A activity, (even before considering FinTech advancements), we can see how complexity starts to develop.
Ralph Stacey’s (1993) research on decision-making and complexity recognised that management are faced with complex decisions when uncertainty renders current procedures and rules of thumb to be inadequate and management need to use their own skills to handle these situations. As companies move into new territory, they often need completely different ways to solve problems. Here, management are faced with situations not encountered before and so it’s more difficult to plan, or predict potential outcomes. This is where having relevantly skilled executives are critical. If these skills are lacking, a strain is put on the organisation that can lead to chaos, and end in disaster.
In a complex organisation, innovation and creativity are prevalent. This is down to a certain level of instability, tension and contradiction that keeps organisations on edge, making them quick to adapt and act. It’s an exciting yet challenging state to be in. This is not without its dangers, however. There’s a risk that with extremely complex systems comes the danger of losing control and the inability to manage. This can lead to failure, due to the excessive instability and extreme levels of flexibility required, forcing the organisation to lose focus on what it’s trying to achieve. Again, executives need to be able to find the right balance to promote innovation yet remain in a position to adapt as the complexity evolves.
In complex groups, although they are uncontrollable and unpredictable, in time the various complex parts start to come together to create a type of self-organisation through regular interactions. The role of the executive here is to nurture these self-organising systems and align their strategic decisions with them. What often happens in these situations is that instead of trying to embrace them, senior executives try to influence and control these complex systems by undermining them. This usually leads to rigidity and hinders the organisations adaptive capacity and agility, turning them into one of the stagnant operators that get swallowed up by competitors.
My four-year research on strategic decision making within the online gambling industry found that whilst long-standing executives add value by drawing upon their experience and their ability to make big decisions, many may not have the relevant experience or the capabilities to manage the vast and complex system their organisation has evolved into. The impact of not understanding the changing environment nor having the relevant competencies to oversee a FinTech transition, will cause serious issues for the organisation, and could even lead to the risk of them blocking new technology being integrated into their businesses, just to save face.
What we often see in these situations are these long-serving executives relying on gut instinct or heuristics (rules of thumb), both of which are prone to bias and misguided assumptions, in attempting to work through the complexity and unpredictability. Alternatively, they will remain static and not make decisions at all for fear of failure through action. Their experience has been valuable and may have made them effective decision-makers in the past, but in this uncertain environment, questions over the current relevance of their experience need to be asked.
Alongside this, the long-serving executive needs to be confident that they still have the motivation to face these new challenges. They have played an important role in shaping the organisation and the industry but it’s absolutely vital to recognise whether they still want the challenge of moving to the next stage of the lifecycle of the business, and the evolving industry, or are merely staying around and attempting to have a controlling influence on the executive team.
This is all based around the assumption that executives remain relevant, and grow in line with the industry. This has led to several fundamental questions that organisations need to ask:
- Do our senior executives have the capacity and relevant skillset to add value in this FinTech revolution within the industry?
- Do our senior executives still have the hunger to face these new challenges?
For the organisation, in expecting some senior executive to step up, there will be resistance from those with longer tenure. They are being asked out of their comfort zones, where now the outcomes of their decisions will be scrutinised, justification for decisions demanded, and failures highlighted and with consequences. These new technological features will offer the transparency to dig into and report outcomes of decisions along with the increased pressure to meet EBITDA targets, all are demands for these executives to step up!
This is where the challenge lies. With such a strong track record for many of these long-serving executives, and the prestige within which they are held, they often have inflated egos, and over-confidence in their own abilities and value. This can be dangerous for the organisation as they hold significant influence across the senior management team and can create divides if they feel threatened.
So how can these longer-serving executives themselves remain relevant to the organisation? There is no doubt that senior management experience is valuable in the decision-making process and so they need to leverage off that. Particularly if they feel threatened by a challenge to their position in terms of remaining relevant. Less industry experienced but more specialised expert executives will start appearing at senior level and will find value in the experience of these incumbent executives and so these long-serving executives need to be ready to become a support rather than lead if they don’t have the relevant skillset to remain a key-player in championing new technology and driving the organisation forward.
So, there’s a challenge for long incumbent senior executives in the industry. Traditional approaches to strategic decision-making in the industry are no longer effective in the light of increased complexity and new technology. Reliance on instinct or rule-of-thumb decision making are now more a danger than a time-saving exercise. Companies are now more bottom line focused than before and so decisions require rational justification backed by relevant data, with executives expected to take responsibility and stand or fall by their decisions.
In the end, it comes down to the individual themselves. Do they want to remain involved in the organisation, and if so, to what extent? If yes, they need to ask themselves can they adapt and learn, what do they bring to the table and how it’s relevant. And finally, and most importantly of all, do they still have the hunger? These are the challenges that many long-serving senior executives face in the online gambling industry.
This is food for thought for other industries looking at FinTech for their businesses and the dangers it can bring. Are your executives being put out by your adoption of Fintech and do they become a hindrance instead of a value to the business? And what can you do to help them remain relevant?
Oliver’s experience comes from rapidly changing, fast paced industries such as online gambling & gaming, pharmaceuticals, auditing, banking, regulation, funds & trusts, Forex trading and the football industry.
Respected as an experienced financial professional, decision maker, networker, strategic thinker and in encouraging others to expand their horizons. His real value is in the diversity of his experience and the broad array of practical and theoretical knowledge he brings to any setting.
Oliver holds a professional accounting (FCCA) qualification, as well as an MBA (Football Industries) from the University of Liverpool and has a doctorate in business with a focus on strategic decision-making bias in the boardroom of online gambling companies.
Oliver currently consults to Ellul & Co. helping companies with ICO’s and firms seeking DLT (“Distributed Ledger Technology”) licenses in Gibraltar. His specialisms focus on the financial, risk, business plan/white paper generation and capital adequacy. He has written and continues to write articles around Fintech and blockchain technology
Oliver also advises startup firms and is heavily involved in the fintech industry.