Zur Yahalom

Zur Yahalom

We speak to Zur Yahalom, SVP and Head of Financial Services, Americas at Amdocs, About his Career to Date and the Growth of the Company

Zur, run us through your career to date, how has it led you to SVP and Head of Financial Services, Americas at Amdocs?

At my core I am an engineer, having focused my education around this area and ultimately obtaining my MBA. As such, I started my career in engineering and spent years doing so. Later down the road, I progressed into sales engineer/solutions architect roles – which brought me to Amdocs, where I’ve been for 15 years. 

In the beginning, I worked within Amdocs’ technology organisation, leading business development and sales engineering. In this role, I was able to provide a deep understanding of technology from a product engineering perspective. 

From there I moved fully into the business development side as a customer business executive. As I’m sure you know, we started as a telecommunications organisation but have since diversified into financial services – where I played a significant role in leading the team through this effort. 

Fast forward to today, I’ve been leading Amdocs’ financial services business in the Americas for about three and a half years, building out a team of exceptional financial services talent to bolster our expertise in this industry. 

Of course, I have still managed to tie in my longstanding technical and engineering background in this regard!

Is your current role anything like you envisaged you would do as a youngster, or even when you were in education? 

In many ways, I would say so! Of course, it is hard for any of us to forecast where our career will take us from a young age through adulthood, but I always knew I was attracted to and passionate about technology and the business side of the house. 

These keen interests have served me well at Amdocs given our technology capabilities and our role in implementing complex projects that require a deep level of technology expertise. 

What motivates you on a day-to-day basis, and what’s the best thing about working at Amdocs? 

I truly am motivated by the ability to make an impact on both Amdocs as an organisation and the greater financial services industry. 

My immediate team is of course always top-of-mind. It’s incredible to be able to support and mentor the people I work with daily and watch them take on a role of their own in making an impact. 

Along with our people, I am highly driven by the ability to leave a lasting impression through the success of our customers. This ties back to our broader scope and how Amdocs can drive innovation throughout the financial services industry and better serve our customers. 

Amdocs is a powerful partner to these companies in the sense that it has both the scale to make impactful projects, but also the ability to serve our people, our clients, and most importantly, their end customers. 

When put all together, this is what drives me to succeed in my role and pour passion into my work. 

On to the serious stuff, do you think fintech can facilitate the banking needs of all future generations? How entrenched will the industry become in 10 years?

Fintech companies on a global scale have found effective ways to simplify the client experience, making banking more accessible and tailored to individual needs. 

You cannot expect the Baby Boomer generation to have the same level of technology savvy as Gen Z, and fintech has successfully enabled personalised mobile banking capabilities that can work for any client demographic - a need that has never been more apparent. 

For example, Amdocs has found in its own 2023 Personal Banking Survey that 39% of households with children under 21 believe their bank does not currently offer the right tools for planning their kids’ future. 

This is a tremendous opportunity to better serve parents’ needs. Of course, we are still in the developmental years, but over time I do believe we can continue to refine digital banking products to best serve a wide range of customers - both for generations now and for those that are still to come.

We’ve already begun to see the lasting impact of fintech on the banking industry in recent years: take Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) as an example. 

Clients have come to expect their bank to provide digital services across all aspects of the customer experience, and are much quicker to turn away from an institution that lacks in this regard. 

Without key fintech companies to enable these capabilities, many banks would find themselves losing critical ground to their competitors. 

From providing core banking systems to modern APIs and hyper-personalised client experiences, fintech has met a growing demand for customers of all ages and demographics. 

Over the next 10 years, we can only expect fintech’s role in the banking sector to grow. I believe that many banks will see their fintech counterparts as an essential extension of their internal team - rather than just a vendor.  

How is fintech improving the financial experience for SMBs today, and how much easier will financing become for SMBs in the future? 

As banks look ahead, regardless of customer segment, they must evolve their role as a financial hub for customers by bundling a variety of relevant services. 

For small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) this is especially critical. The SMB has traditionally been an underserved demographic when it comes to their banking providers - they do not need or qualify for many of the products that are geared towards large enterprises but they also cannot use the retail customer products. 

But, with 99.9% of businesses in the US being SMBs, this is a demographic that banks must better cater to as they seek to grow. 

However, the ability to partner with fintechs and create marketplaces for the SMB customer means that banks can enhance the value of their banking relationships with owner-operators. 

The reality is that the average SMB owner has at least seven subscriptions they have to select, source, and keep track of - a tedious and cumbersome hurdle. 

But, as banks work with marketplace enablement partners like Amdocs, they can simplify the complexities of offering third-party services like accounting, taxes, website hosting, operations and human resources technology, to serve as a one-stop business partner/enabler for this critical customer base. 

Creating a viable banking marketplace for these business owners can also empower banks to generate new revenue by serving as the central channel for third-party services, augment traditional banking services with bundles and rewards that drive more loyalty and long-lasting relationships, and attract new small business customers with a combined services incentive. 

Additionally, as SMBs look at their financing options, the more embedded they are as a customer, the more likely they are to explore the products their bank offers. 

Banks that have not only created a third-party marketplace but also a customised banking marketplace will enable the small business owner to easily explore diverse financing options and customised solutions. 

And, because this customer is more entrenched in the system due to all of the third-party subscriptions they’ll be utilising, banks will have more data and information to make quicker financing decisions for the SMB customer. 

Banks are competing with digital-only banks and technology giants that have begun to dabble in financial services. The more they can embrace fintech to create more connections for customers to third-party service providers, the better poised they are to win out over competitors. 

AI in banking is the current tech trend taking FIs by storm. Where is it being widely applied and adopted – and where is there still conservatism as to its uses?

AI has proven to be an incredibly powerful tool across a variety of industries, and the banking sector is certainly no exception. For many, Gen AI in particular has been widely adopted on the front end in the form of chatbots to improve customer service. We’ve also seen AI used to enhance anti-fraud initiatives. 

An especially impactful area AI has been improving across the banking industry, however, has been hyper-personalisation. Today’s banking customer has become accustomed to tailored recommendations based on patterns found in their personal data (for example, Netflix), and banks have leveraged AI to mirror this experience for their clients. 

For additional context into AI’s growing role among banking clients, Amdocs’ 2023 Personal Banking Survey found that 53% of respondents are interested in receiving customised, real-time financial recommendations generated by AI - even if it requires giving banks more access to personal information. 

Like any new technology, there are of course aspects that can hinder adoption. Many financial institutions have expressed concerns over transparency, bias, hallucinations and ethical considerations when it comes to AI performing core banking functions. 

As noted in President Biden’s recent Executive Order on AI, there are also regulatory and data privacy factors slowing adoption and implementation. 

Mainframe modernisation is a key concern for banks today. How important is it to modernise legacy infrastructures, and how do banks go about doing it? 

Mainframe technology has been around for decades and still serves as critical infrastructure for many of the world’s largest financial institutions. 

However, there are very few vendors that serve the existing mainframes and their services are becoming more expensive every year. 

Additionally, the people operating these platforms are ageing out of the workforce and it is becoming nearly impossible to find people with the right skill set to maintain mainframe operations - posing a major operational risk for banks that will only get worse. 

But most importantly, new developments on mainframes are slow and expensive, limiting the ability of companies to innovate and launch new capabilities to keep up with the market. 

Luckily, technology has come a long way recently, bringing automation into the mainframe modernisation process. Modernising mainframe applications is becoming cheaper and faster than ever before, making it so much easier to justify these projects. 

We believe that the mainframe market is at an inflection point and with the recent acquisition of Astadia, Amdocs is equipped to be at the forefront of this revolution. 

How is Amdocs supporting these issues in the fintech space? Can you run us through some solutions you’ve developed? 

For decades, Amdocs has been the digital transformation leader in telecommunications, working with the world’s largest brands. 

We have brought this same expertise to the financial services industry to enable financial institutions to achieve digital transformation quickly and at scale, allowing them to modernise and innovate to best service the dynamic modern customer. 

We offer a variety of products and services that aim to empower banks and dissolve today’s pain points. 

One great example is our Product and Pricing Catalog, which allows banks to offer highly personalised offerings to the right customer, at the right time, and price point. 

Through this, banks can provide highly competitive and unique bundled offerings that truly meet customers' needs. 

This transforms traditional, standardised offerings into unique and individualised customer experiences – all with little to no reliance on IT resources. 

It enables banks to continuously and quickly pair customers with the offerings that best suit them, and at the level of customisation they have all come to expect in today’s banking landscape. 

In your role, how are you helping Amdocs achieve its aims for financial services? 

There are quite a few areas I focus on from the financial services side of the business. First, I put a significant emphasis on ensuring we have the right team in place with the right financial services domain expertise, while also equipping them with a true understanding of Amdocs’ capabilities to bring its scale into essential conversations with our customers. 

Second, how we position Amdocs is critical in establishing that our customers and the broader industry understand what we can do to drive innovation through our technology across this sector. 

We are not a household name in financial services just yet, although this is changing rapidly, so I focus on leading the team in helping to make our mark. 

Lastly, I find that empowering our people to focus on what they do well allows them to differentiate what they should be spending their energy on to deliver value to our customers. 

Describe yourself in three words. 

Professional, dedicated and creative. 

We always end on a light note! If you were trapped on a desert island with three people (family and friends excluded!), who would they be and why? 

I would have to first say Bear Grylls, as having a survivalist expert on your team in that situation would be most ideal. While navigating life on a desert island, I think a comedic element may help boost morale – so I’d choose Jerry Seinfeld. 

To make this the perfect trifecta, I would lastly hope to have someone who is always hopeful and strives for a better future. 

One name that comes to mind is Shimon Peres, former Israeli President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, to share his wisdom and tenacity for never giving up on hope for making the world a better place – something people could always use, desert island or not!

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