The drive to deliver new functionality to customers faster is being felt across every industry, and especially so for financial markets that are under pressure from new market entrants. Adopting agile development and continuous delivery can help financial institutions gain an edge and beat competitors to market, but it’s vital that quality is not forgotten.

Financial institutions are accelerating to update software and release new products in days or weeks instead of months. That means software must be tested rigorously and quickly. Manual testing simply cannot compete with automated testing when it comes to speed, accuracy and the ability to perform functions repeatedly over time. However, it can be challenging to implement successfully. 

The Customer is Always Right

Customer power is forcing banks to improve customer experience. Accustomed to slick, efficient website experiences from such leaders as Amazon and Google, customers now are demanding similar experiences from their banks and credit card companies. Millennials expect easier access to banking, precipitating a shift to self-service, which presents all kinds of new IT challenges for banks.

When customers don’t like their online banking experience, they will simply choose another provider. A full 18 percent of millennials switched their primary bank in the last 12 months, according to a recent Accenture survey. When failed or flawed software gets into the customer domain, the fallout can be very damaging and expensive. Think: lost sales, disgruntled customers, bad PR and a massive price tag to fix the problems.

Test Automation a Solid Foundation

Introducing test automation isn’t just about finding defects more quickly and efficiently, though it will do that. It’s also about shifting the burden of regression testing and freeing manual testers to focus on issues such as exploratory testing, usability and penetration testing, where they can add the most value.

To implement automated testing successfully, financial institutions must devise a long-term plan that dovetails with their business objectives. Having a plan—and sticking to it—outweighs the importance of getting C-level support and winning a huge budget for automated testing. Without a plan, the most well-intentioned objectives can get rejected by senior management, stalled by other forces and, ultimately, forgotten.

Automated Testing Misconceptions

The plan should include a robust dismissal of two popular misconceptions about automated testing. The first—and bigger—one is that automated testing will produce instant cost savings, as fewer resources (mainly of the personal kind) will be needed to perform testing.

Over time, automation will cut costs. But cost should never be the main factor when considering automated testing. Applying test automation greatly outweighs all the negatives of manual testing (time-consuming), but it also opens new doors for more sophisticated testing and, hence, the competitive advantage.

The second misconception is that automated testing is a one-time only exercise. Reality proves that automation is always going to be an ongoing process. Automated testing should be treated as (yet) another development activity: You write the production software and you write the software that tests the production software.

Overcoming the Challenges

Financial institutions face a threat from newcomers to the market, unencumbered by legacy system baggage and physical branches. They are offering disruptive products and new business models. How can existing financial institutions compete?

It obviously makes sense to include the business and marketing teams in the development process to develop new solutions for customers. Extend the DevOps mindset to break down those silos. A united team that includes test and marketing alongside developers can ensure that automated tests are well-designed and focused on business aims.

Pulling together to design and test new ideas can enable financial institutions to reinvent themselves and innovate. Embedding test automation in everything mitigates risk and increases velocity and quality. It can deliver the data businesses need to make the right next move.

Long-Term Vision, Short-Term Plans

Fast feedback is paramount to make the right business decisions, but financial institutions must cater to existing legacy systems and integrate new software deliveries from a range of vendors. Without test automation in place, it’s simply not possible to integrate deliveries, test them and reject them as quickly as possible if they are wrong.

The reality is that organizations must be able to quickly introduce new tools and technologies because agility and innovation go hand in hand, but the impact on legacy systems must be repeatedly gauged. Test management tooling should be fluid and extensible to cater to this diversity. To accurately measure quality and risk in real time, test automation must be dynamic and flexible.

Failure to embrace automated testing will leave traditional financial institutions exposed and in danger of being swept away by the new wave of lean, agile, IT-focused competitors.