Banks live inside devices in the palms of their customers. They also embrace hybrid work, enabling staff to work anywhere, using any network and device. This is what customers and employees now expect. After all, this is the new normal.

Some banks have managed to climb the digital maturity curve quickly, enabling them to deliver digital delight – to customers and employees – using advanced applications, backed by a mesh of carefully orchestrated cloud, network, and security solutions. Such banks are also, unfortunately, few in number.

For the others, the journey to digital delight, or at least, delivering delightful experiences via applications and enabling hybrid work, is a work-in-progress. Making it a priority will yield great rewards, including continued customer loyalty, a chance to improve margins, better (cyber)security, and a positive impact on employee retention and talent acquisition.

One of our clients, a leading bank burdened by legacy infrastructure, realized that SASE could help them leapfrog to their desired, future-forward state in a short time.

SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) is made up of SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Network) and cloud-native network security components such as CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker), FWaaS (Firewall as-a-Service), ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access), and so on. At its core, it’s a unified effort to accelerate the deployment of best-in-class, integrated network and security solutions. Powered by its various components, SASE also enables visibility and automation and helps in operational efficiency.

Putting the needs of banking organizations into perspective

Banks need feature-packed applications that enable customers to do just about anything they need without visiting a branch; they need branches that enable customers to make in-person transactions with ease whenever there is a need for it; and finally, they need to create hybrid work opportunities for their staff, be they banking advisors, branch staff, operations personnel, and or just about everybody else.

Our client is a leading player in their part of the world with an extensive network of branches, a vast pool of professionals, a great deal of sensitive data to protect, and several stakeholders to answer to, including customers, shareholders, and regulators.

To keep up with competitors, they had digital touchpoints to allow customers to transact online. Of course, their multitude of branches were connected using Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), which among other things, meant that their network wasn’t optimized for the video and voice communications necessary for hybrid work. For employees, this also meant that working remotely wasn’t possible and inside the branch, application experiences weren’t always the best. From an industry-insider’s perspective, our client wasn’t in a unique position. They were in the same boat as a lot of their competitors.

Could their customers tell the difference between the experience they were being offered compared to the experience provided by a digital leader or new-age player in the space? Of course. Did it matter enough for them to make a change? Not until now.

Today’s customers are demanding, which is why banks need to keep up. Our client’s move to SASE was a game-changer and helped them switch gears and compete with the best in the field incredibly quickly.

The SD-WAN + Cloud Security difference 

Our client was looking for a significant transformation. They worked with us to upgrade and modernize their data centers. However, the real differentiator was their move to SD-WAN and the deployment of a robust suite of cloud security solutions.

Evolving to SD-WAN meant they no longer had to connect to the data center to access their applications. Instead, they could connect to the cloud-based services directly, which significantly improved the employees’ experience using everyday office applications such as email, word processing, spreadsheets, and core banking programs.

The move to SD-WAN was augmented with the integration of Wi-Fi and the wired network at branch locations, refreshing their entire campus network, and allowing for much smarter management of resources due to intelligent intent based networking (IBN), also known as Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture (DNA). This solution transformed branch operations. It resulted in the Bank’s ability to deliver a better experience to employees as well as customers who visited the branches – ultimately boosting the quality of service they offered across the board.

Since SD-WAN is an intelligent solution, it allows for the much-needed prioritization of video and voice communications, and enables a host of other solutions, to help staff embrace and enjoy hybrid work in this new era.

From a security perspective, the Bank also realized many advantages with the implementation of SASE. The solution made it possible to adopt a tiered approach to security, ring-fencing critical core banking modules while providing location, device, or user-based safety-nets for other applications.

The Bank’s network and applications are now also protected against malicious files, malware, intrusions, and more.

The single vendor advantage of SASE

Gartner first coined the term SASE a couple of years ago. Ongoing research from their analysts and other think tanks show that organizations that want to make the most of their SASE deployment need to pick components from the portfolio of a single vendor. Alternatively, they need to work with a vendor who is part of a larger ecosystem where various components integrate with one another freely.

Cisco’s deep portfolio helped the client kick-start their SASE deployment rather quickly. Further, being fully integrated made it possible for the Bank to achieve significantly better results without wasting resources trying to patch the different systems together.

Further, SASE provides a lot of visibility and automation capabilities that using a fragmented or siloed solution wouldn’t allow.

For example, when the Bank wanted to deploy the solution, they could send hardware to each of its branch locations. The device can call back the controller, download relevant policies, and deploy the standardized, templated experience that the corporate office intended.

This is not only incredibly useful when rolling-out but also when starting a new branch office or when trying to implement new policies based on recommendations from regional financial regulators or other statutory bodies. Further, paired with Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture (DNA), it also allowed the Bank to actualize its vision of an intelligent network for an or end-to-end Software Defined Network (SDN) approach.

Finally, since every component is well-integrated, the Bank can gather a lot of telemetry data and truly look into its network, understand which applications are consuming too much bandwidth and pinpoint which users are not getting the intended performance and user experience.