By Shaun Hurst, Technical Director at Smarsh
How we interact and communicate has evolved dramatically over the past decade. This is especially true in the workplace. Ten years ago, our working days were spent communicating via e-mail and phone calls. For most companies, this has been replaced by a broad range of modern collaboration tools and instant messaging platforms. Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and WhatsApp now dominate the way we work.
As the coronavirus outbreak has led to many professionals starting to work remotely, we can see just how far these platforms have come in enabling us to connect and collaborate from anywhere in the world. But for companies in regulated industries, the adoption of these tools has been less straight-forward.
For the most part, partial or outright restrictions have been introduced by financial services companies due to fears of compliance issues. Many lack the technology solutions they need to capture, archive and monitor the more diverse flow of communications data that these modern platforms create. But corporate bans haven’t stopped employees from adopting these tools on their own, leaving companies open to compliance issues later down the road.
This is most evident with WhatsApp. Many people working in the financial services industry already know that the end-to-end encryption messaging tool is ubiquitous and widely used to keep in touch with colleagues, clients and contacts. But while company policies largely prohibit the use of WhatsApp, financial regulators have stayed away from an outright ban. Instead, they have issued guidance requiring companies to ensure that the instant messaging tools used by their employees are supervised and in compliance with already existing record-keeping rules such as MiFID II.
Last year, the FCA stated that firms need to “take reasonable steps to prevent an employee or contractor from making, sending or receiving relevant telephone conversations and electronic communications on privately owned equipment which the firm is unable to record or copy”. Similarly, the SEC issued guidance in late 2018 reminding companies of their responsibility to monitor electronic messaging and encouraged them to “stay abreast of evolving technology.”
Ensuring that these guidelines are adhered to has been complicated by the fact that many companies have brought in outright or partial bans on unmonitored instant messaging tools while also adopting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Largely implemented to cut costs, these BYOD policies mean businesses are now less able to police which communications apps and platforms their employees are using. This means that they now do not have the oversight they need to ensure that employees are adhering to the bans.
Several legal cases brought against investment banks in recent years have been centred around the misuse of messaging tools like WhatsApp. Bankers at two of these institutions spoke to the FT last year. They highlighted that while employees are trained on how to use new media at work in accordance with compliance regulations, they are still able to install communications apps on their private phones.
The compliance challenges this raises have been widely played out in the financial media over the past two years, with multiple firms being handed significant fines due to their communications monitoring oversights. This doesn’t have to be the case. Companies working in regulated industries, and especially financial services companies, must embrace the tools that they know are in wide use by their employees.
Very few have introduced the monitoring solutions they would need to adequately manage the use of WhatsApp or other encrypted messaging tools by its employees. But encrypted messaging tools like WhatsApp and WeChat can be captured, monitored and supervised. Firms simply need to invest in the technology they need to do so.
This is true not just for encrypted services like WhatsApp, but for all modern collaboration tools. Many financial services firms have been hesitant to fully integrate these productivity-enhancing platforms. In times like these, where effective collaboration between remote teams is so important, the measures taken to ensure communications tools are being used compliantly is becoming increasingly important. Companies must accept the realities of their employees communicating through new and innovative mediums. What matters now is enabling them to use these tools in a compliant way.
By Richard Kelsey, Head of Software Sales at Backbase
Though you might be familiar with the popular seaside town of Newquay, you may not be familiar with its historic financial district aptly named, Bank Street. Dozens of banks and building societies have dominated this area since the late 1800s. However, the street hit the headlines recently as, 120 years after the first bank opened its doors, the last bank closed them.
This is not new. Bank closures have been part of the news agenda for years, and now, COVID-19 has further accelerated the physical turning into the digital. Across the globe, banks have had to close or limit the operating hours of their in-person locations, forcing banks to digitise at speed. Keeping the pipeline of digital sales flowing for new clients, increasing digital product origination and facilitating those cross-sell journeys to customers is key to survival.
Digital take up
Delivering seamless digital customer journeys was already a fast-growing priority for banking and wealth management organizations pre-pandemic. Research shows that 38% of customers stated UX as the most important factor when choosing a digital bank. In response, banks have been investing in digital technology and collaborating with third-party providers as they strive to offer a superior customer experience and stay competitive. But the global lockdowns – which have restricted people to banking digitally – have turbocharged these trends. Growing demand for digital onboarding, and digitized services to support the ongoing customer journey, must be matched by effective capabilities though.
Plugging the leaks
Conversion leakage is a particular problem during the digital client acquisition process. With branches shuttered during the coronavirus lockdowns, and subsequent openings and customer footfall likely to be severely limited for the foreseeable future, this leakage presents a major, and costly, challenge as institutions seek to convert digital sales and boost their return on investment.
The key is understanding why leakage happens in the first place and time and time again, there are three main trends that cause the most problems:
- Switching from a customer’s current provider is too difficult (for example, in transferring bill payments and direct debits).
- The digital process is too cumbersome (particularly where existing offline processes are simply put online).
- Customers lack human touchpoints and advice when they need it (especially for more complex products).
Combating these levels of leakage requires firms to take an outside-in approach, to see the process from the customer’s perspective. From this viewpoint, they can design a more customer-friendly experience that streamlines the job at hand.
One way to simplify the acquisition journey is to incorporate human/AI advisor interventions at points of friction, where customers may become stuck. Another is to adopt retargeting strategies that address customers who abandon the application process partway – for example, by storing their details in a CRM system and sending them notifications to complete the application, or referring them to an outbound call centre employee who can pick up the process by phone. Such approaches can boost completion rates by 40%, delivering substantial benefits to the bank.
Stronger digital growth
Banks’ return on tangible equity has plateaued globally at approximately 10.5% over the past decade, and the lower-for-longer interest rate environment will add to the pressure. Addressing cost-income ratios has become a matter of urgency.
Firms now face a strategic inflection point. Continuing with old business-as-usual practices will leave institutions struggling to attract new (especially younger) clients, while grappling with an exodus of existing customers and an overburdened cost base. But by digitising processes to enhance the client experience, banks and other financial institutions can increase their revenues and reduce costs, and have a loyal customer base who don’t feel the impact of the branchless bank.
- Financial performance impacted by the pandemic
- Expected credit loss (ECL) charges of £45.8 million recognised on loans and advances to customers
- Profit before tax (PBT) was impacted by the adverse effects of COVID-19 and the subsequent provisions set aside, reducing by 89% to £5.9 million
- Customer deposits rose by 25% to £7.6 billion while capital remained strong with a CET1 ratio of 12.3%
- A total of 15.9k payment holidays granted across the Group
- The specialist bank continued to operate effectively through COVID-19
- 98% of employees moved to remote working within days and no staff furloughed
- Successfully achieved accreditation under UK Government’s CBILS
- Continued investment in technology to digitalise the business
- Shawbrook “cautiously optimistic” as momentum begins to return to certain specialist sectors
Shawbrook Bank has today (Monday 10 August 2020) published its half year financial results for the period ending 30 June 2020.
The specialist bank confirmed it had set aside £45.8 million of provisions to provide for potential future loan impairments caused by COVID-19. The bank reported it had also granted a total of 15.9k payment holidays to support its customers through the pandemic, of which 10.8k remained in force at 30 July 2020.
As a result of such provisions, the bank’s profitability was impacted with a reduction in PBT by 89% to £5.9 million.
Despite the challenging market conditions, the bank retained its active position in the UK savings market, increasing its retail savings deposit base by 25% to £7.6 billion. During the period, Shawbrook also successfully completed a £75 million Tier 2 re-financing to further optimise its capital structure.
Ian Cowie, Shawbrook Bank’s Chief Executive Officer, said that COVID-19 has had a clear impact on the bank’s financial performance, but Shawbrook remained in a position of strength.
He commented: “Prior to COVID-19, the Group had continued to make good financial progress, starting 2020 with a strong balance sheet and prudently positioned capital and liquidity base.
“To further optimise the Group’s capital structure, during H1 2020 we initiated a Tier 2 refinancing and, despite the challenging market conditions, successfully completed the £75 million issuance in July.
“We have also maintained our active position in the UK savings market. However, the longer-term economic impacts of the pandemic remain hard to predict and as a result we have recognised expected credit loss charges in the period on loans and advances to customers of £45.8 million and on loan commitments of £1.5 million.
“While this has clearly had an impact on profitability, our capital strength positions us well to support our customers and grow our business in line with appetite as we enter the second half of the year.”
Throughout COVID-19, Shawbrook maintained full operational functionality, with no staff furloughed and 98% of employees transferred to remote working within days of the UK lockdown being announced.
The bank adopted a series of concession opportunities across its product range to help alleviate the financial impacts of COVID-19 on its customers. During this time, Shawbrook also successfully achieved accreditation to the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to provide further funding support to its SME clients.
Mr Cowie added: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our focus has remained on supporting our staff, customers and partners while at the same time safeguarding the long-term sustainability of our business.
“When the UK lockdown was announced in March 2020, we acted with speed and agility, moving to an almost entirely remote operation within days. Led by a stable and experienced management team and with the support of new and existing technology, we have continued to operate effectively throughout this period.”
Throughout the first half of the year, the bank also continued to identify investment opportunities to further digitalise its proposition, with a core focus on its SME offering.
Mr. Cowie added: “Notwithstanding the pandemic, we have continued to invest in our business to help drive our strategic ambition to become the UK’s Specialist SME Lender of Choice. As well as the ongoing deployment of targeted digital solutions across the Property, Consumer lending and Savings businesses, our investment in the development of a new growth platform in our Business Finance franchise will serve to further modernise our offering, delivering an enhanced customer journey as well as significant operational efficiencies.”
Looking to the future he continued: “Although significant uncertainties regarding the broader macroeconomic impact and pace of recovery remain, we are cautiously optimistic in our outlook as we start to see signs of momentum returning to certain of our specialist sectors.
“Our management expertise and prudent approach to credit decisioning, combined with investment in our digital propositions, means we are well positioned to adapt and respond to opportunities as they arise throughout the second half of the year.”
Better banking—everyday in everyway
By Bruno Pešec president at Pesec Global.
Some of the most innovative companies are also great at continuous and incremental improvement. I want to talk about three key points when it comes to succeeding with implementation of continuous improvement.
First is acknowledging that employee empowerment is at the heart of continuous improvement. The second is striving for total involvement by everybody, everywhere, everyday. Final, third point is that improvement is improvement. Cents turn into dollars.
Let’s expand on each.
Employee empowerment is at the heart of continuous improvement
In “Kaizen: The Key To Japan’s Competitive Success” Masaaki Imai divulges following as the core principles of continuous improvement:
- Process orientation. “Before results can be improved, processes must be improved, as opposed to result-orientation where outcomes are all that counts.”
- Improving and maintaining standards. “Lasting improvements can only be achieved if innovations are combined with an ongoing effort to maintain and improve standard performance levels.”
- People orientation. “Improvement is people-oriented and should involve everyone in the organization from top management to workers at the shop floor. Further more, it is based on a belief in people’s inherent desire for quality and worth, and management has to believe that it is going to “pay” in the long run.”
These principles are interlinked and interdependent. Without empowered people there can be no improvement. Micromanaging and overbearing bureaucracy stifle human creativity and desire to do better.
Due to the nature of my work I have residence in two countries, Croatia and Norway. Consequently, I have bank accounts in both as well. On one occasion I was had to make a bank transfer while in Croatia, and went to my local bank office to do so.
To my surprise they requested my debit card. I explained that I’ve forgotten it, but surely that shouldn’t be a problem as I’m here in person, have my national ID as well as passport, and cash required for transfer. The bank teller explained that he can ask branch manager to approve it, but it takes seven days.
Since the manager was right there, I asked why can’t we do it right now, since we are all here. “Sorry, such are the policy and procedures. I know it doesn’t make sense, but we must follow them.”
Banking is a highly regulated industry; fraud detection and anti-money laundering processes must be impeccable; but above is neither.
Everybody, everywhere, everyday
Bottom up is usually brought up when discussing implementations of continuous improvement. While it is true that those closest to work are most suitable to improve it, they often lack decision making power and budget to do so on a scale.
That’s why “everybody, everywhere, everyday” is a better mental model. No one is absolved of improvements. At any given moment there are at least hundred things you can improve right now, right here.
Think deeply about following:
- Everybody in the organisation should be aware and have an understanding of organization’s strategy and objectives. There’s shouldn’t be multiple interpretations, and it should be unambiguous. Without clarity improvement efforts are going to be scattered and without impact.
- No elitism, no absolution. Everybody should be actively committed to daily improvement, regardless of their rank or seniority. Leaders should be especially cognizant of leading by example. After all, how can they demand from others what they themselves are not doing. That’s hypocrisy at its finest.
- To improve is to learn, and to learn is to improve. Unlock even more value from your continuous improvement efforts by capturing the learning and sharing it broadly and deeply within the organisation. Ideas spawn ideas, perpetuating a virtuous cycle. Peer learning is also a powerful intrinsic driver.
Improvement is improvement
Director of one European bank invited me to their customer service centre, and we were to discuss how could they innovate better. After the meeting I asked him to take me on the walk around the office so I can observe the processes. He was more than happy to oblige.
The walls were plastered with wallpapers and dashboard, colourful metrics were displayed one the hanging screens, and there was a special area dedicated to the “Hall of fame.” Much to my delight there was a wall dedicated to the improvement ideas.
It was covered with large sticky notes, each with few sentences about the problem and potential solution. I picked a few at random, and noticed that they have dates written in bottom left corner. All of the dates were months ago.
Perplexed, I asked the nearby call operator to illuminate me. What’s going on? She fired her response like she was just waiting for someone to ask her that question:
“After each call we used to write down some improvement ideas. At the end of the week we collated and submitted them to the improvement department. They were constantly rejecting our proposals for either being too small or not innovative enough. After few weeks we stopped sharing and tried to implement what we can. That resulted in one of us being scolded for taking initiative without approval, so we just stopped altogether.”
Director was blushing, but hasn’t said anything. I thanked the operator for her honesty, and told the director that he should find time to fix this. By ignoring small, incremental improvements, they are effectively atrophying their organisational muscles. And not to mention all the savings that are left behind, lost forever. Cents turn into dollars.
I’ve talked about three key points in regards to the role of employee empowerment in the implementation of continuous improvement, and what you can do to use them well. Let me remind you that if you really want to engage in this, the first thing to do is take any of them and start today.
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