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Being purposeful is financially responsible

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Being purposeful is financially responsible
By Liam Farnworth, Radley Yeldar and Paulina Lezama 

Delivering wider value beyond profit has never been more important for businesses to stay relevant and viable. We’re seeing a growing demand across stakeholder audiences for companies to demonstrate their wider value creation, not just profits.

That isn’t to say that the two are separate – the evidence to support a link between purpose and profit is growing all the time. Being purposeful is far more financially responsible than only focusing on short-term returns.

Having a purpose is necessary to articulate a company’s long-term commitment to its customers, employees and investors.As BlackRock CEO Larry Fink puts it “without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders. It will succumb to short-term pressures” and jeopardise its long-term growth[i].

 What is purpose? 

Purpose is actually quite simple. It’s the reason why a company exists, and how it delivers a benefit to individuals, society or the world. Those who are unfamiliar with the concept think it’s part of the CSR or marketing bucket, but that’s not what purpose is about.

A company’s purpose should be embedded into every aspect of the business, aligning the brand story, strategy, employee experience and vision under a central idea. When a company does purpose right, it becomes part of the identity of the business and differentiates why an investor, consumer or job candidate should choose that company over another.

Purpose leads to employee engagement 

Purpose helps crack a big challenge for businesses, employee engagement. This isn’t another woolly concept, there are strong financial incentives for having engaged employees. Being purposeful improves employee engagement by giving them a clear sense of contributing to something more meaningful to the world than shareholder value. And in many ways, having engaged employees contributes to a better financial performance.

A 2013 survey by Deloitte found that 73% of employees working for purpose-driven companies reported being engaged versus 23% at companies that weren’t purpose-driven[ii]. And a 2012 meta-analysis by Gallup of 49,928 business units found that those in the top quartile for engagement were 21% more productive, 22% more profitable and had 37% less absenteeism than those in the bottom quartile[iii].

 The same meta-analysis by Gallup found that business units in the bottom quartile for engagement level had 65% higher turnover than those in the top quartile[iv]. And a 2012 study by the Centre for American Progress puts the cost for replacing employees anywhere between 16% of their annual salary for lower paid workers to 20% for upper-mid-range pay levels, and as high as 213% for the highest paid workers like senior executives and highly skilled specialists[v].

 Millennials and responsible investing are the future of financial services

In the US, millennials now have the most spending power of any demographic and will make up three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025[vi]. Along with that, millennials are twice as likely as the overall investor population to invest in companies with social or environmental goals[vii]. On the other end of the spectrum, institutional investors like pension funds are increasingly demanding Sustainable and responsible investing to bring stability to the financial system and play their role in tackling the sustainability challenges that are now firmly on the agenda.

Many financial services companies are embracing responsible investment, both to remain viable and because they recognise that there’s value in it. Since 1995, the assets under management by responsible investment funds have grown by 1364%, from $639 billion to $8.72 trillion in the US alone[viii]. Responsible investment involves the inclusion of non-financial (environmental and social) data in the investment valuation process and a more active relationship with companies being invested in. Good responsible investors even engage with their investee companies around environmental and social issues to ensure any risks are being managed and opportunities are being seized appropriately. It’s a new way of investing – one which is very purposeful and aims at long-term growth.

Responsible investing is also correlated with better financial performance by pushing investors to consider ESG criteria. A review by Oxford University and Arabesque Asset Management of more than 200 sources found 88% of the research showed solid ESG practices improved operational performance.The review also found that 80% of the studies showed that a company’s stock performance is positively influenced by good sustainability practices[ix]. Investments that consider ESG criteria are naturally more viable long-term because they account for social and environmental impacts, and it protects your reputation from the negative publicity.

How do we know the financial services sector is among the least purposeful?

To help quantify our position on who’s being purposeful, we’ve developed an annual index that measures how well a company’s purpose is integrated across the business. Radley Yeldar’s Fit For Purpose Index assesses some of the largest publicly traded brands on the FTSE and PwC 100, as well as a selection of privately held companies. Our most recent index shows the financial services sector to still be lagging behind the index average.In fact, the only sector to be less purposeful on average is the Oil and Gas sector.

We found that, although the financial services companies in our index have improved, they still have a long way to go to be considered truly purposeful. Of the 5 financial services companies that made the top 100, only 2 actually talk about it in a compelling way. More to the point, none did a very good job of demonstrating purposeful behaviours and outcomes. This was surprising, as the top 2 financial services companies in particular were operating in the responsible investment space. On the other hand, this sector is typically conservative in communications and less transparent than others.

Helping financial services companies become more purposeful 

Our three recommendations

Firstly, financial services companies need to focus on getting their purpose story right. This means working it into how you describe yourself, what you do, and your vision for the future. This should go beyond a standalone campaign or siloed section of your website. To get the maximum benefit from purpose, it has to be across everything you do and say. Action without words goes unnoticed, and words without action get exposed as fictions. Getting the story right is critical for focusing your actions, and making sure it doesn’t come across as tokenistic or just another case of purpose-washing.

Second, financial services companies also need to improve on their ability to measure and demonstrate progress on their purpose. We look for companies to set clear short, medium and long-term targets for their purpose because this gives a transparent roadmap for their intentions. Alongside future targets, immediate KPIs are another way to build credibility in the commitment to purpose by framing it as part of the measures for performance.

We’ve always found this to be an area where many companies struggle, regardless of sector. Purpose can seem quite qualitative, leaving companies bewildered as to how it might be measured. A great starting point is to look at the potential relationship between their purpose and sustainability approach and see what kinds of short-term targets are reasonable. From here they can think about setting sustainability goals beyond 2020. Ultimately, performance measures are crucial for credibility because they demonstrate a business is taking actions and shows its purpose is more than just a strapline.

Thirdly, financial services companies need to show they’re taking action to be more purposeful. Whether that’s investing in communities, supporting sustainable initiatives or developing talent in under-represented demographics, they need to be doing more to show their purpose stands for something. Along with that, employees need to be involved in purposeful actions – we don’t advocate throwing money at a problem. To get the engagement value out of the purpose, companies need to give employees opportunities to get involved and be able to see their contribution and impacts towards the purpose.

Finding inspiration nearby 

Financial services companies can look to the banking sector for inspiration. Here, purpose is taking hold as part of a sector-wide trend towards serving society and the consumer. Banks are seeing the battle for millennials’ hearts, minds and wallets intensify alongside the rise of digital-first start-ups aiming to disrupt their market. Financial services face these same considerations, but we’re not seeing them step up to this competition in the same way the banking sector is.

Lloyds Banking Group is a standout example. It isn’t just a leader for purpose amongst its peers, it leads all companies alongside Unilever as a textbook example of doing purpose really well. Since the launch of the Helping Britain Prosper plan in 2014, we’ve seen several other banks begin their own purpose journeys. Banks around the world like Royal Bank of Canada and Santander are following Lloyds Banking Group’s lead in embedding purpose and supporting their customers and communities as part of a double bottom line – valuing profits and people.

What the Lloyds Banking Group example captures perfectly is how purpose can contribute to growth – more prosperous people, communities and business have more money to invest and manage, growing their market share. This is a brand that lives its purpose in almost every communication and has defined targets and performance indicators that prove it’s working towards helping Britain prosper every day.

With a north star like Lloyds Banking Group, banks and financial services companies can follow a path laid out towards long-term profits for themselves and the people and communities they serve.

Bringing it all together

Purpose should be on every company’s agenda. Frankly, not being purposeful should be seen as financially irresponsible given the mounting evidence for its value. Being purposeful is strongly correlated with better performance and sustainable long-term growth.

The demands for purpose are coming from all angles, pushing companies to demonstrate to stakeholders that they’re good corporate citizens. Adapting to these demands will be the only way to maintain licence to operate, especially if the sector as a whole has a reputation for putting profits above people. The risk of bad reputation to share prices can’t be underestimated, and purpose is the perfect inoculation against this risk.

Beyond the just “doing the right thing”, we’re seeing long-term commitment to purpose differentiate companies. More to the point, investing in being purposeful is investing in profits. And if the financial services sector should understand one thing, it’s profits.

[i]https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter

[ii]https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/about-deloitte/us-leadership-2014-core-beliefs-culture-survey-040414.pdf

[iii]http://www.gallup.com/file/services/176657/2012%20Q12%20Meta-Analysis%20Summary%20of%20Findings.pdf

[iv]http://www.gallup.com/file/services/176657/2012%20Q12%20Meta-Analysis%20Summary%20of%20Findings.pdf

[v]https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/CostofTurnover.pdf

[vi]http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/generations-demographic-trends-population-and-workforce

[vii]https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/sustainable-socially-responsible-investing-millennials-drive-growth

[viii]https://www.ussif.org/blog_home.asp?Display=75

[ix]https://arabesque.com/research/From_the_stockholder_to_the_stakeholder_web.pdf

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Digital collaboration: Shaping the Future of Finance

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Digital collaboration: Shaping the Future of Finance 1

By Ryan Lester, Senior Director of Customer Experience Technologies at LogMeIn

With heightened economic uncertainty and increased customer expectation becoming the norm in the banking industry, it is understandable that the sector is struggling to keep afloat. Due to its precarious nature, banking institutions are trying their best to ensure they remain relevant in the competitive landscape and guarantee that their customers continue to be a priority.

When it comes to the first half of this year, the pandemic has shown how easy it is for industries to fail. Customers and companies alike had to get used to the new normal, as physical locations started to close. The banking industry felt this first hand, as banks were made to restructure how their business ran, with restricted opening hours and a wider push to motivate people to use online banking.

While some had already embraced digital options prior to the pandemic, this proved to be a stark contrast to the elderly population, who frequently visited branches to access their finances. Moving forward, banks have to adopt new methods to ensure customers get the most out of our their accounts, without their experience suffering.

Heightened Customer Expectations

When the pandemic reached its peak, people were encouraged to use online banking, as telephone contact was under strain with long waiting times and pressure mounting on contact centre agents. According to Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), which works with 50 of the world’s largest banks, there was a 200% jump in new mobile banking registrations in early April, while mobile banking traffic rose 85%.

With branches remaining closed, customers were continuously being urged to limit the amount of calls they made to the most urgent cases and consider whether they could solve their answers through mobile online banking or checking the company website. Although already being adopted in pockets of the industry, this was a real catalyst that spurred banks to up their game on digital channels and with self-service tools.

Banks are challenged with precariously balancing customer needs with the cost of personalised support. With the demographic of customers changing over the last few years, customers are becoming increasingly younger and more comfortable with technology. Influenced by the “Amazon Effect”, their expectations have raised to an all-time high, placing record strain on the sector

Customer experience isn’t just about support anymore, it’s about serving your customer at every point in the journey. Companies have an opportunity to elevate the experience they provide by moving beyond one-and-done interactions to create continuous engagements with their customers. It is starting to become a primary competitive differentiator in the market and one that doesn’t have a lot of variation. Deploying AI chatbot technology will be able to strategically help banks improve customer experience and raise the level of support that agents provide.

Digital collaboration: Working around the Clock

The benefits of adopting digital channels and self-service tools are second to none. By implementing chatbots, fuelled by conversational AI, banks will be able to help serve a wide range of customer queries and ensure they are protected from fraud and scams.

Ryan Lester

Ryan Lester

Conversational AI is exactly what it sounds like: a computer programme that engages in a conversation with a human. When it comes to service delivery, conversational AI can be deployed across multiple channels to engage with customers in ways that effectively address evolving customer needs. At a time defined by COVID-19, self-service tools such a conversational chatbots can work around the clock to solve customer queries in a concise and timely way. Of course, self-service tools won’t completely replace human agents in the banking industry, but they will help companies re-distribute customer traffic and workflows in ways that enhance customer experience. Self-service tools fuelled by conversational AI can also improve employee experience because service employees can handle fewer, but higher-level service tasks that chatbots might escalate to them.

Adopting new tools to help facilitate consistent and concise answers and help maintain customer experience is on the forefront of many industry minds. Banks such as the Natwest Group have seen this first-hand and are testament to the benefits that a good digital experience can provide. Simon Johnson, Capability Consultant, Digital at NatWest Group highlights NatWest’s use of digital tools during lockdown, “Over the last few months, we’ve learnt how to use digital tools to help our employees remotely. From a banking perspective, there have been a lot of changes including base rates, waive fees and the best ways of contacting our vulnerable customers, ensuring we keep them protected from frauds and scams.

“By introducing our Bold360 chatbot interface, Ella, we’ve been able to get relevant information out quickly, apply the best practice and ensure that our customer journeys are being developed correctly. Due to the volume of questions, some of our customers were finding themselves waiting longer than usual. So digital channels become essential to helping reduce the wait time. Using Bold360, we were able to mitigate issues and answer questions in a more timely way through our chatbot.

“Moving forward, as we open more digital services, we are analysing our data to see if customer will return back to their usual way of banking, now that they’ve seen what a good digital experience can provide. Either way, with Ella, we are ready.”

Chatbots and Humans: The Best Option for Customer Service

Over the last year, banking institutions have recognised the power that digital collaboration can have to their success. Delivering exceptional customer service and support is key for any business wanting to stay competitive in today’s market and banks are especially challenged with precariously balancing customer needs with the cost of personalised support. Leveraging the right technology, such as AI-powered chatbots, will enable the banking industry to provide better support and a more robust customer experience in the long term. Other institutions must follow suit, or risk becoming obsolete.

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A sleeping digital giant wakes? 4 key trends accelerating payments transformation in the US

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A sleeping digital giant wakes? 4 key trends accelerating payments transformation in the US 2

By Lauren Jones, International Payments Ambassador, Icon Solutions

The US payments industry is undoubtedly ripe for change. Before the unprecedented shock of COVID-19, digitization and payments transformation initiatives had been organic, piecemeal and predominately the preserve of the largest banks.

Now, increasing pressure means that financial institutions of all sizes are working to define a digital strategy to unlock new opportunities, drive business value, and stay competitive. But beyond the immediate impact of COVID, what underlying trends are accelerating digitization in the US?

  1. Real-time payments – the stimulus for change  

Real-time payments have been met with a degree of caution by US financial institutions. Risking traditional profit generators in return for potential revenues down the line is a gamble many have not been willing to take. But immediate payments are coming to the US whether banks like it or not.

Major payments infrastructure providers, including NACHA and The Clearing House (TCH), have moved to encourage immediate payment adoption in recent years. But the Fed, frustrated with a slow rate of progress, has announced that it is pressing ahead with the implementation of its FedNow system (despite significant industry objection). Although the Fed’s true intentions are open to interpretation and this may just be a play to accelerate private initiatives, it is a clear signal that they mean business.

This means holdouts risk their own ‘Kodak’ moment if they miss the huge opportunities in front of them by fixating on traditional revenue streams. Banks are in a position to support innovation across entire industries such as healthcare, which could be released from the constraints of paper-based bureaucracy and slow, expensive transactions.

Another opportunity that can be unlocked via instant payments is ISO 20022 (used in the TCH RTP system). It is the future of payments messaging standards and can greatly enhance various payments processes through increased data-carrying capabilities. More importantly given the current climate, citizens reliant on federal or state support can benefit from RTPs combined with additional data to immediately access emergency funds.

  1. The kids are growing up

The US is getting older. Consumers who were 10 when the iPhone first launched are now 23. This means we are seeing a ramp-up of digitally native Gen Z consumers (roughly those born between 1995 and 2010) accessing banking services.

Demographics are an inexact science and not perfect predictors (there are technophobe college students and 100-year-old Instagram influencers), but we can detect noticeable trends.

Younger customers don’t usually choose a bank because there is an ATM in their neighbourhood, a slightly better interest rate or an advert in the newspaper. Rather, a strong digital presence, personalised tools, rewards and experiences, and the trusted recommendations of friends and family, will have a more significant impact on customer acquisition.

Banks must look at the effect this will have on their longer-term digitalization strategy and be able to segment what this emerging customer base might want and how they will interact in years to come.

  1. Checkmate? Evolving corporate requirements

    Lauren Jones

    Lauren Jones

Corporate treasurers are people and their experience of seamless, immediate payments in their personal lives shapes expectations in the workplace. Although check usage for business-to-business (B2B) transactions is still the norm in the US and barriers remain, corporates are increasingly demanding the ability to transact in a real-time, omnichannel environment, 24×7.

The benefits are clear. Corporate treasurers stand to enjoy enhanced liquidity management and transparency, greater control over payments and enhanced data for reconciliation purposes. And for consumers, alternative digital payment options such as buy now pay later promote choice and flexibility.

  1. Increasing competition

A significant consequence of emerging consumer and business demand for digital offerings is the increase in competition from fintechs, technology giants and other third-parties. Traditionally, incumbent banks have enjoyed the advantage of consumer trust to offset more limited innovation. But as consumers become more comfortable entrusting their financial transactions to non-banks, banks must differentiate and digitize to remain competitive.

Data is where the technology giants excel, and their ability to personalise experiences and emotionally connect with their users is unprecedented. Banks need to learn from the positive aspects of this model to better understand their users and deliver meaningful, useful products and services.

For data to become the cornerstone of a banks’ customer relationship and take services to the next level, breaking the channel silos and extracting value from a comprehensive dataset will be decisive. But with only 18% of banks reporting that they are in the process of shifting from a transactional revenue model to a data-driven revenue model, this work has some way to go.

Taking customer propositions to the next level

Customers now expect services that work for them, not their banks. All banks, no matter the footprint, need to move quickly to offer a broad digital service platform that adds value to both the customer and the bank.

By defining a robust payments transformation strategy, banks of all sizes can remain fiercely competitive by rapidly lowering costs, unlocking revenues and promoting innovation

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Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense

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Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense 3

By Rob Harrison, MD UK & Ireland, SAP Concur

The last few months have been an exercise in adaptability for businesses across the UK. With the sudden mandate to work from home, company processes that were ingrained in employees’ day-to-day routines were either put on hold or turned upside down. The new office normal now includes virtual meetings, conversing through instant messaging instead of in the hallway, and the redefining of “business casual” attire.

Many of the processes that have undergone changes fall into the category of travel and expense. With most business travel on hold and the nature of expenses changing, finance managers have had to adjust policies and practices to accommodate the new world of work. Recent SAP Concur research found that 72% of businesses have seen changes in the levels and types of expenses submitted, but only 24% have changed their policies to support this. Examples of travel and expense related changes that were made at the beginning of work from home mandates include:

  • A halt to business travel and its associated expenses.
  • Temporarily ending expensed meals for business lunches, dinners, or in-office meetings.
  • Increase in office expenses like monitors and chairs as employees furnish their home offices.
  • New expenses to consider like Internet and cell phone bills for employees who must work from home.

Now, as companies begin thinking about return to work plans, finance managers are discovering it’s not simply business as usual again. SAP Concur research found that many expect finance will return to normal quicker than general workplace practices, but vast majority see the process taking up to 12 months. New policies and processes need to be put in place to accommodate travel restrictions and changes in expenses. While finance managers need to stay flexible as the business environment continues to evolve, spend control and compliance should still be a high priority.

Here are a few questions that can help finance managers prepare for return to work while keeping control and compliance top of mind:

  • What will travel look like for the company? Finance managers must work with travel and HR counterparts to determine the need for employee travel, if at all, and how to keep employees safe. At SAP Concur, we surveyed 500 UK business travellers and found that health and safety is now seen as more than twice as important than their business goals being met on trips (34% versus 16%. Clear guidelines should be developed, even if they are temporary or evolving, so it’s clear who can travel, when they can travel, and how they can travel. Duty of care plans should also be re-evaluated and businesses should ensure they know at all times where employees are traveling for business and how they can communicate with them in the event of an emergency.
  • Who needs to approve travel and expenses? While it may be temporary, businesses may have to implement a more stringent approval policy for travel and other expenses. Due to health concerns related to travel and the need to conserve cash flow, business leaders like CFOs may want to have final approval over all travel and expenses until the situation stabilises. To help ensure new approval processes don’t cause delays and inefficiencies, finance managers should implement an automated solution that streamlines the process and allows business leaders to review and approve travel requests, expenses, and invoices right from their phones. According to SAP Concur research, 11% of UK businesses implemented some automation of financial processes in response to COVID-19. This is definitely set to increase post-pandemic.
  • Rob Harrison

    Rob Harrison

    What types of expenses are within policy? Prior to social distancing, employees may have been allowed to take clients out to dinner. In-person team meetings held during the lunch hour, may have included expensed lunches. As employees return to work, finance managers need to determine if these activities and expenses will be allowed again. Clear guidelines must be put in place and expense policies need to be updated to reflect any changes.

  • What happens to home office items that were purchased? While new office equipment may have been purchased for employees’ home offices, they remain the business’s property and what to do with them as employees return to work needs to be determined. Perhaps employees will continue to work from home a few days a week and need to keep the equipment to ensure productivity. However, if a full return to work is expected, finance managers have options that can maximise their asset investment and possibly save the company money, like replacing old office equipment with the new purchases, reselling to a used office furniture company, or donating to a non-profit.
  • How can cost control be ensured? For many businesses, cash flow will be tight for the foreseeable future. Spend needs to be managed to help ensure recovery and stability. An important aspect of controlling costs is having full visibility of expenses throughout the company. Implementing an automated spend management solution that integrates expense and invoice management brings together a business’s spend, giving finance managers an understanding of where they can save, where to renegotiate, and where to redirect budgets based on plans and priorities.

Once finance managers have asked themselves the questions above and determined how they want to approach travel and expense procedures, it’s vital they create guidelines and communicate clearly to employees. Compliance can only be ensured if employees have a clear understanding of what has and has not changed with travel and expense policies and what’s expected as they return to work.

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