By Charles Ansdell is a Managing Partner at Newgate Communications specialising in Financial Services, Tom Flynn, Partner – Digital, at Newgate communications
It has become a bit of a cliché to talk about how much the world has changed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, but the scale of change is unprecedented in the modern era. Lockdown has accelerated trends that would have taken years – online delivery increased by the equivalent of ten years growth in eight weeks. Online entertainment signups have advanced seven years in five months – in part due to the instant success of Disney Plus but also established platforms such as Netflix. The number of people using videoconferencing is twenty times what it was in March.
Average time spent online rocketed throughout the Spring across all age groups and although this has reduced again, it is still higher than pre-Covid levels. News websites have seen traffic returning to levels last seen in January and February, which suggests that online news has lost market share in terms of overall time online. Online behaviour has changed.
Social media appears to be one of the main beneficiaries of this. In the UK, digital reach of social media channels has remained above pre-Covid levels. The most startling example of this is TikTok, which is one of the great success stories of 2020, gaining millions of new users. But other platforms such as WhatsApp and Pinterest have also seen significant growth. Facebook’s reach is already so massive that its percentage growth can look unimpressive – but in the UK alone it has added 800,000 users since January. Where there are winners, there are losers too: Snapchat looks to have declined significantly in recent months. Houseparty’s glory days were short lived. Instagram’s flatlining user base may look bleak but its reliance on strong visual imagery meant that it was unlikely to grow in lockdown – who wants to see pictures of people sitting at home on a platform that thrives on holiday snaps and glamorous locations? It will bounce back if travel and leisure time starts to return to normality over the coming months.
But what about print media? From furloughed staff and altered business models (City AM, London Evening Standard) to significant redundancies (Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Manchester Evening News) to closures (Moneywise, Money Observer), the pandemic has accelerated the decline in print media. Some of it will, of course, survive, but for many this will mean a move to online-only publication.
The changing landscape demands a re-focusing of communications strategies. Earned media – where companies engage with journalists and influencers – must be integrated more tightly with multichannel marketing campaigns. Owned media (the channels that a company controls), especially social media channels, will play a more important role.
Social media – the opportunities ahead
Why should banks’ communications strategie involve a greater focus on digital channels? In the past, the financial services industry has been reticent of using social media channels, citing concerns over the restrictions of the financial promotions order and the febrile, “wild west” nature of some social platforms. This, coupled with the reputational challenges the industry faced after the 2009 financial crisis, had put off wholesale adoption in the industry.
However, that has changed in recent years. For a start, the sheer scale of social media has made it impossible for many organisations to ignore, recognising that they need to communicate in the channels that their audiences use. There are 45 million social media users in the UK, but coverage depends on the age of your target audience – 97% of 16-24 year olds use social media but only a third of over 65s. 70% of UK adults used social media platforms in the past month and 49% used them to consume news.
Facebook claims that 27% of all mobile time is on their platform, with an average of 14 checks per day, and a reach of 4x that of all national newspapers put together. Twitter has a smaller user base (13m in the UK) but hosts the opinion formers there – the journalists and commentators. And LinkedIn is increasingly part of the mix when you want to talk directly to people in your industry.
But it is more than just part of the communications mix.
While the financial promotions order means that many financial services companies may not sell or market directly on social media, there are other potential use cases. Increasingly, channels such as Twitter are a valuable customer service tool, empowering companies to communicate at lower cost than contact centres and with digitally native audiences.
Social media can also provide important behavioural insight and data, allowing financial services companies to better understand their audiences – their beliefs, what they’re interested in, what content they like. In turn this can be used as a feedback loop to let companies test new products and services, as well as messaging and branding.
It can also act as a barometer of how a company is doing in the eyes of its audiences – a reputational “canary in the coalmine” that allows companies to understand perceptions of their brand.
Increasingly it can be used as an amplification and retargeting tool, allowing financial services brands to buy “audiences” and reframe, recycle and repurpose their existing content and messaging in front of new – or better targeted – audiences.
This approach can supercharge existing communications strategies, increasing the reach and targeting of media relations and stakeholder campaigns.
Despite this, social media can’t entirely replace traditional media relations. Trust in social media content is low, and over 50% of users claim to restrict their settings to prevent some targeted digital advertising – which means that companies can’t rely on paid social alone to reach their target audience.
Press coverage in credible publications remains a gold standard and helps to build trust in company social media channels. Articles and opinion pieces can be a compelling source of social media content and give a third-party affirmation to social audiences alongside company published content. This in turn can be amplified to audiences outside of those who read a given publication.
With fewer publications, fewer pages and fewer journalists in traditional outlets, companies are increasingly putting their media coverage to a wider audience of key targets – whether the opinion formers of Twitter, the industry leaders on LinkedIn or the wider public on Facebook. Social influencers – who can provide humanity and relatability to financial services brands – also have a role to play, though they haven’t had the same impact as they have in fashion or travel.
Even financial services companies that have adopted social communication strategies may find that current approaches are not effective. The world has changed and what worked in February won’t be the optimal strategy now. Companies used to target the ‘commute to work’ social media post in the morning. Now it’s gone. People are starting work earlier, blending work and personal life, which means companies can’t rely on old rules for targeting.
In turn, companies must increasingly structure their organisations to respond to the challenges of digital and social media communications. Companies typically might consider social to be part of the advertising and marketing or communications functions or possibly a separate entity. As social becomes a more integral to their customers’ day-to-day life, companies will have to integrate their digital, marketing and communications approach. Ultimately all companies – be they financial services or not – need to be where their clients are. The pandemic has accelerated what was already a strong secular trend towards social media use. Companies must now act quickly, enabling them to capitalise on this new reality and the opportunities it brings.
How to use data to protect and power your business
By Dave Parker, Group Head of Data Governance, Arrow Global
Employees need to access data to do their jobs. But as data governance professionals, it’s our job to protect it. Therefore, we must perform a fine balancing act to weigh robust data protection against the productivity of workers who need the data to maintain business-as-usual working processes.
Data grows exponentially, and most organisations will admit that they simply don’t know what data they have, where it is, and the controls that exist around it. This creates 2 challenges:
- Burgeoning amounts of unstructured data makes the business increasingly vulnerable from external attackers or internal data breaches.
- Because data is the key to understanding a customer’s wants and needs, if the business can’t identify its data and unlock its value, it’s at a competitive disadvantage.
As a European investor and alternative asset manager, here at Arrow Global we take care of £50bn of assets and own a data estate exceeding 160TB. How we manage our data is key to our success. We understand the difficulties involved in opening up environments to allow people to work productively, while at the same time locking them down to protect our organisation.
When it comes to analytics, I believe that Arrow is highly proficient because we employ a talented team of data scientists. But even for us, the sheer volume of raw and processed data, that resides in both our structured systems and unstructured data repositories, has the potential to put our business at risk.
We know there’s always more that can be done to strengthen our security posture and ensure regulatory and contractual compliance, while at the same time using our data to drive the business forward.
Data protection isn’t just about compliance
For many organisations, data protection has centred on demonstrating compliance with the GDPR. At Arrow, our efforts have gone one step further to include our contractual exposure.
Being a more mature data organisation, we had previously tried to develop an application in-house to manage our data estate. However, with 160TB across the company in production data alone, we simply couldn’t achieve the scale we needed to handle the sheer volume of data. Of course, the volume is just the start – once you know what data you have, you then need to be able to categorise the data and put it into a structure, so the business can analyse it for a specific use case.
We knew we needed to go to market to find an industrial-strength data discovery product to replace our in-house application. By aligning our choice of product to our overall IT and change strategy, meant that ultimately, we ended up with a far better outcome than we’d anticipated.
Position data as both a risk and an asset
Data touches every part of an organisation, so when it came to building a business case for buying-in a data discovery software platform, we approached it in a way that would speak to different people at the same time. We did this by posing the question:
“What do we want to do with data in a way that is GDPR-compliant, contractually-compliant and enables us to better service our clients?”
These are the black and white tests of data governance – to recognise the importance of securing and protecting data. They’re applied in a way that enables us to commoditise data and use it to drive the business forward, by forcing us to consider how we would use the data – for example, creating value-based pricing for our clients.
In aligning the business case to initiatives that were already priorities within the boardroom, we knew that we’d gain the attention of the senior leadership team and it would be easier to get the buy-in and budget we needed. And in the end, everyone wins – we get what we need to protect the data, and the business gets to distil the data’s value to better meet our customers’ expectations.
Get visibility of data at scale
For us, things got really exciting once we were able to see all of our data at scale. We chose Exonar because it allowed us to discover our data in ways that other products couldn’t. And the interface between the user and Exonar meant that everyone – both technical and non-technical users – could understand the technology and the findings it revealed.
When we saw exactly what data was in the estate, where it was and who had access to it, data security became much easier and the risk of data being compromised was dramatically reduced. We can see exactly where the vulnerabilities are and restructure how our data is stored to strengthen security. Then over time, we can use search, workflow and analysis to optimise the infrastructure and continually identify new areas to improve.
Commercialise the data
From a wider-business perspective, once people can see the data, they can start asking “What if…” to query it and distil its value. But it’s more than just the data itself. It’s not uncommon for data relating to the same thing to exist in unconnected systems across the business. For example, customer interactions and incidents or events.
Exonar is capable of joining the dots in disparate data sets. By stitching these data sets together, we can get a better overall view of our customers and use the outcomes to think of new, different or better ways of serving them through enhancing or adapting our offerings.
Why other financial services businesses should also take a smarter approach to data
- By changing the way you approach data, you can use it to protect and power your business and the people you serve.
- By positioning data as both a risk and an asset, you elevate its position to give it priority in the boardroom. Ultimately, it’s data that helps the business make informed strategic decisions about how to strengthen its competitive advantage.
- By gaining visibility of data at scale, you can see exactly what data you have and where it is. This gives the business confidence about the actions needed to ensure it is secured in both a regulatory and contractually compliant way, and that people are doing the right thing with data at all times.
- And joining different data sets provides you with a single view of ‘X’ within your data, no matter where it is. Helping to support your wider-business strategy and priorities, it gives you the information you need to secure a business advantage and generate value.
How business leaders can find the right balance between human and bot when investing in AI
By Andrew White is the ANZ Country Manager of business transformation solutions provider, Signavio
The digital world moves quickly. From keeping up with consumer behaviour patterns, to regulation and compliance, the most successful organisations are always on the cutting-edge of technological developments.
However, when it comes to investing in artificial intelligence (AI), a hard and fast strategy does not guarantee a top spot amongst the league of tech greats. Instead, it pays to take a considered approach to balancing reliance on automated processes with a human touch. Why? Because creative and strategic thinkers are the true propellers of innovation; automation is simply the enabler.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) developed the ‘Routine Task Intensity’ (RTI) index as a measure of which processes are likely to benefit most from automation. According to this metric, jobs requiring analytical, strategic, communicational and technical skills score low on the RTI index, while simple, repetitive tasks scored highly.
The lesson for business leaders here is simple; your digital investments are just as important as your stake in talent. When deciding which processes to automate, start simple, and remember to value the skills and potential of your people.
Keep customer-centricity at your core
Customer-centricity means that every business decision, dollar spent and new hire is centred on one question: how does this benefit my customer? Investments in AI are no different. To be truly successful, they must have a customer-focused outcome.
Where companies get this wrong is by implementing cost-saving measures or ‘copy and paste’ software that fails to improve the customer experience – often having the adverse effect.
Take the virtual chat-bot, for example; if implemented poorly, it can send your customers into a frustrating and seemingly infinite cycle of dead-ends. The modern consumer is far too digitally savvy for this shortcut, and will quickly move onto the next merchant offering a more seamless customer service experience.
To guarantee your investments are delighting rather than infuriating your customers, it helps to take an outside-in perspective of your business processes, aided by Customer Journey Mapping (CJM).
Before you commit to digital investments, CJM can trace and map each customer touchpoint, signalling pain points or conversion rates throughout their journey. These data-driven insights lead you to the areas that would benefit the most from automation, instead of implementing a broad band-aid solution.
Avoid the ‘set and forget’ method
When investing in enterprise-wide AI, the ‘set and forget’ method rarely works. Real transformation requires an ongoing dedication to refining and improving AI-driven processes, as well as adapting them to the evolving needs of your customers. This is the best way to achieve customer loyalty, by proving that your organisation listens to, and understands its users.
A human perspective is invaluable here, paired with process mining – a method that thrives on finding process inefficiencies – to create a consistent feedback loop of improvement.
During periods of uncertainty, customer loyalty is everything, so aim to protect it at all costs.
The power of your people
The rise of automation can be linked to the corporate world’s obsession with speed and efficiency. However, the psychology behind this goes deeper than being the biggest and fastest producer; it’s also about reallocating resources into attracting and retaining the brilliant minds that drive companies into the future.
When communicating digital change, it’s critical to highlight the valuable impact AI has on augmenting jobs; removing the burden of mundane, repetitive tasks and allowing for more strategic skill-sets to shine through. For lower-skilled workers, invest in upskilling or re-education where possible.
Successfully rolling-out digital transformation plans means that every employee across all tiers of your company understands the value of AI. The starting point here is education to achieve buy-in. Change communications must be accessible, constructive and value-focused, supported by key culture influencers who champion automation within teams.
Enterprise-wide buy-in is an important element of refining and improving digital processes, as cross-functional collaboration can offer valuable insights into common pain points or inefficiencies ripe for automation. Supported by process mining, collaboration provides a holistic view of how each investment will impact other processes. There is no point investing in automation that streamlines one process and makes another more people-centric, so be sure to take a balanced approach to your investments.
Remember, AI is not about creating an army of robot workers; it’s about increasing efficiency and productivity so that an organisation, and its people, can work smarter.
Are you a fighter or a freezer? The 4 “F’s” of Surviving Danger
By Dr.Roger Firestien, Author of Create In a Flash.
The fight, flight, freeze survival response – or FFF for short – is designed to mobilize our brain and body to fight an enemy, run from a tidal wave or freeze to hide from a predator.
FFF is how humans react when they encounter a dangerous situation. It is a primal response that happens instinctively even before we are able to think about the situation we are confronting.
The FFF alarm causes our brain to focus on negative memories, probably to scan them to avoid repeating dangerous situations and negative outcomes. We get tunnel vision as our pupils dilate to increase our focus and long-range vision, but as a result we lose our peripheral vision.
Humans use the FFF response and so do organizations.
When organizations encounter dangerous situations, like, say, trying to survive a global pandemic, they can respond by either fighting the situation, fleeing from the situation, or freezing and waiting for the situation to pass.
I would like to propose a fourth strategy for organizations to deal with a danger like the pandemic. It is the fourth “F.” The farm response. More on that later.
What kind of organization is yours?
The fighter organizations were the ones that fought the idea of a global pandemic or pushed back against the research that reported how serious the virus was. Think of the meat processing plants that didn’t provide proper protective gear or the religious organizations that refused to take a break from large services.
The results were catastrophic for the organizations and deadly to the employees and worshippers.
It is pretty easy to identify the fleeing organizations. You don’t see them anymore. Unfortunately, this is the organization that just doesn’t have the resources or the energy to fight. You will recognize them by the “For Rent” signs in the windows of the buildings they used to occupy.
The organizations that freeze are a little more difficult to identify. They are still around but are frozen by fear. They are the organizations that, although they are in a position to move forward, are too frightened to take a risk or even look at the periphery of their business. Their tunnel vision blinds them to opportunity. The freezers hide and wait for the danger to pass. They are the ones who miss out on possibilities.
For example, if you are in the business of supplying concessions to sporting events, airports and national parks, your business is in deep trouble now. So, what are some ways to keep people buying food and drinks with so many venues closed?
Many national parks are now open and visitors need to eat. How can you sell food while supporting social distancing? Answer: Sell picnic meals to your patrons. And, sell a blanket that commemorates the park that diners can spread out and have lunch while social distancing with their families. Then, they’ll keep the blanket that reminds them of their visit to the park.
Sound like a good idea? It sure does. You can keep your park concession business, allow people to social distance and add to your product line with that commemorative blanket. Did the company implement the idea? Unfortunately, they did not. They froze and missed the opportunity.
However, businesses are finding ways to optimize their organization and capture opportunities. They are the farmers. The farmer organizations study the situation, just like farmers study the weather and the land. They look at the resources available to them and get to work.
Farmer organizations pivot and get creative.
Distillers, who before the pandemic, were making vodka, whiskey, gin and other spirits quickly changed their operation from distilling booze to distilling sanitizer.
Telemedicine, which had limited acceptance before the pandemic, almost immediately became the accepted way to deliver care. Now, the doctor comes to you.
Fitness trainers are conducting their sessions via Zoom or in person outside on sidewalks in front of their gyms so they can social distance.
My favorite ranch, SK Herefords, sells their beef at local farmer’s markets in the Western New York area. This spring when the large packing houses shut down and grocery stores were limiting the amount of beef customers were able to buy, my farmer friends were there at the markets with locally produced farm-raised beef. Sales soared and demand skyrocketed.
Why? The farmers were ready. They used their resources and were not afraid to optimize them in a rapidly changing and volatile environment. Farmers live with constantly changing weather conditions and market prices and are accustomed to rapid change.
To operate with constant change, all of us, like farmers, need to be constantly creative. Phil Keppler, my philosopher farmer friend from SK Herefords says, “Creativity helps you to not look at things as a problem. It’s trying to find the solution – and that’s the exciting thing about it. Things aren’t problems anymore. It’s just difficult situations and you’re trying to find a solution to that situation.”
A good mindset for what our world is experiencing now… it’s a difficult situation and we are creating solutions daily.
Fight, flight, freeze or farm. What kind of organization is yours? And, what can you learn from “the farmers?”
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