Moneycorp Chief Finance and Operating Officer Nick Haslehurst and Futurice Commercial Director David Mitchell explain what international finance can learn from retail banking and why it’s time for a more customer-centric approach.
UK-based Moneycorp is a global specialist in currency exchange, hedging and international payments, handling a huge volume of transactions for a wide variety of corporate, institutional and individual customers in over 190 currencies. Digital engineering and innovation consultancy Futurice has worked with Moneycorp since 2016 to design and build a new customer-centric online platform and service experience. In the following interview, Moneycorp Chief Finance and Operating Officer Nick Haslehurst (NH) and Futurice Commercial Director David Mitchell (DM) discuss some of the key lessons and insights they have gleaned through the partnership.
Can you explain what brought Moneycorp and Futurice together?
NH: With financial services becoming increasingly tech-focused, Moneycorp saw an opportunity to bring retail banking-style customer centricity to currency exchange and international payments. As a result, the company partnered with Futurice to co-create a best-in-class international payment platform for private and corporate customers.
DM: Initially, Futurice’s role focused on the technological transformation of Moneycorp’s digital platform. However, as the partnership grew, we took a deeper role, helping Moneycorp develop a more agile culture and getting employees prepared for digital transformation.
Why is ‘retail banking-style customer centricity’ important?
NH: Firstly, because International Banking and Foreign Exchange is not a joined up service that customers can acquire, regulation, currency restrictions and the lack of communication across payments networks, make accessing these services hard for companies and consumers. Secondly, because customer demands are rising rapidly in step with the growth of connectivity, companies can expect to experience constant pressure to reinvent themselves as the digital-first economy matures.
What were the key challenges in achieving your goals?
NH: There were external and internal challenges. Externally, Moneycorp needed to navigate the complex, interconnected mix of regulatory environments and financial systems in building the platform. This challenge was exacerbated by the fact that the international banking system is highly-fragmented and communicates poorly across borders. At the same time, the company also needed to recognise that there was a widening gap between the customer experience of domestic banking and international financial services.Internally, the challenges centred around evolving culture to future-proof the firm.
Can you expand on the point about Moneycorp’s culture?
NH: As a 40-year-old company, Moneycorp has a deep understanding and experience of technology, but needed to marry that with a more agile culture, that worked in weeks and months not quarters and years. Moneycorp’s new-found ability to introduce features and products on a monthly basis is a world away from where it was a few years ago.
How has Futurice contributed to this?
DM: A key theme of this partnership has involved Futurice being embedded in Moneycorp’s activities, rather than being a siloed and outsourced vendor. This has resulted in Moneycorp adopting aspects of our culture, becoming less corporate and more flexible in its mindset. One example is that Moneycorp has listened to what Futurice has to say about using ‘playbooks’ to re-evaluate standard operating procedures. A characteristic of successful playbooks is a tendency to invert the traditional hierarchical approach to decision making, giving people on the front line permission to make decisions. The rationale is that frontline employees are usually closest to the action and have the information to make the right decisions.
Was it easy to meld the two company cultures?
DM: There were clashes that we had to work through – on everything from dress code and hours in the office to remote working. The key thing we learned is that you need to address all of this upfront – how do we communicate and what is non-negotiable? This can’t happen by accident.
NH: We had people with 10-20 years’ experience in financial markets having their outlook challenged by people from a very different background. In the end that was what made the partnership so strong, but you have got to set the right environment in advance.
Can you give specific examples of how Moneycorp has changed?
NH: For a start, the shift towards a continuous data feedback loop means Moneycorp can respond quickly to what our analytics are telling us about online customer behaviour. If, for example, the company sees customers hovering over an area of the website for longer than normal, we can investigate whether the terminology there is not as slick or as clear as it should be.
Similarly, the new platform is much easier to adapt and customise to the different languages, regulations and customs we encounter in our various geographies. Other innovations have included a new online registration system, launched mid-2017, which doubled conversion rate from 40 per cent to 80 per cent.Working together, we also created an internal UI component library to support a white labelling solution and reduce launch time in new territories from six months to just one or two.
The beauty of the new collaborative approach is that existing and potential customers experience an intuitive, easy to navigate, fast, bespoke platform. They don’t see all of the backroom ‘plumbing’ that joins up the highly fragmented international banking network and makes moving money across borders as easy as moving money domestically.
What about changes to the way Moneycorp innovates?
DM: To evolve Moneycorp’s product launch strategy, Futurice helped roll out an iterative release process, something the consultancy advocates strongly to best in class companies across several sectors. In simple terms, this is about prioritising speed to market over perfection. Perfecting products or services takes enormous amounts of time and doesn’t always suit a competitive and rapidly changing environment. By focusing on speedy iteration, Moneycorp was able to generate real data with an MVP (a minimum viable product) in the first few months.
What technological challenges did you encounter?
DM: Managing the complexity of a large existing IT landscape is always a challenge. A big part of that is not underestimating the size and depth of certain parts and allowing enough time for development in case of unknowns. Integrating new technologies with existing legacy systems isn’t an easy task either. However, working closely with the Moneycorp development team made the integration much smoother, and that’s a lesson others can take away regarding co-operation.
What technological tools did you deploy?
DM:For the user-facing front-end we built a new architecture from the ground up using technologies like React, Redux, Styled Components and Typescript. The redesigned user journeys were co-created by Futurice designers and Moneycorp’s product team. The designers also mainly use Sketch and InVision to prototype and test new user interfaces and journeys. InVision, especially, can be integrated into the workflow of a front-end developer as it provides exact Stylesheet information that can be used in the codebase. React Storybook serves as an interactive component library and bridges design and development.
How important was it to use the latest in modern web tech?
DM: It was vital for various reasons. Firstly, there is the community aspect: getting help from people in the open source community when you need to find a solution for a specific coding problem is much easier with modern and popular frameworks like React. Secondly, it helps with attracting talent. Using the latest tech attracts developers to join your project or company more easily. Thirdly, it helps with writing robust and secure code (critical in a field like financial services). Using TypeScript allowed us to build software with confidence as small bugs were spotted much more easily and earlier in the development workflow.
What is your advice to other companies planning transformation?
NH: You’ve got to ensure the entire organisation is ready for transformation, not just the IT department. This is a business change, so the organisation from senior level down needs to be immersed in the actual project. There needs to be a high level of engagement with the business owners – they need a chance to input, be involved and sign-off. And you have to ensure that the client’s regulatory and compliance teams are fully engaged early on in the product development conversation. Only they understand the regulations in enough detail to stop developers disappearing down rabbit holes.
Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR
Clare George-Hilley is the co-founder of Centropy PR
Global Banking and Finance Magazine recently caught up with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder of fintech and financial services specialist PR agency Centropy, as the company toasts to three years of trading. We asked Clare about what life is like running an agency in the city, the trends she is seeing in the financial services space and what the future holds following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Why did you decide to set up Centropy PR?
I was looking for an opportunity to launch my own agency, both my husband and I had been in the public affairs and public relations industry for over a decade and we thought the time was right to go out on our own.
We could see that the financial services industry was surging, with challenger brands and new technology transforming traditional banks and setting new standards of customer service. There was a huge market opportunity to create and launch a PR agency that could provider first class comms support, alongside a deep understanding of complex regulations such as AML, KYC, and the GDPR. Likewise, many traditional technology firms are diversifying their offerings, to tap into the growing market opportunity posed by the fintech boom.
So, we worked on a business plan, designed a strategy for winning clients and officially launched in September 2017. Within a few months we had a growing portfolio of clients and a thriving business, since that point, we have never looked back!
How is Centropy doing now and what are you plans for growth?
The last three years have flown by and our client portfolio has grown and diversified quickly. We now manage PR campaigns for clients on everything from cryptocurrency, wealth management to payments and trading software.
We’ve also hosted parliamentary debates with key industry figures, including Members of Parliament (MPs) on topics such as the future of the financial services industry and the impact of challenger banks on traditional providers. The team is expanding quickly and we’re investing heavily in the latest training and support to ensure our team members are equipped to reach their full potential.
How do you see the next 12 months?
The Covid-19 outbreak has crippled the economy, forcing millions of people to work from home due to the very serious health risks. The knock-on effect of this crisis will lead to companies cutting costs where possible to save jobs, so tech will play a vital role in ensuring many businesses stay afloat.
We are already working with contactless payments specialists and other fintech companies that offer solutions to help companies survive and thrive despite the inevitable challenges ahead.
We aim to continue building our portfolio of expertise, testing ourselves with new challenges and delivering the best possible service to clients
This is a Sponsored Feature.
Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic
By Neil Davis, managing director and co-founder of Sterling Networks
What is Sterling Networks?
“Sterling Networks is a professional organisation founded in 2014 which facilitates networking events for businesses across the Midlands, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and the South West. Over 300 members attend our fortnightly breakfast and lunchtime meetings.”
What is your background prior to establishing Sterling Networks?
“During the 1990s, I worked in the corporate team for Halifax. My wife, Tracey, and I went onto own a manufacturing business, which was also called Sterling, and produced a range of gifts, merchandise and promotional items.
“We soon realised tradeshows were a great way to meet distributors and clients. From there, the business grew exponentially, and we managed to build a network of around 500 distributors. Eventually, we became ground down by the manufacturing business – in part because the local manufacturing sector was being devastated by competition from China – and took the decision to sell the business and relocate to Spain.
“After spending several years living abroad, we moved back to the UK to set up Sterling Integrity (EXPO’S) & Sterling Networks (Networking) We were inspired by a desire to help businesses make meaningful connections with one another, and we haven’t looked back since.”
The UK has recently entered a recession, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. What have you learned from past recessions and how are these experiences helping you to navigate the current crisis?
“I’ve lived through a number of recessions and have seen the pain that insolvency causes companies on a large scale. It’s taught me that there are those who win and sadly those who lose, and that businesses must adapt to a rise in demand for certain products or services at a time of financial crisis.
“Given the nature of what Sterling Networks offers [an opportunity for business owners to connect and grow together] I decided we could build upon the brand due to the demand for new business during the pandemic. We therefore moved our networking events from face-to-face to virtual via tools like Zoom and have gained a steady stream of new members in recent months, reaching an overall total of well over 300.
“On top of that, we’ve taken new staff on during the crisis and have launched a number of new regional groups across the country. I was determined that Sterling should come out of the pandemic with a head start, so my attitude to the recession has been much more positive than those who are forecasting nothing but doom and gloom.
“We can’t pretend high street retail wasn’t suffering long before the pandemic came along, and thousands of new businesses are sure to start up to meet the demand for the products and services that people require at a time such as this. In order to develop and grow businesses need to focus on where changes need to be made to meet this demand.”
Sterling Networks has been providing emotional support to its members throughout the pandemic. What advice have you been giving to members that could be useful to other business owners?
“I try not to be too opinionated and respect other people’s views when giving advice to members, as there are always two sides to every circumstance. I’ve been careful not to say to people that they should be doing one thing or another, as I don’t know their business and its needs quite like they do. The only thing that I have been telling members is the importance of setting up one-to-ones with one another. By doing so, they can listen to the needs and concerns of other, like-minded business owners and work out ways that they might be able to help one another.
“The pandemic has meant we all have a bit more time on our hands, so the advice I would give to people is to use this extra time wisely. Not having to travel physically from one meeting to another means there is a greater opportunity to connect with more people. It’s important to remember that individuals outside of your business can be just as valuable as those within it.”
What makes you hopeful for the future and are there any words of encouragement you can give to budding entrepreneurs?
“The key events that have happened to this country during my lifetime – whether wars, recessions, or the pandemic – have enabled me to take stock of things. While these experiences are certainly challenging, we all become stronger for living through them, and it gives me great confidence that the world will ultimately improve as a result of the pandemic.
“The whole world is effectively rebooting right now, as is the business community. I like to think entrepreneurs will recognise this opportunity to take better care of their peers, and this translates to greater collaboration between organisations. Speak to as many people as you can, ask all the questions that you need to and do your homework. This might well be a difficult time for us all but planning for the future must start now if it is to become as prosperous as I know it can be.”
Exclusive Interview with Ugo Loser, CEO of ARCA Fondi SGR
Arca Fondi SGR is a mid-sized Italian active asset management company. Founded in 1983 by a consortium made up of 12 regional banks, the company has grown in time, expanding its network of distributors and its client base. Nowadays Arca manages Mutual Funds, Pension Funds and Institutional Accounts with total AUM exceeding 30 € bln, reaching more than 100 banks and financial institutions and serving more than 800,000 final clients.
What are the key contributors to ARCA Fondi SGR’s success over the past 35 years?
Arca has always put clients and distributors first. That is to say we have always privileged fair pricing for funds and developing high quality products and services for our customers. This requires constant innovation as an objective and looking for people’s talent to be free to produce its effect
Why are people the founding element of ARCA Fondi SGR and how have you sustained this vision over the years?
We work in small teams, people are young and motivated and can perform duties with a high level of autonomy and responsibility. Innovation is asked to everyone, everyday
What makes Arca Fondi SGR different from other asset management firms in Italy?
Arca is a company focused on doing what it can do very well, that is to say mutual and pension funds, services for clients and banks. We never follow short term trends but always look for long lasting impact on the industry, like we’ve done may times in the past
What products/services has ARCA Fondi SGR pioneered?
Arca has been the inventor of “Arca Cedola”, fixed-horizon, coupon paying funds, which have been with no doubt the greatest product innovation of the past 12 years on the Italian market. This type of funds, at first strictly based on bonds and later as a balanced product, has encountered an enormous success both with clients and distributors due to its simple and effective value proposition. Arca is a market leader also in the “PIR” segment of funds, a range of product focused on mid and small sized companies, that have been the best performers in the Italian stock market for the last few years. In services, Arca is a leader in technology applied to asset management. Our website, app and digital services for clients and banks are award winning, state of the art combination of data, technology and channels, and the best is yet to come on this side.
What strategies do you have in place to sustain your market position and withstand professional competition in the country?
As I mentioned, we do not waste resources on projects with dubious results, instead we constantly invest on people, products and services. The high level of profitability that Arca has been able to maintain even in difficult years for the markets of the banking sector is a further testimony that this strategy works very well
How do you use technology to create meaningful experiences for your customers?
First of all, we have created a whole new division, Arca InnovAction Lab, dedicated to technology, data and processes. This ensures projects are delivered quickly and they are free to leave bad past practices behind. Arcaonline.it, Arca’s website, provides distributors with detailed information on clients’ portfolios, asset under management and subscription/redemption requests. It monitors aggregate selling data offering to our partners a suite functions and analytics to track commercial campaigns. And if the banks branches need assistance, they may ask Sara, our digital chatbot. A broad and timely multimedia production, covering exclusive reports, comments, presentations, videos, webinars and newsletters is also available on the website.
Customers, subscribing Arca’s funds through its distributors’ network, may access Arcaclick, a dedicated area on Arcaonline.it. With Arcaclick the client can easily browse through her portfolio of funds, analyze its characteristics, view transactions and historical funds’ performance in customizable views. Arcaclick is also a powerful source of information on Arca product range: Prospectus, KIIDs and other literature is easily accessible along with news, comments and reports. Arcaclick may also be accessed via Arca Fondi App, a free application for mobiles and tables, running on both iOS and Android. Available 24/7 and in mobility, Arcaclick gives clients the opportunity access information, news and details of their personal portfolio anytime and anywhere.
What key trends will drive pension growth in 2020 and beyond?
The Italian market for pension funds is still very small and therefore there is a great opportunity to grow. Arca Fondi manages the biggest open ended Italian pension fund and it’s been constantly at the top of its rankings. As people and workers are looking for yield and to weather short term volatility, the pension fund is very well poised to profit from this trend.
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