Innovating in a crisis and the importance of a customer centric mindset

Stephen Friel is a Business Manager at HSBC and a member of the SFE Young Professionals Committee 

In the second event of the Scottish Financial Enterprise Young Professionals Leadership Series, Barry Connolly, Managing Director of Everyday Banking for the NatWest Group, delivered an extremely engaging virtual event on how to continue innovating in a crisis and the importance of aligning this innovation to solving customer problems. Barry champions lifelong learning and Chairs SFE’s Skills & Talent Group, which made him the perfect speaker for our network. Throughout the discussion he frequently referenced sustainability and inclusion whilst highlighting what the emerging financial services landscape looks like for young people as customers and colleagues of the industry. Below are a few of my key takeaways from the event, attended by over 70 young professionals

Innovation is pointless if you aren’t solving your customer’s problems

Barry operates in the banking industry where agile challenger institutions such as Monzo, Starling and Revolut began targeting one of the most neglected customer demographics in the last thirty years - young people. However, in an age where everyone is chasing the ultimate customer experience (just look at how Apple has changed how you interact with a phone and Amazon has changed how you consume), these banks have successfully turned the heads of some customers who traditionally only dealt with more established banks through innovations such as budgeting tools, temporary debit card freezes and fee-free overseas transactions. Barry admitted NatWest is indeed an elephant in a greyhound race.

However, why aren’t these greyhounds pulling away? One might argue this is because the elephants understand their customer’s problems and most have a clearly defined purpose that acts as a North Star in all innovative pursuits. NatWest Group’s purpose is:

"We champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive"

Put simply, if an innovation doesn’t align to this statement and solve an outstanding customer problem, it won’t get taken forward.

NatWest has some really cool technology

So how have Barry’s team stayed in front? They’ve added a free credit score in their mobile banking app that’s been used over four million times. They will soon be adding carbon-footprint monitoring that provides   information on the companies you spend your money with and their environmental behaviour. They also offer a ‘companion card’ on accounts that can be given to a carer or family member and they will deliver cash to a customer’s door, which I imagine would have helped some vulnerable customers during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The most innovative idea for me was their free-to-play game called ‘Island Saver’ that’s available on PlayStation, Xbox and Steam which educates young people on financial matters such as managing your money, savings products and how to keep your pin safe. The game is rated 10/10 on Steam and 4.6/5 on Xbox/PS Store. Who would have thought a bank could pull that off?

NatWest Group are also developing a new payment infrastructure called PayIt, which powered Sir Tom Moore’s NHS fundraising. They gave the payment infrastructure away for free to support this particular initiative.  NatWest already has high performing payments journeys that are used 5.5 billion times a year by customers, but this is another takeaway - innovate even if the established method looks like it’s working fine.

It’s evident that Barry has instilled a culture in his organisation where they must see the changing world as it is and not how they want it to look. NatWest Group go out their way to seek feedback from companies all over the world who are delivering exemplary  customer experience , showing their commitment to lifelong learning.

All this innovation is good news for the variety of roles in financial services

One thing that SFE is striving to achieve through their Unified Schools Programme led by Colin Halpin and Nicholas Bobb is to change the perception of what it means to work in financial services. Barry highlighted that there are now roles that he never would have dreamed existed fifteen years ago including social media manager, content moderator, data scientist and developer evangelist. He concluded that the responsibility now lies with the industry to effectively communicate these roles and create an environment that is conducive to allowing young people to thrive.

Our third Leadership Series event will be on August 27 on work / life balance with Susan Fouquier, MD Business Banking, NatWest Group. Event registration details will be released soon.

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Published 14 August 2020