Since the invention of the wheel, technology has been a powerful enabler. And technological advances are clearly crucial to pushing the boundaries of human achievement. But tech tends to set its own agenda. It sometimes solves problems that aren’t really there, because it can. One of the biggest polarising forces in financial services innovation today, is the tension between what technology can enable people to do with their money, and what people are willing to use technology for, in relation to their finances.
At one end of the spectrum people are being paid in bitcoin, at the other, people are desperately holding on to their chequebooks. Bridging the ‘No Man’s Land’ between bleeding edge technology and the customer comfort zone is critical, if customer trust is to be regained in the financial sector.
As changes in financial services unfold, it is becoming clear that whilst web and mobile banking are expected to be running seamlessly in the background, ‘people’ and ‘customer need’ focused service innovation are likely to become the real basis of brand differentiation. This is what is happening at Standard Life, because they are working to combine the best of mainstream and emerging technology, as an enabler to customer experience improvement.
Weaving start-up culture into a company with 190 years of history
Fintech companies are continually finding new ways to better provide niche elements of the overall financial process. This constant threat of disruptive innovation meant that ‘the way things had always been done’ at Standard Life could not continue. Becoming fleet of foot in the implementation of digital service provision was an absolute necessity in maintaining and improving Standard Life’s long term competitive position. This pointed to the need for a small agile team structure, to get innovation happening fast. Mickael Paris, Head of Digital Marketing, was brought in to drive things forward because of his experience with internet start-ups such as Skyscanner.
But critical to helping customers stay in their comfort zone as new technology is put in place, is understanding its impact at every step of the customer journey. Hence the notion that this small creative team could ever have worked in isolation, would never have worked.
So how do you manage internal team structures for speed of implementation, if any good new idea needs the active support of almost all other internal departments AND one or two external industry bodies before it can get to market? If you are innovating in a multi-channel environment, one arm cannot move without all other limbs shifting in sync. Otherwise the best intentions turn into highly disjointed and generally negative customer experiences.
Multi-channel innovation does not allow for silo thinking
Standard Life’s marketing teams recognised that breaking down silo thinking was crucial, if innovation speed were to be increased. Hence setting up your desk to work among the people who can help you solve a problem or overcome a specific barrier, suddenly seems like a good way to get things moving. The idea that ‘there is no place where marketing sit’ isn’t about being unconventional for the sake of it, but was about channelling collaboration and creativity to achieve tangible results at speed.
This simple idea has since evolved into cross-functional working parties being used to crack issues standing in the way of service improvement. Problem-solving ‘sprints’ and ‘missions’, like the ones you might experience at Google are among the techniques employed. Multi-disciplinary teams ensconced for 3 days, or 3 weeks get problems solved fast. Bit by bit ‘the way things have typically been done’ is being assessed to see if it is still fit for purpose. That purpose being, does this help us serve customers well? Progression is favoured over perfection but all ideas are stress-tested involving customers, to make sure that the overall innovation trajectory gels with customer need.
What is particularly important about the approach followed by Standard Life is that it also informs the way the company works with organisations ‘outside’ of the company too. Mickael Paris talks about the way things tend to happen in the financial services sector:
“Our sector is often focused on reacting to regulatory change, to ensure marketing and platforms are compliant and are in customers’ best interest, rather than reacting to customer needs and building in compliance legislation to match.
“Although changes in regulation often drive innovation, customer innovation should not be driven by regulation alone and regulation should not be playing catch-up to new product innovation. If the focus is on one rather than the other, then customer interests are not being safe-guarded and championed to the best of our ability. Our retirement journey is a great example of us working hand in hand with both customers and the regulator to develop a great solution that has won several customer experience awards as a result. ”
By working with the regulators to ensure compliance is in link-step with technological advance, Standard Life are now pushing industry best practice forward. This is not boring financial services. This is forward thinking, customer-centric innovation.