By Andy Wolfe, Giovanni Donati, Jonathan Taiwo, Juliet Hardingham, Richard Plaistowe

Boyden UK’s Financial Services Practice recently hosted a virtual event where we discussed the impact that the Covid-19 crisis is having on Innovation, Digital Acceleration and Leadership. We were delighted to have three guest speakers – Jaime Swindle (MD of Networks and Products at Bravo Group), Sigga Sigurdardottir (Chief Customer Officer at Tesco Bank) and James Godfrey (Partner in the Financial Services Practice at PA Consulting) who lead the discussions and we were joined by over 60 guests representing businesses across the financial services sector.

Jaime Swindle

Jaime Swindle

Sigga Sigurdardottir

James Godfrey

James Godfrey

We have highlighted some of the key points that came out of our interactive webinar.

Digitalisation

One of the key discussion points was how technology is shaping and developing business strategy. James Godfrey made the point that where traditionally organisations had looked at their business strategy and digital strategy as two separate entities, in order to remain competitive they need to recognize that the two must be intertwined and digital has to play an important factor in how companies plan for their future. As James said “Digital transformation isn’t new, but the question is where you are on the journey.”

In addition to this, we discussed accelerating the digital footprint and the increased use of technology both throughout the customer experience and operational processes. The demand for digital has moved from a side issue to being essential for businesses responding to the epidemic. Examples that were mentioned, include; increased usage of contactless payments in retail; usage-based insurance policies; Live Chat and Video Conferencing for better communicating with customers; training and developing staff to use technology to effectively work from home. Overall, digitalizing both consumer and employee experience will continue to have a long-lasting and permanent effect on the way we do business.

Whilst a lot of these concepts are not new and many businesses had previously started on the digitalization journey, a large focus of digital acceleration has been on concluding existing programs (that had not been completed due to changing priorities) rather than investing in new technologies.

Innovation

As Jaime Swindle highlighted, businesses need to innovate to be able to thrive, and there have been many ways organisations have innovated and changed over the course of the crisis. The speed of change through this period of time has been key.  Sigga Sigurdardottir shared how Tesco Bank implemented an e-gift card for volunteers who were shopping for those shielding, which they managed to implement in 28 days from concept to delivery: “What normally would take 5 to 6 months, we are doing within 3 to 4 weeks.”

Sigga further explained how Tesco had been strategizing their priorities. For example, with the decreased usage of travel money, they have transferred this service to a cash home delivery for elderly customers who may struggle to get out.

James Godfrey mentioned that innovation is about a mindset, and organisations need the right environment and empowerment from their leaders to create an innovative environment. He also highlighted that with the demand for innovation, faster decision making and execution, companies should be prepared to take risks, accept failure when it occurs and be able to move on.

Others are reviewing their Real Estate Strategy – no longer expecting the full workforce to be in the office five days a week has meant that offices can be repurposed moving them from a workspace to a collaboration space.

Leadership

Jamie Swindle discussed the two main types of leadership approaches that she has seen become prevalent during the pandemic.  “On one hand we see a big bravado type leadership style where everything will be fine, while on the other hand we see a more collaborative style of leader who looks at the opportunity to adapt their operating processes.”  She highlighted that while neither style is right or wrong, a blended approach has seen the most success.

James Godfrey commented that we are in one of the world’s largest social experiments. He explained that in order to deal with uncertainty, organizations have to change at pace and adapt their thinking away from traditional methods as to how they should operate. Organizations will need to be collaborative and have open adaptive learning processes, where they continuously look at their current models and evolve.

“Leaders having the courage to lead from the front have the courage to push through the blocks. The idea we will let teams just get on with it doesn’t work, but a top down approach also doesn’t work. Successful organizations must have trust, agility and innovation.”

Above all, leaders need to learn “Trust” and trust their employees, customers and partners.

Finally, Sigga spoke about the three-step approach Tesco Bank had implemented:

  1. Purpose led
  2. Focused on customer
  3. Collaborative

Being an authentic leader and bringing your whole self to work has been key and she asks her team what the conditions are that they need for success. She explained it is important, especially with individuals working from home, that a leader brings the wider team along with them on this journey to success. This has led to an increase in communication, particularly at a personal level, and increased collaboration. Explaining the purpose of a business leads to more powerful decision making and celebrating success and risk taking gives more power to employees.

Diversity and Inclusion was highlighted to help bring newer talent into the industry and help accelerate change. 

Jamie Swindle spoke about the Government Kickstart campaign to help 16 to 24 year old’s get into work. She spoke about how as a collective they have brought 40 businesses within their networks together to create 50 vacancies for young people and thereby bringing in a wide range of diverse young talent who can help shape the industry for the future. She explained that: “The really exciting thing is getting new talent into the industry”.

One of the benefits of the almost complete adoption of the virtual working environment has been seen in the recruitment process, allowing businesses to source candidates from a much wider geographic area, rather than being constrained to looking at a population within commutable distance of the office.

Mental health

Mental health and well-being of their workforces has been a key focus for most businesses, and we explored the different practical ways in which companies are utilising different platforms to help create a more connected workforce.

One of our guests asked the question  “What are businesses doing specifically to identify and deal with mental health issues arising from the social separation caused by this crisis?”

From mental health support networks, case studies and training, Sigga explained the importance of having systems in place to create a healthy working environment. “We have been asking people to share their stories” and “it is OK to not be OK”.

Both Bravo and Tesco Bank have created buddy systems where  employees can get one-to-one support, as well as a  ‘My friend wants to know’ platform, where employees can anonymously bring up any issues that may be affecting their mental health, creating an environment that highlights the importance of talking through issues and challenges they are facing.

“Fundamentally it’s about creating an environment of trust. Leaders must be visible and proactive in addressing health issues.”

Beyond this, Jamie Swindle spoke about the advantages virtual social events can have on a team on both morale and team building, highlighting that several “office based” social events exclude certain groups of people (such as Friday night drinks excluding those who don’t work on a Friday), and they have hosted “virtual” events where employee’s families, friends and even pets have been fully involved. One advantage of a more technological working environment is that it can help create a more inclusive working environment and allow you to get to know colleagues in a personal way that may not have been possible in an office environment.

Conclusion

Overall the level of conversation gave fascinating insights and although there are obvious difficulties and challenges, the perception we feel everyone took away from the conversation is that recovery will happen and opportunities will present themselves.  Continuous agility and effective leadership around purpose, mental toughness and resilience, empathy and trust will be crucial to seize the opportunities.

It was an absolute pleasure to host this event with our network and thank you for all the insights shared and discussed, making it a really fascinating interactive forum. 

*****

Guest Feedback

"Fantastic session, it was good to pause, step back and enjoy this discussion and hear new insights and perspectives – thanks for the invite!"

“Thank you for your kind invitation to the Innovation, Digital Acceleration and Leadership online session last Thursday. It was an insightful discussion with energetic and convincing speakers – thank you for organising it.”

“Many thanks for inviting me to the session today. Great speakers and insights.”

“Many thanks for inviting me to the panel event - was really informative - thought the speakers were all really grounded which is what one really wants for this type of events”

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