UK Fintech Week Kicked off on the 19th of April, returning in 2021 as a brand new hybrid concept. With five days of world-class content delivered by some of the biggest names in finance, government and tech, day one focused on the future of global fintech.
How Financial Services Respond to the Demands for Digital Transformation
This webinar was based all around digital transformation, and how the financial services sector responded to the new demand created by Covid-19.
The panel was moderated by Isabelle Jenkins, head of financial services PwC UK and panellists for this webinar included; Jen Tippin, Group Chief Transformation Officer, NatWest Group; James Bardrick, Citi’s Country Officer for the UK, Cluster Head for the UK, Jersey and Israel and the Chief Executive of Citigroup Global Markets Limited; Joe Garner, CEO, Nationwide Building Society, and Matt Hammerstein, CEO Barclays Bank UK.
When the pandemic hit, the financial services sector had to react fast. From going digital in a matter of weeks to finding new ways of working, this webinar set out how these financial organisations responded to the demands of the global coronavirus situation.
The discussion kicked off with Isabelle asking each of the panellists exactly how Covid-19 had affected their respective businesses.
Jen began by saying that NatWest’s most important point has been to focus on supporting their customers during the pandemic. “We lent more than £14billion to our commercial customers during this period and kept 95% of our branches open. We tried to support the customers where they needed it most. We’ve also been trying to support our local communities, turning our head office into a food bank and we also turned one of our office buildings into a vaccine centre.
“I think, unlike the financial crisis, this health crisis has demonstrated that the banking sector has a very important purpose, and it’s enabled businesses like ours to really come to life in terms of how we’ve supported our customers and our communities.”
Joe agreed with this statement that the financial industry has responded well to the crisis, showing how far the industry has progressed since the great financial crash.
“I think there has been a clear empathetic response where sometimes it might not have been expected a few years ago. Obviously digital has leapt forward, it was happening before but we have seen more people doing more things that they wouldn’t have dreamt of doing before, like older people doing mortgages completely on video from home.”
Joe continued to add that as Nationwide is a society owned and run for the benefit of its members, that may have had an effect on their digital transformation. “Whilst we are investing very heavily in digital, we don’t walk around all day saying the future is digital, we say the future is human. Our viewpoint is we’re not trying to be an app or turn our entire organisation into an app, but rather how do we use digital to enhance the human experience.
“I think the really interesting space is how do you bring that warmth, empathy and humanity to life in the digital world.”
Isabelle moved on to ask the panellists what the biggest challenges for their companies were when trying to navigate the pandemic. James began by saying: “Roughly 90%`of our people have spent the entire period of the last 12 months working remotely, and that has presented its challenges.
“One is that people are not re-establishing the goodwill, the connectivity and the relationship inputs that they get from being physically with each other in informal interaction as well as formal. The formal interaction is efficient through Zoom and other media type connections, but the information connectivity is very difficult to replicate. We’ve already identified that we don’t see remote working at an extreme level as our long term future, but we’ve learned the benefits of the flexibility and the empowerment that we’ve been giving to our people, and have been rewarded with what’s come out.”
Matt also added that one of the lessons learnt by not only banks but the whole of society was that: “never again should we have to define who our essential workers are.”
“One of the interesting things for me about working from home is, on the one hand, it’s phenomenal for inclusion because everybody is equal. There’s no one on the top floor or bottom floor, there are no cliques of people, everybody is at the same distance from everybody else. Yet, at the same time, it creates a huge mental health challenge around the sense of feeling included. How do you help people still feel included when they feel like they’re at home alone, and at the same time create the sense of camaraderie without reforming those cliques that create a diverse environment?”
Finally, to close the session Isabelle asked the participants what their key piece of advice they would give to fintechs who want to work with their respective organisations.
James said that for Citi, fintechs should focus on what the company might bring to them. “In my experience, fintechs working with us need to be very clear as to what it is that they are bringing so we can best apply that. The second thing is to be very clear and keep pushing back every time we have a tendency to be a bit closed – just keep going and bear with us.”
For NatWest, Jen advised that fintechs should be clear and have a good quality pitch deck “Be prepared and do the right background research on the bank you’re looking to engage with, ” she said. “Also, be realistic – we’ve all got different priorities, different risk appetites and different areas of focus, so you need to keep going but be realistic.”