Following the financial crisis of the last decade, it’s fair to say that banking hasn’t always been regarded by the public as the most liked of professions. But the way that the sector has had to step up to respond to the demands of the COVID crisis has changed that, reckons Suresh Viswanathan, Chief Operating Officer at TSB:
There's a lot of effort that's gone in to make sure that we do right by customers. We've sort of all started feeling proud again about working for banks. It will take a little bit more time for this to permanently establish itself, but after 2008, it's a nice place to be.
Like everyone else, TSB’s normal way of operating changed in early 2020 as the pandemic struck, he recalls:
Physical visits or the ability to talk to someone in a capital contact center was de rigueur. That's how we did everything we couldn't do on the mobile phone. That journey ended some time in March of last year. Like many other organizations, we were not prepared on the day that we all had to go and work from home to be fully productive for our customers. That's just reality.
But a crisis can throw up unexpected positives in that it forces a lot of discipline and it takes away the ability to, as Viswanathan puts it, “pontificate ad nauseum”. For TSB, an urgent priority was to get communication channels with customers up and running:
We didn't have the ability to let customers chat to us electronically, no conversational banking. It took us five days to activate it for customers.
COVID and its death toll provided a compelling need to get this fixed as bereaved next of kin tried to sort out their lost one’s finances:
We went digital as quickly as we could. We put up digital forms for everything that customers would ordinarily have to come into a branch for. All of this was done by our troops. It's not like highly-trained software engineers were doing this. This was done by some of our field forces to actually create these forms for our customers. So we were all in this together.
Given the fact that customers couldn't visit the branches, there were many, many more people who downloaded our mobile banking app and started using it. Of course now it's become a way of life. People haven't gone back to visiting us as much physically in branches. We've all had to adjust our behavior to actually start doing things faster for customers and customers have sort of joined us on that journey.
From an organizational perspective, COVID brought other changes, he adds:
We do a lot of testing in the financial services industry. We prove to ourselves that if a building goes down, if a data center goes down, we can work from the other. But we had never tested, 4000 or 5000 people working from home every day.
This brought its own challenges, such as the obvious information security questions as well as having staff working from home with kids shouting in the background. Customers were ready to give this some leeway, says Viswanathan, and the bank has learned a lot about how it operates as an organization.
Doing the right thing
What hasn’t changed is TSB’s mantra of providing Money Confidence for everyone, something that has perhaps never been more important than over the past 18 months or so, suggests Viswanathan. One result of this has been the firm’s ‘Do What Matters’ program:
The vision behind it is quite simple - if you take a look at who are the stakeholders that are impacted or influenced by who we are as an entity, there's probably five ways of looking at it. We look at the individuals. We look at businesses. We look at colleagues. We look at the community. And then we look at the environment. We put these five things together into what we call our 'Do What Matters' plan just to make sure that we remind ourselves about our responsibility to the society that we are part of and to actually measure progress and set some aspiration against these five aspects.
Another often-used phrase is Enterprise Assurance. Viswanathan likens this to the idea of having a flat tire and not being aware of it. You need someone to tell you that there’s a problem so that it can be sorted. If you know the brakes are good, then you can accelerate with confidence. In tech terms, that translates into a need to be very data-driven, he says:
Most of us who have been close to tech know that the heart of running a platform is understanding your asset inventory. If you understand your asset inventory and you manage that really well, then everything else is like building the upper storeys of a building on a good foundation. What we are trying to get done with the Enterprise Assurance function is to do not only the traditional stuff which is looking at risk and control and then through the eyes of the process, but be very data-driven.
A key enabler here has been ServiceNow. TSB began by implementing IT Service Management via what Viswanathan pitches as the “crawl, walk, run” approach:
We started off by implementing ServiceNow within the IT Service Management community to make sure that we laid the foundations appropriately. We've now taken that out to all of our colleagues, so that they can report problems, incidents, events as they experience them in their day-to-day life. That now comes back to us through ServiceNow.
The next step was to use ServiceNow from an internal audit point of view to fend off problems:
We're going to win or lose based on how we protect our brand. A lot of that protection is going to be because bad things could happen from an IT point of view or bad actors trying to beat us down through a cyber route. So the way we build our fort and build a moat around the fort is going to be super-critical for us.
More functional capabilities are likely to follow, but Viswanathan puts great emphasis on proceeding at a steady and certain pace:
For us, what is very important is that we make the choice on tools and we stick with the choice on tools. We build great relationships with our partners so they understand the pain that we go through and the opportunities we have and we can exploit the tool to its fullest…We've been very maniacal about saying these are the systems we're going to bet on, whether it's monitoring or alerting or management or whatever it is.
It all circles back to customer faith in the bank, he adds:
What you want is for your customers to trust you and to feel that you're reliable and that you're in their camp, not in your camp. I think the brand already has that impact with customers. Our job is to make sure that we enhance that trust…for us, trust and convenience and the ability to fulfil as many of our customer needs as practical is probably how I like to see this company in five years time. I hope that's the way the rest of the world goes. You want to be successful by doing the right thing. If that happens then you probably leave a better place for our next generation.
In the end, it all comes to three things, he concludes - people, processes and systems:
If you are able to ensure that people are empowered enough to make decisions, you can move the collective organization at pace. It's not the risk department versus the customer department versus ops; it's actually 'Team TSB'. Then, people feel very liberated. Everyone comes into the office wanting to make a difference for customers or themselves. If we can create that environment where people aren't fearful and they're playing a team sport, it's fabulous.