HSBC reduces friction and boosts revenue by going paperless with Adobe

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez May 15, 2019
As a global financial institution that is over 100 years old, it’s not surprising HSBC has a whole host of legacy. However, it is reducing friction with Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Sign.

Image of Craig Johnson, Global Head of Multi-Channel and Staff Tablets at HSBC

HSBC is a well recognised brand, a global financial institution that operates out of 4,000 offices, across 70 countries, employs 235,000 people and serves 37 million customers. However, HSBC was also founded in 1865. And any organisation that has that sort of history, with such a complex operational infrastructure, serving such a wide variety of customers, is bound to struggle with legacy.

What is one of the key components of that legacy? Paper and paper-based processes. We’ve all dealt with a financial organisation where form filling, wait times and having to answer the same question over and over again to multiple agents - depending on if you’re on the phone, in a branch, or on the web - is very common.

And that was the situation that HSBC found itself in. As diginomica has argued time and time again, friction in the enterprise - whether that be consumer facing or internally - puts you at risk of losing out to competition that are more digitally enabled. Would you opt for a bank that lets you complete a credit card application completely online, or one that requires you to start the application online, but ultimately needs you to fill in and return forms?

HSBC recognises this and it is the job of Craig Johnson, Global Head of Multi-Channel and Staff Tablets at HSBC, to facilitate the reduction in friction using digital tools - right from the front-end customer experience, all the way to the back-end data entry. This has been a multi-year journey, which Johnson gave a description of at Adobe’s EMEA Summit in London this week.

Johnson outlined how HSBC began using Adobe Sign in 2015 to enable customers to sign documentation online, instead of in-branch or via post, which led to the use of Adobe Experience Manager and the creation of a platform that provides a more front-end to back-end digital experience.

Johnson said:

The nature of what we do is that we need to evolve to the changing consumer needs. What we’ve looked to do is to leverage alternate and new channels. You can now look to take a mortgage from the comfort of your own home. But one of the truisms that came from this is that final mile. You may have had the slickest mortgage calculator hand off to video based appointment, but then you may be disappointed when we send you a 70 page document that takes two weeks to get there. How do we ensure that execution element?

The problem with legacy

Johnson admits that HSBC is still “littered with legacy” and the approach outlined above, one which still relies on a paper element to the process, is very prone to errors. It relies on someone in the back-end inputting data (and by someone, Johnson means thousands of HSBC employees in the back-end inputting data).

By using Adobe Sign, HSBC was able to digitise the paper process and deliver documentation securely to the customer. However, Johnson adds, this didn’t necessarily mean that it was optimising the journey. Whilst it allowed customers to act more quickly on certain outcomes, reducing the time it took to process applications or reactivate accounts, there was still more the bank could do. He said:

That started to remove some elements of cost, process, time. It wasn’t entirely optimised or perfect - but for a customer at the front end, it was reducing the process to minutes, instead of weeks.

A couple of years ago, HSBC was also undergoing changes to its group CMS. At that time, Johnson and his team took the opportunity to ask: where do we need to be in the next couple of years? The result was the idea of a Global Forms Portal.

The idea being that customers don’t want to have to provide HSBC with the same data every time they carry out a different application. Or if they start an application online, and then progress that application on the phone or in a branch, they shouldn’t have to begin that process again - it should be seamless. Johnson wanted to create an environment that could populate any form for any process, based on the data already held on that customer. Or equally, allow a customer to self serve and input as much of that data themselves, before utilising a high-value touch point with the bank (e.g. a person or adviser).

In addition to this, the new system should ensure that any information that is inputted into the front end, is also integrated and inputted in the back-end. He explained:

The organisation had already made investments in Adobe Experience Manager and Forms, but they were more customer facing and web centric. We realised we could combine all these assets together to create a universal platform. We could create 30 page documents that were optimised, personalised, integrated into the front end, but also integrated into the back end. And then once launched, we could ask: How is one branch doing against another? Where do we need to optimise? Understanding how people navigating through journeys isn’t easy, this provides that.


Johnson provided an example of how high net wealth managers can now manager investments, showcasing the opening of a HSBC’s Unit Trust Account. By selecting the forms necessary for the client, HSBC is now able to create a bespoke journey for the customer, with all the forms merged into a single interaction, all pre-populated. This then has native integration into Adobe Sign. It is a complete environment, where the customer can start and finish a journey seamlessly - with all the data integrated not only in the front end, but also the back-end.

This approach, Johnson said, is bringing a number of benefits. He explained:

Our ability to act on that outcome is dramatically improved. Audit trails are all there too.

By creating that fabric in the solution, we’ve been able to really look to shift from paper and its inherent friction to generating some significant benefits. It is easier, it is quicker. I don’t know what it costs in your organisation to rectify an error on a piece of paper, but isn’t measured in one or two dollars. It’s tens, twenties, hundreds of dollars to rectify.

We have seen in paper based journeys in the past, ones that are very valuable to us as an organisation, 50% return rates on documentation - they are now running at 80+% when they are delivered as an electronic signature. That drop off is very material. That translates to many zeros on the revenue case that goes with it. Not just the cost benefit case.

Also, don’t forget the carbon offset that comes with this. We’ve got a major commitment to reduce our CO2 footprint. We print millions of pieces of paper today and this absolutely goes some way to solving that.

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