With assets of £45 billion and nearly three million customers, Bradford-based Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) is the UK's third largest building society. Recording gross lending of £7.9bn and net lending of £1.1bn in its last full financial year (2019), YBS got more than 49,000 people into a home in 2019 through financing more than 33,000 residential and buy-to-let house purchase mortgages, lending to registered providers of social housing, and other means.
Key to both that success and its brand proposition in its marketplace is what the Building Society calls a mission to help people achieve their life goals, or "Real Help with Real Life." But the Group's Digital Services Lead, Kirsty Jordan, realised that making it easy for the public to access its services, to give them the help they needed, required a bit of a re-think.
High-speed application development
The problem: too much legacy-which was working fine, but which wasn't amenable to that much re-wiring. Jordan said:
At YBS we have a big focus around the customer and being able to understand customer needs and really, from that, drive our solutions. We had a need for what the industry is starting to call a digital experience platform, but we would have to refresh our legacy e-commerce platform and Web capability to be able to develop our front end user experience. Plus, we have seen a shift in what the customer wants, and there's a need for customers to be able to engage with us online and for us to be able to make sure that we can provide great digital services.
Unfortunately, the platform YBS was using at the beginning of this migration had really long lead times for making any sort of change. Managers were aware that the existing tech was inflexible and also not very quick in terms of being able to deliver change.
That was limiting our ability to deliver experiences that really worked for our customers. We were really restricted in how we're able to provide our products and services and information by the legacy infrastructure we had in place.
Another challenge was that while YBS knew it needed to be able to build user experiences in modern ways, these were skills that weren't necessarily available in the IT department. Jordan has been leading change on this front since onboarding two years ago, and a key tool she and her team have found useful has been OutSystems high-speed application development platform (which until recently you might have seen described as a "low code" approach).
Designed to help developers deliver applications quickly and efficiently, and with additional security, risk management, and monitoring support for SOC2 Type II compliant cloud platforms, the idea with the tool is to build customer-focused apps faster by what Jordan says is an "almost drag and drop" approach to improving the presentation layer of the YBS website.
Sounds great, but has it worked? Jordan told us that it had taken a little while to build up a head of steam with usage of the software, with the original contract getting signed back in May 2019-but that a big early win has been achieved: the rollout of a new, easy-to-use online mortgage calculator in just three months. The new digital tool to let YBS members check the affordability of their potential mortgage takes six minutes instead of ten and in the early days of testing saw a very promising 10% increase in completed applications.
Also, to add a new field into that borrowing calculator probably would have taken the team months prior to low-code, but now it can take a fraction of the time. Yet one more benefit, she told diginomica, is the delivery of a fully-mobile friendly version of the calculator, as mobile users were underserved by the previous system, via rapid prototyping.
It all adds up (if you can bear the pun) to a much improved online and mobile front-end experience which didn't need any expensive or time-consuming removal of existing computing resources or databases. Jordan notes:
At the heart of what YBS is all about, that idea of Real Help for Real People, is trying to make things simple-helping people find a place to call home. What we've identified over time is that if you're able to help customers understand how much they can borrow and what kinds of deposit they might need really helps them as they go through the application process. That support is where we think that conversion improvement is coming from.
Conversions up 54%
Getting a new website app out in such a short amount of time was one win, for sure. But has it moved the needle in terms of business? Jordan says it absolutely has-conversions (so, completed, approved customer applications) have increased by 54% since the calculator went online at the end of January 2020.
There is also benefit to YBS in terms of reduction of inbound calls and wait times, she points out, while the production of a new set of APIs and services that work with these in-house YBS systems gives the team flexibility to keep deploying new apps: a new a savings account application journey has also been rolled out this way, which she says is also seeing much higher conversion rates than the previous solution.
Potential next steps include looking at removing paper and streamlining decision processes at the back end as part of ongoing digital transformation work. Jordan told us:
We are also starting to look at how we can potentially prototype completely new features that we don't offer our customers today. These could take the form of additional tools like calculators, but it could just as easily be new capability within our self-serve functionality, like allowing customers to set savings goals.