5 lessons for SME banking leaders from the experts transforming the industry

January 18, 2021
5 lessons for SME banking leaders from the experts transforming the industry

Author: Denis Dorval, Chief Operating Officer, DueDil

At the end of last year, we conducted a series of interviews with experts in the banking and FinTech sectors discussing what it takes to transform an industry under increasing pressure to do so.

I was fortunate enough to speak to transformation leads, technology leads, CEOs and CTOs from brands such as Santander, Natwest Rapid Cash, Paymentsense, Funding Options and Recognise Financial Services (a subsidiary of City of London Group).

We talked about the pressure of consumerization and the surging demand for streamlined digital services.

We discussed the need to think holistically about those services and how best to update them into effortless experiences for customers and employees alike.

And we captured the perspective of those looking to disrupt an industry and manipulate it into something that will better serve the SME sector and the economy as a whole. 

Here are my five key takeaways:

Lesson 1: Your transformation efforts must be centred around people

In the very first conversation in the series, Jonathan Holman, Head of Digital Transformation at Santander, talked about the need to focus transformation initiatives around people.

Jonathan has won multiple awards for his work digitising corporate and commercial systems for the global bank, so it was with some surprise that he told us your people - centrally your colleagues - need to be put first:

“When I talk to my team about our stakeholders, I talk about our colleagues. Corporate and commercial SME banking is still a relationship-led model.

"We’ve got to make sure our colleagues’ experience, as well as our customers’ experience, is central to our technology implementation.”

He went on to explain how the commercial banking industry was shifting rapidly due to the pandemic and how critical it was to augment it around customers’ lives:

“We’ve seen the advent of remote digital working and banking, and that consumer experiences work best when they fit around people’s lives.

"If you’re managing an SME business, we want banking to fit around you, your business and your customers. 

“As we move into a different era, we’re going to have to continue evolving digital banking in terms of products and services, while also maintaining the trust and relationships we’ve built with our customers and start digitalising that for a remote context.”

Check out the full interview with Jonathan here.

Lesson 2: You must obsess over being easy to work with

For our second conversation, we were joined by Jason Oakley, Founder and CEO of Recognise and we discussed how SMEs are the engine of the whole economy.

Jason has been in the industry for over 35 years and worked in various customer-facing and back-office roles in his career.

But his latest venture, Recognise, a new UK bank launched during 2020 targeting the SME sector, has him excited about the future:

“SMEs make up 52% of GDP and are 99% of all employers. They employ 60% of people.

"If we want to address the productivity gap and re-establish ourselves in terms of economic growth as we come out of this pandemic, we’ve got to support those SMEs.”

And, in order to support those SMEs, Jason felt the only real way to do it was to be relentlessly focused on being easy to work with and deliver first-class customer experiences at every touch point.

“The key is the customer. What does the customer experience feel like? How can we be easy to work with?

"How do we honour the fact they create significant value in our economy and show they deserve a better service?”

Check out the full interview with Jason here.

Lesson 3: Data and insights must underpin everything

Our third DueDil Live session was with Simon Cureton, CEO of Funding Options, and we chatted about the fundamental need for speed and how accurate data is the key

Simon was fresh from announcing news that £400 million worth of loans had been distributed through the Funding Options platform in 2020, demonstrating how its innovative use of data and technology is succeeding in changing the way SMEs access financial services:

“Data and insights underpin pretty much everything we do as a business. With the right partners you can create a richness in your data and take full advantage of Open Banking… 

"...Without these partnerships embedded in a fluid fashion, we wouldn’t be able to deliver milestones such as £400 million of loans.”

He was also keen to share how that data and technology is being deployed to deliver value to his teams and customers:

“... one of our differentiating factors is that we believe in the hybrid model between the tech, data and human.

"There’s a constant battle for supremacy amongst those three but without human input and expertise, your outcomes from purely tech or data will always be compromised.”

Check out the full interview with Simon (and his dog), here.

Lesson 4: You must embrace microservices (to accelerate individual process segments)

Our penultimate DueDil Live of 2020 was with Nick Fryer, CTO of Paymentsense.

We talked about how his role as CTO is fundamentally business focussed and how he and his team look to drive efficiencies in processes with microservices.

Nick is a forward-thinking industry leader with a clear focus on how innovation can be used to spearhead transformation and drive value.

His background saw him work at organisations as diverse as Toyota and T Mobile, and he credits this diverse perspective for his fresh approach at Paymentsense.

“The big transformation we made about two or three years ago was saying we need to be customer-focused.

"So what we did was reorganise each of our teams so they were autonomous and focused on one particular area, led by customer insight achieved through interviews.”

This shift in approach meant evaluating how processes ran considering both the business side and technology side across multi-functional teams with the customer at the centre.

It meant evaluating every aspect of a process and finding ways to improve them.

“We started again on the technology and built all of our new software stack using microservices on  the public cloud.

"They are completely independent so they will only communicate with other functional services via a service or message bus.

“The important part of that is you then associate a microservice with an autonomous team so they are responsible for their own destiny at a technology level as well as at a functional level.”

Check out the full technology focused discussion here.

Lesson 5: To succeed you have to fail (fast)

Our final interview of 2020 was with Julie Ashmore, CEO of NatWest Rapid Cash, where we discussed the need for cognitive diversity in teams and an aptitude for learning from mistakes.

Julie has been a self-styled chameleon in her career, specialising in the finance sector but has also been an entrepreneur, launching her own business in Poland a few years ago.

Passionate about technology, Julie shared with us her insight into how she looks to transform the customer experience at Rapid Cash.

“We’ve innovated to help our customers as they adapt to the new way of working and providing new products.

"This is where our product and tech meant we were able to give customers a significant increase in their limit within 24 hours.”

This rapid innovation has come on the back of Julie’s work to insulate Rapid Cash from the bank culture and create an environment of quick implementation and learning quickly from mistakes.

“It’s important to take the emotion out of it.

"It’s happened to us with a recent product which we confidently put live but it wasn’t working.

"What we did was look at it and made sure we could analyse where it was failing.

“Being able to identify whether it was the whole system or just a small issue that is fixable was important so you don’t throw away a good idea.

"We’re still working on it, but you have to learn from it and continue to build.”

Check out the full interview with Julie here. 

Don’t miss our next episodes

We have another sensational line-up of speakers planned for our future events, so keep an eye on the DueDil LinkedIn channel and stay tuned for more forward-thinking insights.

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