All Posts in Thought leadership

23rd March 2021

The Concept of Digital Brands

A Q&A with Jesse Swash, Co-Founder.

Jesse Swash

Jesse Swash

What is a digital brand in 2021?
A digital brand is one that lives and primarily functions on every screen you own from your monitor to your iPhone and everything in-between. What would we do without alerts on our iWatch?

In reality, almost every brand is a ’digital’ brand. What is different is how digital a brand is. This is, or should be, driven by the needs and demand drivers of the core users and target audiences.

After all, we’re all digital now.

A digital brand, like any well thought through brand, has to be standout and distinctive for the right reasons. Digital or not, the brands that succeed and survive are those that are sure of their purpose, of why they exist.

Solve a problem and you will always succeed.

A truly digital brand looks and thinks about everything it does through a digital lens, embracing digital channels and methodologies to communicate with and engage with its target audiences.

Succeed by being digital-first.

The great digital brands are at the forefront of transforming how we work and live. Their offer, driven by better UX and well thought through service lines, spread through organisations rapidly, changing the way companies behave and operate.

Join in or be left behind.

What are the current innovations in digital brands?
The innovation is where these brands are seen and found, in new channels, with new ways of reaching consumers and prospects with new forms of content and messaging.

Being new now is what matters.

The leading digital brands are driving profound behaviour change. We work, collaborate, and live online. We may be at multiple locations, but we’re increasingly accustomed to working together in this way.

Change is one step at a time.

The real innovations are only just starting. There is a tsunami of AI, AR, and VR developments just around the corner, waiting for us to accept the next stage of virtual connecting and working. Hold tight it’s almost here.

With the impact of COVID-19, what trends have you seen in digital brands?
We have seen huge shifts in the willingness to engage with people we have only ever met on digital channels. The power of the handshake has been replaced by a smile on a video call. We have quickly let go of the need to meet people physically to work with them.

Technology and access to digital brands is now seen as more than a necessity. It’s increasingly a fundamental part of our lives, delivering the tools we need to get on with our job.

Digital is now a must-have, a human right.

In the first two months of lockdown, we believe we saw two years of change. Businesses and organisations adapted to the new blended digital and physical normal to survive. This trend will continue beyond this moment. Who wants to go back to the daily commute?

What are the benefits and challenges of having a digital brand?
Digital brands and services can transform experiences. Just think of something as simple as booking a restaurant via an app, all from the comfort of your sofa. This is the benefit of convenience, something everyone likes and wants and possibly demands and craves.

This is never going away.

The ease of use comes with the requirement to log in or supply data. The data in turn gives brands the ability to target their audiences with pinpoint accuracy. This is the ability to create markets and segments of one.

Making everyone feel like a VIP.

Digital brands also have the power of agility and responsiveness. Be in total charge and control. But open that door and the energy and pace required to sustain the communications and reach is a full-time task.

The best digital brands employ Jeff Bezos’ ‘Day 1’ strategy to stay ahead. They behave like a start-up even when they are years old. Because the side effect is that new isn’t new for very long anymore and the disruptors are being disrupted faster than ever.

When it comes to digital brands what is the best strategy?
Digital brands, like all brands, need to respond to pain points and challenges that need solving. The best solve a problem for a poorly serviced audience who can and want to be reached in a new and meaningful way. Find a problem, show you understand it and deliver the digital solution.

Many of the brands we speak to have grown so fast, they have lost touch with what their customers need. For digital brands being ruthlessly user-centric is key. Do this by following the data and constantly trying and testing things to see what works. In the world of digital brands, the data never lies so take all the insights and use them to give yourself a competitive edge.

Money is a precious resource, but time is more valuable. Brands need to be effective in where and when they invest their time to get their biggest return. As digital channels grow, all brands need to be strategic in where they deploy their effort.

How can organisations get the most out of being digital?
For organisations to get the most out of digital they need to be truly immersed. The senior leadership team needs to get behind the digital strategy and be seen to be truly living it.

The best organisations encourage adoption and don’t force it. If everyone comes to it open-minded it always has a better chance to succeed.

Finally, embrace the idea that digital is a continual journey to improvement. Understand that it never stops, be open-minded and it will always be a success.

9th March 2021

Technology Enables Innovation…

Author: Olly Chubb, Strategy Director, Design by Structure

Technology enables innovation to happen – but it is not why innovation happens.

Thousands of businesses have the capability to ‘innovate’ – to create something new, or something better. What separates successful businesses is not whether they can do something, it’s whether they know why they are doing it. There is a huge distinction here, let’s look at that further.

The most successful businesses deliver more than linear, incremental improvements that make something better, faster or smoother. Instead, they harness a deep understanding of their customers, not just observing how they currently behave but revealing and understanding their pain points, interrogating what really matters to them and identifying new opportunities to create meaningful change for them.

These businesses can rethink the sector/customer problem, approaching it from a fresh and original perspective, reframing the context and transforming expectations of what ‘better’ means.

As the classic Henry Ford quote goes, “If I’d have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. He could have bought the fastest horses, bred them to be even faster and become rich. He didn’t. Why? Because he understood that, although his customers might not have articulated it directly, the problem wasn’t just about speed – so the solution wasn’t just about being faster. Instead, he built a new mode of transport that exceeded expectations and transformed the landscape forever – and he became extremely rich!

In short, technology enables innovation, but the smartest innovations are driven by insight – and so too are the smartest businesses.

It can be easy to forget or overlook this, not least when businesses are running full speed to improve and when there seem to be more options for improvement than ever. The most ground-breaking innovations are not remembered because of the technology, they’re remembered because they transformed businesses, cultures and industries.

We need to think of technology and innovation as having a symbiotic relationship in business. Insight is the catalyst for this change. And by putting it at the heart of every decision and using it to constantly challenge and rationalise why they should do something, businesses can streamline activity, optimise resource and align every action through a clear purpose.

The interconnectivity of tech and innovation
Technology and innovation are interconnected they need each other to thrive, let’s look at some examples.

What’s the biggest frustration people experience with customer services? Feeling that they are not being understood or listened to. Having to go through the same conversation, the same complaint, over and over again because they’re speaking to a different agent. We all know this pain.

Dixa, is a SaaS business currently transforming the customer service experience by making it more personal, intelligent, and data-driven., it puts people at the core of its business and addresses this particular pain point – frustration.

Dixa could have used technology to reduce waiting times or increase accessibility. Instead, they looked at the problem differently and unlocked a fresh way to innovate in this industry. The service combines every customer interaction into one seamless conversation by unifying all contact points – phone, email, chat and messaging. Therefore, changing the landscape by removing the frustration of having to explain yourself again and again to different customer service agents.

It has used technology to create a seamless, ongoing dialogue that has transformed expectations of customer service forever.

Mews is another business blending insight and technological innovation to revolutionise the hospitality guest experience.

Rather than think about how to improve the traditional property management system that dominated the industry landscape, Mews decided to drive its innovation from a different angle – the human experience of both hoteliers and customers and asked what are their pain points?

By adopting a customer-first perspective, Mews developed customer-first tech that identifies how and where to simplify or automate hotel operations – from booking engine to check-out, front desk ritual to revenue management.

Small scale improvements would not have been enough to compel hoteliers to switch from the established incumbent – but a new way of thinking brought to life through technology, has created wholesale change and encouraged hoteliers and guests to imagine more.

What both these business example show, is where technology was used to deep dive into a real problem, to fulfil a gap in the sector where meaningful change could innovate to the benefit of the end-user – the customer. Both of these solutions tackle specific pain points, and instead of an easy fix, have come up with an idea that can shake a sector and really challenge sedentary thinking. That’s the beauty of tech, it can realise a business idea and elevate a sector with innovation.

A final word of caution, too often businesses create or adopt technology for technology’s sake. They realise they can, so they do, but they don’t stop to ask ‘why?’. They should. When you unlock ‘the why’, you unlock the insights.

It is the insight that unlocks innovation – and technology that makes good on the promise.

 

This article was first published in Global Banking and Finance Magazine.

6th April 2021

You’re Special, so Special.

Author: Jesse Swash, Co-Founder Design by Structure

Jesse Swash

How we engage with and expect to access the services that underpin our lives has changed forever. It was happening already, but the structural changes we are living through right now have only made it more pronounced.

We can see that in the almost predictable decline of businesses and brands that failed to keep up or re-invent themselves, the high street stalwart list is a long one. But it’s worth reminding ourselves that for every retreat and closure story there is another business and brand that prospers and succeeds. The truth that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction has never been truer.

This change has swept through every part of society and has affected aspects of our lives and parts of our economy usually seen as impregnable. Who could have imagined previously prosperous high streets closed and now peppered with To Let signs?
But as with all things, and here I must confess to being optimistic by nature, there are silver linings in the clouds of furlough and bailout.

Re-imagine your offer.
For anyone who seeks to succeed, a mantra of continuous change and re-invention is absolutely key.  Because playing catchup is becoming too hard, change is moving too fast. This truth, this new reality applies just as much to a retail brand as a banking brand.
So, what are the opportunities? There are certainly quick wins, such as better customer experience (CX) and a focus on employee experience (EX). Getting employees motivated and inspired, and getting customers feeling that refreshed energy are a definite starting point. After all, when was the last time anyone looked forward to a call with a bank?

But there are other, bigger prizes on offer. Shifting customers to digital, redefining the interactions and relationships with them, and rethinking the ‘phygital’ world is here – yes, it is a thing, physical plus digital – fewer but better branches and more home video calls. Digital experiences that are as easy to navigate as Spotify and Netflix for example. Because one thing is certain, we still need to have the option to talk to someone. We still need to communicate. We still need to discuss.

Seize the opportunity.
Banks and the services they provide have a special place in our lives and our society. Their services are relied on every day by all of us in some capacity. A generation ago we only had the bank branch (with restricted hours), weekend closures and if we were lucky a phone number we could call to facilitate our banking needs. Remember how revolutionary First Direct felt with its shake-up of the sector – Britain’s first ‘virtual’ bank, with no branches and no bank managers. Now we have apps and online banking that work whenever we need them and to complement the remaining branches.

Age is not a differentiating factor either for the retail banks with a sharp adoption of digital services in customers over 65 in the last year (thanks McKinsey). So, when do we need to speak to someone, when do we want to meet in person? Those in the know suggest it is when issues are more complex, when we need to understand a complex financial product or when we are making a significant transaction. And there is the opportunity.

Re-think service.
Retail banking needs to be a re-thought presence in our lives. Destination premises in the locations where they are most needed. Reimagined premises with different kinds of usage spaces for customers. Places where important and meaningful conversations can happen, not for joining the queue to pay in a cheque. More informal or more formal spaces depending on your needs. Maybe one day soon your bank might be more like an Apple store or a hotel lobby, with places to sit and talk over a well-made coffee and a friendly ‘genius’ to guide you through the more complex choices.

The important point is that everything stems from the customers’ needs. We need to implement a user-centric, customer-first mantra, just like the apps and websites we rely on. The right levels of personal engagement in the right spaces, E.g., digital engagement in the right channels for the right kind of transactions. Not a tidying up of what is there already but a fundamental re-think of why we exist and how we deliver the right kind of services to the right people… I’ll bet you’re already planning to click, swipe or even visit.

Make experience count.
We know there is a right place and right time for different kinds of interactions. The next step is for retail banks to make those conversations matter. Can they behave more like they know their customers and are on their side? After all, they know our spending, they know how much we save, they see where we shop and how often we travel and go on holiday. Can they harness this data much like other businesses might suggest a jacket to go with a shirt or a movie to follow the one you just watched? Can a series of transactions trigger a better type of product, or a promotion at work, a different kind of saving account? Can a bank even initiate a conversation, can it think about a person’s life stage and match needs to circumstances and products to milestones? At its core can a bank show us it knows us, and it cares about us? Yes.

Built around you.
Now you, the customer, are the most important person in the room or on the screen. Now your experience is as you choose it to be, on the channel you choose, and when you choose it. Feel comfortable discussing your pension on a video call. Why not?  Rather visit the new branch for a one to one. No problem. Want to check your balance on your mobile? Of course. Happy to get alerts for products that match your new spending habits. Sure, send them over.

Suddenly your old bank has become your new bank and is on your side, it has your back, not just your wallet. The new bank recognises that you are unique, and you are special. And what do customers do with the brands they love, with the brands that treat them as though they matter, as though they are special? Yes, you guessed it. They spend more, they buy more products, and they stay loyal.

And ultimately isn’t that what every business is searching for? So, banks here is your opportunity. Treat customers as the most special thing you have. Give them access to products and services they need when they need them and where they need them, and you will succeed and prosper. The choice is yours. Our tip. Special wins every day.

This article is part of a series published in Global Banking and Finance Magazine.

7th December 2020

The Times, They Are A-Changing. That’s for Sure.

Author: Jesse Swash, Co-Founder Design by Structure

Jesse Swash

We are living through an extraordinary moment; it's been said so much this year. Years of change brought on in a matter of weeks: no time to catch your breath; continually on video; everything remote; everything in the cloud. It’s not a question of embracing it, it’s just the new reality.

How we work. How we communicate. How we meet. How we pitch. How we convert. How we deliver. How we grow. How we innovate. And crucially, how we (in business) survive.

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s this – if you weren’t already doing it – you must put the user, the client, and the customer right at the heart of everything you do. You need to continually drive better services. That means being brave enough to test, fail, and learning to improve all of the time.

This behaviour, attitude and way of being, is as relevant to the future of banking as it is to any and every other business that wants to survive and thrive. But what’s the point of simply surviving. In fact, it is the businesses that are built on these behaviours and cultures that are the new giants. The very companies we now rely on to exist in this new normal.

What if banks allowed themselves to adopt some of these agile SaaS tactics, allowed some of that energy, drive, and desire to create rich, useful and meaningful user experiences through their doors. Not all at once, obviously, but to start the process of change.

Granted, it's easy to say. Harder to do. And risky to get wrong. And if there’s one sector with a low appetite for risk, it’s this one. So where can banking brands access ideas, inspiration and parallels and also de-risk adoption?

Parallel lines. Parallel sectors. Learn from the successful. Those who are re-thinking the way they and their sectors behave. Look to the brands that have succeeded and prospered. Look at the mistake’s others have made along the way. Look at how they have transformed their industries and take, take, take and learn, learn, learn.

Like it or loathe it. Amazon sets the bar pretty high and is littered with clues. Start with its total clarity of purpose, of why it exists, an understanding that it exists to deliver. Whether it’s must-have items, groceries, information from the corner of your room with Alexa, movies on your TV with Prime, hosting the websites you surf on AWS, or cargo and trips to the moon with Blue Origin. It’s all about 'delivery'. Problem-solving of 'every day is the first day' despite being one of the largest companies in the world. With daily stand-ups. Problem-solving in agile blended teams. And mix in an obsession with making everything user-centric with the customers’ needs always first and the door is wide open to add services, dominate competitors, and to take market share.

Amazon - 'every day is the first day'

The path to change

Change offers opportunity. To reach more customers means more opportunities to sell. Asking more questions such as, what can we do better? means adding new services and product lines which in turn allows you to drive further sales loyalty and ultimately success. Those banks which re-think the right parts of their business and re-think their offers are the ones that will go further.

A recent client of ours, Mews, is a prime example of a business driving fundamental change in the hospitality sector. On the face of it revolutionising the sector with its technology. But actually, all driven by a deep-rooted desire to transform the guest experience for the better forever.

  • Cloud-based. Tick.
  • Easy to use for guests and hotel professionals alike. Tick.
  • Solving a user problem, eliminating long check-in queues, allowing weary travellers to get to their rooms faster, adding buyable services at online check-in, and removing the check-in desk entirely allowing the owners, designers, and architects to make use of premium space in better ways. Tick.

What is the secret? It's a familiar tale. Behave as though every-day is ‘the first day’. Agile ways of working. Blended teams from inside the industry and outside solving the problems that matter. Technology deployed to service an enhanced customer experience, not the hotel’s business admin needs. The net result, staff who can focus on their guests who in turn spend more and enjoy more. Everyone’s a winner.

So, take these three simple methods and apply them to the banking sector:

  1. Understand why you are different.
  2. Find that energy and love of what you do to behave as though this is a great day,
    if not 'the first day'.
  3. Make the customer experience remarkable and memorable.

And even if banking is essential it doesn’t have to be tedious. Keep your eyes open to parallel sectors for inspiration. Think about what can you learn from using Netflix or Spotify for example and apply ideas to your banking app?

These ideas will help your offer to be different. For the right reasons. Drawing insight from outside can help shift your thinking outside of the norm of your sector.

But. And it’s a big but. Do it slowly at first. Fools rush in. It takes time to change the direction and course of a super-tanker. But a series of small changes can make for huge changes over time. Take time to bring everyone with you. An aligned team enthused at the opportunity will go further than a half-committed reluctant group.

The upside is huge. Get started. The times they are a-changing… but at your pace.

This article is part of a series published in Global Banking and Finance Magazine.

29th October 2020

The Chosen One

Author: Jesse Swash, Co-Founder Design by Structure

Jesse Swash

The lessons for the future lie in the past. The same truths still hold. This time the story is the consumer, technology is the agent of change and the tale is the customer purchase journey.

The world keeps changing – we can’t change that. Online growth has accelerated, fast-tracked during the pandemic, and from now on only going to grow. Instore continues to shrink – no surprise there. But in truth, it was struggling before lockdown and is unlikely to recover to its hay day.

The truth is that customers are still shopping. The lesson is that how they shop and how they pay is and always has been changing. Learn that lesson. Be on the right side of change. That means embracing the change agent. Embracing the ‘change technology’ enables the way we all shop and, for the purpose of this story, pay.

Instore. Online. Omni-channel, multichannel or, blended. However, we want to describe it there are two key choices. Physical or virtual. Place your bets, allocate your resources, email with offers, entice in-store, catch your customers however you can. That race is on and has been for some time.

But there is another race happening too: behind the scenes; in the pocket; in the wallets and smartphones of your customers and prospects. This race is, with whom will they will pay?

For the customer, the method of payment is becoming increasingly important. There are traditional credit cards. There are the disruptors such as Revolut and Monzo. There are the new(ish) arrivals of PayPal, Apple Pay and Google, who in turn are being challenged by the even newer and free-thinking Klarna.

So, the big question is, as a payment brand how to make sure you’re chosen by and loved by consumers and which brands do retailers lean on and learn to embrace. Decisions. Decisions.

Payments as an industry continue to grow (global payments revenues totalled $1.9 trillion in 2018 alone (McKinsey)). A market that big, no wonder non-banks and non-traditional players are entering to grab their share. The opportunity to disrupt and carve out market share lies in joining the dots in the customer journey. It used to be a channel choice to connect to the retailer. Now it’s a channel choice to the retailer then a wallet choice at the terminal.

The ability of consumers to opt for a brand at the point-of-purchase, to pay with a brand they choose or even love, changes the connection to the bank or financial service provider in a way many fail to grasp. The ties that connect the customer to the brand and weaker and weaker.

The Retail Disconnect
So, imagine you’re at the checkout page or in the store at the till. For a bank or payment provider, its name on the screen or the payment terminal is the key point of connection with you, their shared customer.

Don’t assume you’ll be the chosen one. When the customer can choose the payment provider that offers the best vouchers and rewards, will they choose you? When they can simply wave their phone or ‘Smile-to-pay’, when they never see your logo or brand, how do you build that relationship that keeps them by your side?

The answer always lies in the lessons of the successful brands and businesses from the past and focussing on the customer needs. Stores used to make you queue. The agile and customer focussed introduced self-checkout. The free-thinking added roving assistants that come with their own till. And the really clever took advantage of online to shift or blend their offer and drive huge fortunes.

Now take an extra step, instore or onscreen, work hard to re-invent and re-position your brand so you’re on the terminal or by the confirm purchase button.  Think what message this sends the customer. We’ve thought of you. We’re on your side. We’re your friend. We’re changing to suit your needs. Choose us. Stay with us.

Becoming ‘The Chosen One’
Some brands will be leaders, some innovators, but not all will survive. They never do. But none of those that seek to succeed can afford to avoid the cracking landscape of payments that is happening within banking.

The winners in the transactional world of retail and consumption need to be customer-focused, more responsive, and deliver the services their customers actually want. This is always the start of our advice to every FinTech we work with and help.

Make sure what you offer keeps adapting. Make sure your offer is driven by customer demands. Be relevant. Keep up with Apple and Google. Have a view on Klarna. In short, make sure you’re the chosen one, however, your customers want to pay.

Because the lesson the past teaches us this time. Only the chosen will survive.

This article is part of a series published in Global Banking and Finance Magazine.

1st October 2020

Experience Counts

Author: Jesse Swash, Co-Founder Design by Structure

Jesse Swash

Challenges and challengers. There have always been pressures and change forced upon banking as an industry and retail banking specifically. In just the last few years think of the heavier financial regulation, government-backed customer switching and ever-diminishing customer-trust. Add to this the threats of new entrants from outside the sector, with giants such as Apple and Amazon dancing around banking services and the emergence of digital-first disruptors such as Monzo and Starling – the secure world of banking, is looking ever more vulnerable.

The disruptors are the change agents. With brand new business models that place customer experience and engagement at the core of their thinking, they are eroding the loyalty (the cornerstone of any bank’s ability to retain and charge its customers) customers felt to established banks.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on where you stand, every SaaS success story has to have a loser too. And that SaaS success also tends to accelerate towards a point of no return, a tipping point where change moves out of the reach of an incumbent.

In banking it’s the ease-of-use where the transformation really lies. It’s no longer enough to have different kinds of accounts or interest rates and account charges. Now, sky-high consumer expectations built on experiences from other sectors are the driving change. Managing your money at your fingertips, facial recognition and payment without contact are just some of the new battlegrounds where damage is being inflicted.

It doesn’t stop there, traditional banks are being attacked from other angles too. Their very structure and set-up make it hard for them to compete with the agile service providers that are built around making life easier for consumers. There is concrete evidence of this change already happening. The ‘big five’s’ share of personal current accounts was 80% in 2016 and has dropped to 63% in 2019 (Centre for Economics and Business Research). Following decades of slow change, customers have voted with their accounts by switching to new banks that seem to better understand and serve their needs.

Taking all this into account, it is clear to everyone (who wants to see it) that the winners of the next round of banking will be those with services specifically around customer expectation and need. Now more than ever it is 'experience' that counts the most. It’s a harsh lesson that the retail and transport sectors have been forced to learn and the music industry before them. And as a sector which has a retail face, it’s something the established banks should embrace, quickly, genuinely and wholeheartedly if they are to continue and to prosper again.

But all is not lost and there is still much to play for. There are ways the banks can design and build their way to a more stable future. Here are the three pillars of experience as we see it.

Experience counts - listen and learn from the legendary.
Transforming an industry means collaborating with experienced people who understand and have a deep-rooted passion for the opportunity in the sector.

Disruptors will always come to market with newness and energy as their currency. They can see an industry differently and do things in a newer and sometimes better and more agile way. But even they can’t do it alone. The legendary innovators, from Gates to Jobs all surrounded themselves with people who had talents they could absorb and learn from, that would help them not to just continue to ‘think different’ but also to continue delivering and growing and building. This works both ways. The established players can just as easily listen and learn. The shortcut is advice.

Experience counts - borrow great ideas from other sectors.
The second lesson is to take and adapt the best customer experiences from other sectors and replicate their successes in your sector.

If you’re in ‘retail banking’ bring ideas and innovations from successful retailers, digital and physical to your operation. Why not be the first to have an advisory ‘style council’ like
Mr Porter or the stylist experience at Selfridges but for your banking needs. Or an Apple Genius Bar, which provides concierge-style support for Apple customers if you still have to have branches. Put the customer experience at the core of your business activity and their success can be yours too if you’re open to it.

Experience counts – live in data, it never lies.
Banks sit on a vast vault of customer spending data. What does it tell you, what can you learn, what can you do better?

Banks can leverage that data to make more informed decisions to build better experiences and products for their customers. Look at rewards programmes run by retailers with the vast amounts of product consumption data, which is used to provide seasonal rewards or preferred brand vouchers. So, have an idea, a theory, build the test, try it. Trust in the data. It will tell you what to do, what colour to change the button too, which page needs the most work on your new website. Success comes from hard work, analysis, and lots more hard work. But with data on your side, it will work.

Show them you know them.
So, how do you bring all these elements and ideas together to create a better experience for your customers, which keeps you in the game? It all distils to the same idea. Show your customers that you know them. Show your customers that you understand them. And most importantly, treat them as if they are your most important possession.

Experience counts. Experience and expertise will take you far. Learn from the legends of your industry and the SaaS successes around you. Learn how they are shaping customer expectations and experiences. And learn from what you already know, the data you have within your organisation.

Harness all these elements in the right way and you can win the experience battle. Because for your future to be a success, experience counts in large amounts.

 

This article is part of a series published in Global Banking and Finance Magazine.

7th September 2020

The Future of Banking is…

Author: Jesse Swash, Co-Founder Design by Structure

Jesse Swash

In the time of great change we’re living through, this ‘new normal’, where every service we used to visit physically can now be accessed with a swipe, a tap, a click or smile, it’s easy to think that something as established as banking could and should have changed far more than it already has.

Yes, there has been change but as with much of the disruption around us, whether food delivery or taxi-hailing, the reality is that the future of banking will still be banking. What will be different is it will not be banking as we know it and it will not be with who we thought it would be with. All the angles and services, where we borrow money from, where we deposit it, whom we pay via, and transact with are all areas ripe for change.

The very concept of banking, at its most basic, a safe place to hold your hard-earned cash and a means by which to make financial transactions, feels like it’s been around largely unchanged for an extremely long time. In reality, there has always been ‘change’ as people moved cash from their pay packet into bank accounts and on to cash machines and credit cards. Banks rode these kinds of change well, it suited them as they still had a grip on the source and the distribution. They grew into big companies and became significant, trusted brands, a dependable cornerstone of modern society.

In this way, technology has been a friend to these landmarks of our high street. But this time technology and its disruptive twin, customer experience, are back and this time it’s different. This time change is going further and right to the core.

The cracks in the foundations.
Disruptor brands have been picking away at the foundations of the commercial offers to customers, carving out successful niches with narrow service offers on our screens and our phones. This is what the first stage of disruption looks like, a niche player like Monzo promising to not just look after your money but also to ‘make life easier’. And it works. The millennials voted with their feet, well with their smartphones, with 4,544,716 of them (to date) signing up. Think early Virgin Atlantic, Tesla with only the model S, or even earlier Apple with a shiny new iPhone but no app store and you can see the parallels. Now comes the flood.

The difference this time around with this second wave is how we, as consumers, want to engage with and ‘consume’ the products the banks offer. Digital transformation of the existing banks up until now has been about replicating a service in a new channel. This time the driver is in rethinking the service offer completely. The winners in this space are B2C brands like Monzo, Atom, and Starling. B2B brands like iBanFirst and HiPay are already starting the process, fulfilling customer needs with new innovative products and service offers and ever more meaningful and user experience led ways that make the incumbents look like, well just that, incumbents.

Multiple choice.
Now for the future-gazing. What comes next is a seemingly sudden shift, that in reality has been seeded by the change in other industries, away from the idea of your financial needs and products all in one place, delivered by just one or two banks or building societies. Let’s call this the multiple-choice phase. It’s an important moment. The next generation has been conditioned to want more, better, faster and easier in all their services. Money is no different. It’s their money and they want to access it and use it in ways that suit them. And worryingly for the banks, they don’t care where they get it from and they’re happy to have it stored in multiple places. If you’re shaking your head, just remind yourself that a TV from John Lewis and a TV from Amazon is the same, but one is cheaper and will be delivered faster. And we all know who is winning that battle.

Once the idea of having some money here, some money there or an investment here and an investment there takes hold, the doors are open for new entrants to arrive and offer alternative destinations. At this point, we pass a tipping point where new feels exciting, and it gets harder for the established brands to respond.

New entrants, old friends.
Next to go are the sector lines. Businesses you already know and trust start to dip their toes into finance and payment with new products and offers, building on the loyalty their customers feel to them. It’s already started to happen, our friend or foe (depending on how you see it) Amazon has launched its credit card with rewards and benefits for use on its retail platform, and tech giant Apple’s card is expected to launch in the UK this year with a promise to re-think how we use credit cards. And we haven’t even brought up Google, Tesla, or even Nike. All these brands approach this market in the same way they transformed how we use and engage with their products. The effect of their presence will be profound, fundamentally changing the way we interact, think about, and access and use our money. The not so secret ingredients are trust, loyalty, and creating that feeling of belonging to a better tribe. Mixed and served correctly they will go a long, long way. For Apple, it’s even created the world’s most valuable company.

The smart money won’t be betting on the incumbents to win this competition. After all, how can you compete with an offer that doesn’t look or behave anything like yours? This won’t be a level playing field.

Power to the people
The final shift is in the power of the customer. This is where the acceleration happens. Once the idea of security and trust in established banking names is gone. Once the drivers are firmly established as a convenience, ease of use, and expectations around experience – ‘If I have a good experience financing my car, why not get a home loan from the same company?’ Once it’s clear that what matters is the quality of the product and the ease of experience in usage the doors are wide open. And once the doors are open and the reviews, posts, and ‘refer a friend’ tactics kick in, it’s very hard to see how anyone can compete with that...

After all, you can bet that the Apple credit card won’t be posted in a letter with a glue dab, that with a swipe or a smile you’ll be able to do things banks haven’t even thought of and that it will lead to multiple additional services with rewards and offers the established players can’t get close to.

Out-thought, out-imagined, and outmanoeuvred. That is what this change looks like.

All change
So, where does that leave banking? It will be a fragmented arena with accelerated change with the winners pivoting toward rich, meaningful customer experiences. Competitors are not likely to be traditional institutions, but brands from other sectors, such as retail, with a vested interest in owning consumer financial transactions. We are already seeing global giants, such as Amazon, making inroads into finance. It is comfortably fully immersing itself in people’s lives – shopping, home entertainment – and now the means of payment. With an experienced toe in the water, the opportunity to offer more financial products is an easy transition and an open invitation for others to follow.

Banking brands will have to raise their game and fight to remain relevant when customer loyalty is eroded, rich user experience is rewarded, and innovation and new service offers are expected. In times of great change, only the bold survive. The evidence of what can happen if incumbents don’t respond fast enough is all around us and the competition is experienced and motivated.

The future of banking will be banking, but not as we know it now and unless the established act quickly, not with who we use now.

This article is part of a series published in Global Banking and Finance Magazine.

11th November 2020

New Healthcare Tech Supports Covid 19 Crisis

–The new health chatbot, which puts people at its heart–

A new healthtech chatbot, Ask Ave, has been making a meaningful impact during the pandemic. While it was originally created to assist those with Cancer and their families, due to its flexible design it has been adapted quickly for use to tackle people’s concerns about Covid 19.

The health chatbot, which puts people at its heart, has played a huge role in NHS Scotland, supporting over 110,000 Covid-19 messages from concerned people during its soft launch alone.

Connecting during Covid
The power of talking is encouraged, especially right now during Covid-times. However, for some people, talking face-to-face or over the phone about illness can be difficult. Not only in terms of discussing their symptoms but getting the words out to describe how they feel. It’s about Human Equity, connecting with people is part of being human, but so too is the need to help those people who can’t.  It was on this basis that a new piece of health tech has been created and built– a platform that breaks down the barriers by allowing anonymity.

The chatbot has been so successful in engaging with those that would otherwise not want to discuss the situation that it is now being rolled out to deal with Flu immunisation and vaccine queries on the NHS Inform platform in Scotland.

The tech has revealed some interesting successes. It has been able to extend its reach to those that the NHS has struggled to engage with previously  These are people who are often usually lost in the system or would not engage and they are now better informed and able to protect themselves by simply have the ability to ask questions on their terms day or night.

Speaking about the new application Avril Chester said, We’re so pleased that we’ve been able to support our NHS colleagues at this difficult time, using concepts from our cancer chatbot to help people affected by Covid-19. Working with our technical partner Amido we have applied our joint learnings from working with Cancer Central and NHS Inform to drive growth, efficiency and innovation to Ask Ave to provide  people with a new way to quickly access reliable medical information.’

Rooted in support
Ask Ave is the brainchild of Avril Chester, who founded Cancer Central in 2018 following her battle with the disease. Avril noted the disparate channels to find support for practical issues and services such as local societies or taxi hire to deeply personal ones such as financial, hats or wigs. She founded Cancer Central, which won the Digital Leaders HealthTech innovation ward 2019, as a ‘cominovation’ platform: a hub where community and innovation gather to help cancer patients and their carer’s. To support this initiative, Ask Ave was created as a conversational search – a virtual assistant, which learns as it interacts with people.

Founder Chester said, ‘At conception stage of Cancer Central we ran a ‘hackathon’ with lots of bright minds in the technology industry asking: where shall we start and how best do we achieve the vision? A number of teams recommended to build a solution with a conversational search as people wish to ask questions during a time of need – the Cancer Central chatbot Ask Ave was born.

 Why Ask Ave? Ave is my nickname. I still feel very uncomfortable naming our chatbot after myself, but my board and advisory panel encouraged me to do so.’

Ask Ave is launching in December 2020 under its own brand which was created by Design By Structure. The agency was briefed to evolve the brand’s visual identity, modernising its aesthetic, making the logo so it’s more readable. Provide a clear proposition/ high level messaging so that people can understand what the service is about and an endorsement mechanic, ‘powered by’ lockup when it is licensed to a 3rd party. The chatbot was created with pro-bono support, engineered by Amido, hosted by Microsoft, and supported with SMS texts by Twilio.

This story first appeared in Health Tech World.