In case you missed it, or need a recap of our financial services-focused Fireside chat, our latest post details all of the key points of our online panel discussion with wealth management company, Quilter.
James Perrin
James Perrin

If you missed it or need a recap of our financial services-focused Fireside chat, this blog post details all of the key points of our online panel discussion with wealth management company Quilter. 

Event Synopsis 

Financial Services organisations often struggle to make change happen at the right pace. Projects are either too long, too complex, hindered by outdated methods and ineffective teams. In this Fireside chat, we explored faster transformation in Financial Services with our Head of Innovation, Seth Campbell, Head of Experience, Chad Garrett Cribbins, and Digital Proposition Manager from Quilter, Josh Crandon. In it, we addressed both the barriers for effective change and the ways your financial services business can speed up change with innovative and up-to-date methods and approaches. 


Head of Partner Experience, Sarah Jane Walker, introduced herself as host and after quick introductions, we kicked off by running a poll, asking the attendees which are the most likely barriers to digital transformation success. The two most popular answers, "risk-aversive culture" and "unable to experiment quickly", formed the basis of our discussion. 


The Problem 

Why do financial services companies struggle to transform at pace? 

Josh: There's a whole host of reasons, but a risk-averse culture is pretty much one the main ones. Culturally, FS has come from a place traditionally run by white, middle-aged, middle-class men who come from an actuarial background, so the world of digital is alien to them. But the digital world is changing; more diverse groups have a bigger say than the old traditional demographic. Also, financial services have been heavily regulated in recent years than ever before (all for good reasons). So there's always a balance between taking risks with keeping regulators happy. 

What slows down transformation? 

Seth: The sizeable infrastructure that larger FS institutions have developed is part of the problem. And the ability to break it down into constituent parts - what to fix, at what point and how to prioritise that. There is also a lack of shared customer insights and understanding of what user's need. There can be issues with the way transactions work end-to-end across the business, a single source of truth. There can be digital platform issues where the usability of technical or business components are low.  And difficult accountability structures and silos across teams.

In its worst case, you can view transformation as this monolithic project plan, but breaking it down can help with execution and help with this risk-averse perception. Trying things and experimenting can help get people used to the idea of change. But that said, you ultimately need an overarching purpose and vision to guide the business forward. 

Josh: A lot of what Seth has called out. I have seen these issues from day to day. We have recently put together a revised digital strategy which is broken up into smaller parts. And the board love it. Part of the reason they are approving is they are fed up with seeing massive transformation plans. The reality is that no business wants to work like that. We can better understand what we're getting from individual parts of a transformation plan. 

Is it only a problem for FS? Do you know of any other industries it affects and why?

Chad: Any large organisation with legacy systems that have piled on over the years. It doesn't matter what the sector is. The weirdest I've recently experienced was real estate and property, where document sharing was done via fax. This was a critical part of their system and the way they've always done things. And that's a big challenge, overcoming the mindset of "it's the way we've always done things". 

The Solution

How can FS companies speed up transformation? 

Josh: When we try to take on a large plan, we typically fail. So the key was to start small. We have been through our own experience with this. For example, with our public-facing websites where we had an overall goal to consolidate technology and improve the look and feel. We worked with Etch to set up a hybrid team - our own resource and Etch resource to develop one aligned team. This drove the rapid transformation of our public-facing website. It got to the point from a cultural perspective where there we no boundaries. 

From an organisation perspective, success here has brought us a lot of permission to do more. We have a lot of work to do as a result of trying this and succeeding with something relatively straightforward. We started with something small and achievable and got the license to do some much bigger things.

What are the key methods for faster transformation?

Seth: There are so many things you can use. We borrow from the boxes of lean startup and various methodologies within agile and design thinking. But it's really how you create innovation processes and get a team to collaborate on essential outcomes. A big part of what Etch do is capability building and orientating to a long-term purpose. 

One exercise we like to do with senior executives is to imagine how they would start their own challenger that would kill the business they currently work for. It develops different ways to get outside your current ways of thinking. And to conduct audience/customer research, so you don't believe your own assumptions. To identify needs in the market.

Josh: It's important to remember that everyone uses the internet and digital products. So getting a broader view is essential. not just you're own immediate working group. I find that design sprints are integral to our approach. The amount of ideas we get from them is just phenomenal. 

How can these methods and approaches be applied to other sectors?

Chad: A big dose of curiosity and a pinch of naivety. We need to empathise with other customers and cultures and the context in which the problem needs to be solved. It's about taking a look through different lenses. A recent study about successful startups showed that it tends to be those who are passionate about the problem but have no experience in the sector who are the most successful. So it's critical to have a different mindset to come in give alternative ideas.

Is there a right methodology e.g. waterfall vs agile? 

Josh: As a company, we're used to years of working with waterfall. We have dabbled with agile in the digital space. But one of the challenges is that many people band it about but don't apply it with enough rigour or discipline to make it successful. Our own lack of maturity using agile was overcome working with a team like Etch, who only know how to work this way. It worked very well within a hybrid team that we built together with Etch. 

The legacy can be seen in the fact that we're a team in demand. Teams come to us and ask us how to solve problems. I'm seeing an increasing number of areas of the company who have seen how we're working and see that we're having fun. They are trying their hardest to adopt our methods. But the battle is calling out where I see other areas of the business say they're doing agile but are really just being ill-disciplined.

Seth: There's no one way of doing things. It's about right-sizing your teams and methods depending on your businesses own level of maturity. For a method to be successful, you need discipline and structure and constraints to make testing and learning more comfortable. Another part of this is to get quick wins early on and show some upside - you create a bit of a magnet and could potentially secure funding to fuel other parts of transformation that are needed. Finally, you need to get the right balance between finding a safe-to-try circumstance where you can learn on the job and making sure there's enough resource for them to create the right level of documentation so these methods and techniques can be applied. 

Chad: People focus too much on methodology. Agile is a way to move faster, to test a theory. The ones who do it the best are the teams who trust each other and are comfortable working with each other. They get to the outcome faster.

The Results 

How much more effective has this approach been?

Josh: Again, our example of the public websites. The catalyst for increased funding across our digital estate is the great work we've done in this space. If we didn't work in this way, we'd still be fiddling around with the website, figuring out what we need to do. Fundamentally it delivered in its own right, but it's the legacy that's exciting. We now have the trust and confidence to use these methods to work more efficiently. The board have now given us the chance to embed the next digital change in a sizeable manner.

What has faster transformation meant to your team at Quilter? 

Josh: Employee satisfaction is generally high. The culture in the team is great. We have many people internally who want to join the team, so there's a feel-good factor. We've been through a recruitment phase, and the new starters are excited about joining such a forward-thinking team. I feel optimistic about the future and where it could go.

Questions from the floor 

What are the pitfalls of working both remotely and in the office? 

Josh: A pitfall of remote working is when some or none of the team go on camera. It doesn’t engender a sense of trust. You need the right team atmosphere.

Seth: The mixed nature is a challenge, for example, running workshops with people in the room or online. If one person is remote, then we all act remote. 

Chad: As Seth said, if one person is remote, we all act remote. The tools we use have been effective for this. We’re at a cool precipice of how we’re going to work in the future.

Do you find conflict with compliance and procurement when you need to innovate fast?

Josh: Engage early. I've recently written a framework of how I think we need to go about the data protection impact assessment for a digital product. This is important in our world. So I framed it in the context of broadly what we're going to cover, so we have a general idea of what we need now and in the immediate future, but nothing longer than that as we are delivering it incrementally. Having done the framework and engaged with the data protection officer early, they are now on board and writing the details for me! By bringing them early in the project, we won't have problems down the line. We often forget that the compliance team are also digital users. They do find this world interesting. We just need to find a way to engage with them.

To what extent is regulation and legislation a barrier to transformation? And how can we bend the rules? 

Josh: The FCA have the Sandbox environment you can make use of. It shows that the regulator is trying to embrace change and transformation. The regulations are there mostly for the benefit and protection of customers so do need to be taken seriously. But like I said earlier, the key is to get compliance on board early and bring them along the journey. 

Changing project lead during a project generally has a dampening effect - how would you navigate this?

Seth: Documentation in this instance is important, even in agile. Having the necessary documentation about the strategy, the project, and delivery will help any changes in the project lead. 

Chad: Change of a key person should be expected - you need to set up a programme that allows for change, particularly in long transformation projects. You just need to plan for it. Teams, customers, systems, change is going to happen, so plan for it. 


What's the one bit of advice for anyone needing to speed up their transformation efforts? 

Chad: To get a project complete, particularly in the world of agile, is a meandering road. What's key to stay on track is having a vision, a north star to rally everyone around. And then be comfortable with ambiguity. You're never going to know everything you need to know. Finally, there is this fallacy of a finished temple - this doesn't exist. It's an organic being that is going to change consistently and is constantly evolving. So we need to get comfortable with this, and having a vision and a north start can help. 

Seth: Foundationally, you need to get the view of your potential customer into your process throughout. It needs to be operationalised and always there. It throws assumption based thinking out the window faster. And ultimately, you can be led by the direction you see as a possible way to help the customer of tomorrow. 

Josh: Always have Kamila in your hybrid team! From a transformation perspective, find the small thing you can definitely do, and get the buy-in and grow from there.


If you'd like more information on how Etch can help your business get further, faster, check out our Starter For Twenty guide. And for more information about Etch's work with Financial services companies, visit our dedicated FS hub

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