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Digital and innovation in a changing world

New working practices took centre stage at the NatWest Digital & Innovation Showcase as delegates assessed the wide-reaching impact of coronavirus.

Last updated: 26 Oct 2020 7 min read

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Despite the challenges of recent months, NatWest’s Digital & Innovation Showcase went ahead with a few changes. Staff and speakers gathered virtually to discuss topics such as the digital future, sustainability, industry disruptors, the future of work, and trust and protection, as well as take part in a variety of workshops.

Speakers ranged from NatWest leaders to fintech experts, and as well as developments in the digital world, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic was never far from the debate.

In the morning, delegates tuned in to a discussion on customer and business disruptors.

Led by Tim Tor, head of Bankline Direct product at NatWest – with contributions from Veronique Barbosa, COO of Flux; Marieke Flament, CEO of Mettle; and Dan Globerson, head of open banking and payments for NatWest – the conversation covered the anticipation and effects of open banking, and social networks potentially getting into fintech.

The panel also considered the changing expectations of their customers and how lockdown has accelerated our digital use.

Flux’s Veronique Barbosa told the audience the digital receipts platform saw “10 years’ worth of digitisation in a matter of months, especially in the retail sector”.

She added: “We all held our breath when lockdown hit. We saw from consumers a really material uplift in online spend in that period. What we’re seeing now is huge demand for contact-free experiences.”

Marieke Flament of Mettle, NatWest’s digital bank account for sole traders and limited companies with up to two owners, stated: “From a customer perspective, we’re seeing a trend of wanting to talk about different topics, including the rise of Black Lives Matter. We’re also talking more openly about mental health, even with our customers,

and sustainability and the planet. All this feels like a pivotal moment with important topics coming together that are at the heart of our customers’ concerns.”

Meanwhile, NatWest’s Dan Globerson explained: “Customers’ expectations are being driven by their private lives, and that is seeping into the corporate world, which creates an expectation that they should be digital, things should be frictionless, things should be easy.”

A generational shift

Living in the shadow of coronavirus, and its impact on working practices, was a consistent theme of the session on the future of work, with James Waud, head of large corporate sales and inbound banking at NatWest, and speakers Susan Fouquier, MD of Business Banking Scotland; Jibran Ahmed, executive director, digital and R&D, at management and technology consultancy Capco; and Aneesh Varma, CEO and founder of credit bureau Aire.

The panel discussed the factors driving change in working practices, especially employee expectations around work-life balance, in particular working from home and flexible hours.

Jibran Ahmed alluded to a generational skew, commenting that as Generation Z enter the workforce, they see work as “something you do, not somewhere you go”.

He added: “Gen Z is the first generation to never have experienced life without the internet. They just don’t understand a non-connected world. If you consider life from their perspective, it’s very different to how we as senior leaders grew up, where we were on the cusp of technology being the driver of everything in financial services.”

“We’re talking more openly about mental health, sustainability and the planet. All this feels like a pivotal moment with important topics coming together that are at the heart of our customers’ concerns” Marieke Flament, CEO, Mettle

Susan Fouquier made the point that while many basic administrative tasks no longer need to be carried out in an office, there is still a basic urge to see colleagues. “We’re social creatures and want to spend time with each other and our customers.

“It’s hard to understand the culture of a business or enterprise when you can’t be face to face.”

Old and new approaches to caring for staff

The importance of the emotional well-being of staff in relation to office-based work was also discussed, with Aneesh Varma suggesting bosses take a more old-fashioned approach in the digital and connected world.

He said: “Meeting in person is not possible at the moment, but what about the idea of writing a card to acknowledge somebody for a hard piece of work they did over the last few weeks? It’s small gestures like that where someone receiving it on the other end will feel: ‘Oh great, it’s not just another emoji coming over Slack saying: “Well done”.’”

Issues around the limitations of virtual communications were discussed, including concerns that staff tend not to be forthcoming on video calls and, as Susan Fouquier stated: “Coaching conversations are more effective when you’re with someone.”

There was also debate about the perceived inflexibility of larger companies and creative working practices, due to their focus on long-term planning. Younger employees who don’t expect a job for life or prefer a project-by-project portfolio career could be more attracted to dynamic and versatile start-ups.

And as Jibran told the audience, when it comes to employers monitoring workforce productivity, not only will that impact negatively on the company culture, but data from laptops won’t be as effective as a healthy discourse on the needs of staff.

The ever-present threat of cybercrime

Working from home was a theme in the afternoon session on trust and protection, when the panel discussed cyber threats and fraud, and changes seen during the pandemic and resulting lockdown. Chaired by Kate Litler, COO at NatWest Ventures, the session featured Nick Perkins, director of fraud prevention at NatWest; Neil Coutts, director, cyber security and technology risk at KPMG; and Matt Mills, chief commercial officer at Featurespace, the leading provider of enterprise financial crime prevention software, who considered the biggest cyber threats facing the financial sector – including how working from home has affected security.

Nick Perkins told the audience that cybercrime is a “really big problem for us, and society”.

He explained: “Fraud is the number-one crime in the UK. More people fall victim to fraud than any other crime. Our customers are under attack every day, and the bank is under attack every day.”

Neil Coutts reflected on the response of banking giants to security breaches. “Banks are under regulatory pressure to show they’re resilient,” he said. “Not that they never go down, but if they do there’s a credible plan that as quickly as possible it’s recovered and any harm done to the customer is minimised.”

Matt Mills said: “How much banks invest tends to come out of how much pain they’ve seen. Sometimes you get challenger banks grown out of large banks and we find they tend to take the financial crime and fraud threat very seriously, as it will have a reputational impact for the large bank as well. Some of the newer banks, which don’t have a link to traditional banks, have the desire to build these things themselves. They think it will give them control over the good customer experience versus the potential fraud losses, and until they have the big losses, they’re not going to get the balance quite right.”

Advising the audience on how best to avoid falling victim to scams, Mills said: “Question everything. Perhaps the older you are, perhaps the more polite and trusting you are. You need to be willing to question things when you get invoices, calls, emails.

“Don’t think of fraud as something that affects you and the bank. Fraud is not a crime in isolation, it’s used to fund horrific crimes.”

And to fight it, businesses have to have to adapt. Keith Middlemass, chief digital information officer, commercial banking, at NatWest, said: “Due to different ways of working and living across the globe, more businesses than ever are engaging with us through our customer-facing digital channels and services. As we saw through this showcase, we are continuing to evolve and enhance our products, technology and solutions so our customers have access to the services they need now, and that can help them thrive in the future.”

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