Cardiff Capital Region’s fintechs, like most businesses, have had to make some big changes in the way they work during this coronavirus pandemic.
Being technology based businesses, however, they were probably better placed than many to make the adjustment to a remote model of working.
That’s certainly been the experience of James Christian, development director of Backbase, a global provider of digital banking platforms for the finance industry. The company is headquartered in the Netherlands where it was founded in 2003, but has run an R&D centre in Cardiff since 2017, employing 65 people there.
James explained how Backbase was able to adapt rapidly to a new way of working.
“Compared to other industries we are relatively well set up, we’re often working with colleagues and customers around the world, and our key systems are cloud based. Our ICT team did a really good job provisioning the VPN capacity,” he said.
Nevertheless, the company had never had all its staff working from home before, and like many companies had to learn how to operate best under the new conditions. It was helped by the creativity of its teams and their agile approach to working.
“Each team has its own processes, they’re very agile. Teams have been having regular weekly reviews of how things are going, keeping an eye on their key performance indicators. We’ve seen a quick shift to digital whiteboarding for all manner of activities; facilitating feedback sessions, planning and the like.”
Which is not to say there haven’t been lessons to learn along the way. The reliance on video conferences could itself become a distraction and a hindrance to efficient work.
“We saw a lot of meetings being booked in, people were saying they feel like they’re on meetings and video chats all day. So we went away and did some research on how you move away from this reliance on meetings.
“Sometimes managers, if they can’t tap someone on the shoulder for an answer, will call a meeting, which gets quite distracting.”
Management has also had to show an awareness that employees are having to juggle work and other commitments in difficult conditions.
“Before, working from home was more of an occasional thing for most of us. Balancing work and childcare has been a challenge for a few people, so we’ve had to be more flexible and understanding,” James said.
It’s not just in workplace relationships that people have had to learn a new flexibility; meetings with clients and customers are also now done from people’s homes.
“I’ve had video chats with people with kids on their laps,” James said, adding that people appreciate it if you are accommodating to their non-business commitments.
Backbase works with around 80 large financial firms around the world, chiefly banks and credit unions such as HSBC, Metrobank and Virgin Money in the UK, helping them with their digital transformation.
“We’re essentially a platform that delivers the customer facing channels, online websites, mobile apps, and increasingly we’re spending time building out the employee experience as well,” explained James.
You might expect customers to put off purchasing and investment during the crisis, but this has not been the case for Backbase’s clients, as James explained.
“What we’re finding is, the more agile an organisation is, they’re still making those big decisions and they’re making them fast, because they’re having to adopt very quickly. If anything they’re telling us this is going to accelerate and intensify the digitisation of their processes and the user journeys that they want to support. This is not just in terms of the end users, there’s also this really interesting focus on their staff,” he said.
“One of our customers told us they saw a 7 times increase in the number of people enrolling onto their digital platforms in a week, so already they’re seeing the benefits of investing in digital onboarding platforms such as the ones we produce.”
In a world in which word of mouth recommendations are important, banks with a strong digital presence are going to come out of the pandemic particularly well, James adds.
“We anticipate bank customers will be increasingly influenced by their online experience; it’s the only way they’re going to be experiencing their banks at present,” he said.
Backbase’s customers are also revisiting their continuity plans in the light of their Covid-19 experience. Previously, many banks’ continuity plans were based around ensuring their customers’ could continue to access physical cash; but with people switching to online shopping and cash payments discouraged in the few shops that remain open, enabling and extending credit has become more important.
“Our customers have told us that what they really value is flexibility in the products they’ve adopted, so all of a sudden we need to change the rule set so people can access credit,” James said.
And as banks and credit unions close branches and shift to where their customers are, i.e. online, more investment is going into end user experiences. “One of the projects we have in Cardiff at the moment is trying to create a great experience, pulling together these systems they have but trying to streamline them and put the focus back on the customer relationships.”
The aim is to recreate the personalised experience bank customers enjoy when they visit their branches. “How do we optimise and streamline the time to get to the information that the customer support representative needs to get access to, so you can really have a meaningful conversation,” said James.