It’s hard to overstate the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the physical, mental and economic wellbeing of millions of people. There’s a clear imperative for individuals, families and businesses to quickly build their resilience against further disruption – and a clear obligation for the Financial Services industry to support that.

But it’s hard to define what that support should look like when the change landscape is so volatile. On one hand, there’s a race to adapt to an ambiguous ‘new normal’ – but on the other, many banks and businesses are still in triage.

To get some insights into this question, June Sarpong OBE spoke to Carl Woolfenden, Head of Change Delivery at The Co-Operative Bank, and Marie Hannigan, Senior Regional Vice President, Banking, Salesforce UK, for the final part in our Road To Resilience webinar series.

Read on for a brief summary of some of the key points raised in the webinar. Get more in-depth insight by watching the webinar in full.


How the bank is satisfying customers in a crisis

The Co-operative Bank (Co-op Bank) looks after the banking needs of around 86,000 SMEs (as well as 750 co-operatives, 5,000 charities and 200 credit unions). The pandemic has left a perilous environment for small businesses in its wake, and over the last five months Co-operative Bank has stepped up its efforts to minimise disruption and stabilise the situation. “We’re supporting our SME customers in all sorts of ways,” says Carl. “We’ve waived arrangement fees for overdrafts and loans, for example. We’re also participating in governments schemes such as CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme) and bounce back loans.”

The bank has also deepened its relationship with SMEs, acting in an advisory capacity as a source of trusted information and frequent communication. “Our relationship managers have been in constant contact with our customers,” says Carl. “And we’ve been providing information through our branch network, call centres, and our online business hub, our Digital Bees have also been achieve.” Unsurprisingly, the reaction among Co-op Bank’s customers has been overwhelmingly positive – and it’s telling that the bank’s NPS scores have risen during the crisis. 


How digital transformation set the bank up for success

The pandemic hasn’t simply disrupted established ways of working; it’s also accelerated change that was already underway. That’s why Co-Op Banks’s decision last year to embark on a £32 million ‘customer first’ digital transformation set them up so well to support disrupted customers with mature digital services. (£15m funded by the CIF funding and £17m of Bank Investment). “We’ve always been guided by what our customers need,” says Carl. And what those customers need – and increasingly expect – is more convenience, more accessibility and more agility. 

“We’ve already given our retail customers the access they need to their bank statements via their mobiles,” explains Carl. “And later this year we’re launching a mobile banking app for our SME customers that will enable them not only to look at, but also to manage, their finances, wherever they are.”


Why agility is vital – for the bank and its customers

After nearly half a year in lockdown – and staring down an impending recession – banks and SMEs alike need technology and processes laser-focused on driving agility and efficiency. And thanks to its timely transformation, Co-op Bank is already ahead of the curve. For example, where last year it would have taken an SME customer an average of 10 days to open a new account (a long time to wait in a time of rapid change), 85% of customers can now open a new account within one day. And it isn’t just Co-op Bank’s customers who are benefiting from digital agility – it’s Co-op Bank, too.

“Our transformation has given us the agility we need to deal with the unexpected challenges we’re having to meet every day,” says Carl. He continues: “Now we can make the right decisions at the right time ­– and act on them immediately. Without that agility, we might not be able to support our customers – and ourselves – in this time of need.”


Why the ‘new normal’ might not be all-digital

Digital agility and adaptability have been a major source of resilience throughout the crisis – both for Co-Op Bank and their customers. But in refining what the elusive ‘new normal’ might look like, it’s important for banks to understand the relative permanence of different kinds of change – some elements of the old world will survive the transition. For instance, the acceleration of customer convenience in recent months is likely to stick around.

“Our customers have had to adapt to digital during this time, and they’ve seen the benefits they can get out of it,” says Carl. “They’ve realised how convenient it is to do their everyday banking digitally.” “For SMEs, this convenience is going to be critical in the coming months and years,” says Carl. “They’ll need to be able to manage their cash flow on a day-to-day basis. Digital banking will make that a lot easier.” But that doesn’t mean all banking is going to stay purely digital once restrictions lift.

While everyday banking can be conducted online, for “moment of truth” decisions, Carl believes that customers – particularly SME owners – will still prefer to visit branches for face-to-face consultations.


How technology will help maintain a human touch

It’s a similar story when it comes to remote working. While it’s possible that work can be carried out exclusively digitally, that doesn’t mean it will be. Currently, 90% of the bank’s head office staff are working remotely, and productively.  But many are missing the in-the-flesh interaction of working on-site. The bank has been keeping a close on eye on employee wellbeing throughout this period – and has been using technology to understand which employees are most urgently in need of a return to the office.

“We’ve been conducting check-ins via video-call,” says Carl. “And being able to see people’s body language has really helped us to identify who is struggling – even if they’re not saying it.” Technology is also set to help the bank identify struggling customers. By monitoring customer data, the bank will be able to identify customers who are at-risk of defaulting – and engage its relationship managers to assist them.


The key capabilities banks will need going forward

When asked by June about the what the next ‘normal’ for banks will be, Carl is understandably reluctant to make a prediction. As he says: “We’ve never been in this type of crisis before.” But he is confident in predicting what businesses will need to succeed in whatever the ‘next normal’ turns out to be. “The key will be the relationship you have with the customer,” he says. “And the support you give them will be fundamental.” 

Marie Hannigan, VP of Banking at Salesforce, agrees with Carl – and has identified four key technological trends in the Financial Services industry that suggest how technology will help banks build these supportive relationships.


You can find out what those trends are, and how they relate to Co-op Banks’s story, by watching the webinar in full.