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More, with less

No business ever stands still, and never has that been truer than in the last twelve months. Like countless other businesses, we’ve had to change and adapt to respond to different ways of working and different customer demands, double-quick.

And one of the reasons we’ve been able to do that is down to our Operational and Business Change teams. They work in tandem to identify, prioritise and support changes to business processes and have done this for a long time – but their workload has gone into warp speed over the last couple of years, as we’ve tasked them with transforming and modernising our business… and this was before the pandemic took hold.

Their brief is broad but can be summed up in a few words: do more, with less. Less time, less faff, less paper… you get the idea.

We sat down with Steve Allott and Cat O’Brien – who work within Operational Change on the Personal Finance and Commercial Finance sides of our business respectively – to recap what’s happened so far, what’s next, and what’s on the road ahead.

So folks – what are the big headlines from the last 12 months?

Steve: “Well, aside from you-know-what and getting everyone working remotely at the drop of a hat – no mean feat – one of the biggest projects we’ve rolled out in recent years is paperless underwriting, which we’ve now deployed across both Personal and Commercial Finance.

“We’ve talked about this before, so I’ll not go over it again. But in short it saves all sorts: time, paper, storage, effort, and transport emissions too.”

Cat: “The other big one is the launch of our app, in partnership with Nivo. This means we’ve been able to replace lots of the correspondence created during the application process – whether that’s emails, or forms, or whatever – with a single digital ‘conversation’. It’s secure, and means we can do things we’ve never done before, like accept digital forms.

“Initial feedback has been fantastic, so we’re now looking at how we can make even better use of it… although that might just mean operational efficiencies that a borrower would never see, other than a faster application experience.”

Steve: “We rolled this out in early January for direct Personal Finance customers, and like Cat said the initial feedback has been really positive. We’ve also built in live customer feedback, so we capture how users are feeling about the app right there and then. One great thing about our partnership with Nivo is that we can often make changes to the app ourselves straight away based on that feedback, with only some slight tweaks needed in the background. Great, right?”

Impressive! So what’s next?

Cat: Electronic disbursements – basically, automating all payments when we’re funding someone’s loan. This means people see their money all-but-instantly when we tell them we’ve issued the funds. It’s a complex project but we’ve got the background works done, and the next couple of phases will be delivered later this year.”

Steve: “In Personal Finance, we’ve just recently introduced income verification. We can now, on some applications and for some customers, automatically verify income by cross-referencing what someone says they earn with what their credit file says they earn. It’s not often offered by specialist lenders; it’s the kind of thing that the big banks tend to do – and now it’s our turn.

Cat: “We’re investigating whether there’s something similar we can do in Commercial, but it’s harder when the application is being made in a business’s name. Watch this space.”

Steve: “We’re also working on introducing paperless Direct Debits too. It’s well overdue and already we’ve started accepting photos of completed mandates through our app, but at the moment we still require a wet signature – so you need to print the mandate off, or wait for us to issue one in the post.

“When the project is complete, we’ll be able to validate bank details and accept the information electronically – which means we can eliminate paper mandates almost 100% of the time for personal applications, and around three-quarters of the time for commercial applications.”

Neat. Talk to me about documents.

Cat: “Documents are our business, at the end of the day, so we’ve got lots planned to improve them. From early April we’re going to start simplifying our application documents. We’ve madechanges to our processes and policies over the years, but haven’t always updated what we ask for to reflect those changes. So we’re fixing that, removing duplication where we can, and capturing some information digitally instead.”

Steve: “A little while ago, Cat’s team supported a huge document review project for many of our Commercial Finance legal documents, to ensure they’re easy-to-use, appropriate, and reflect the quality standards we set for ourselves. Now it’s my turn to do the same for Personal Finance documents, and we’re just in the process of getting our Business Change teams on board.

“Since we’re a regulated business, they’re already tightly controlled – but we’ve built them in a way that means we have to update each template individually, and this is very time-consuming. As you can imagine there are a lot of documents involved, so it’s not an overnight fix.”

This all sounds like great news for brokers and new customers. So what are we doing for our existing customers?

Cat: “There’s a really big one that people have wanted for a long time: digital customer service. We’re working on introducing anonline self-service portal through our website. By the end of this year, we hope to start issuing correspondence to customers electronically, alerted via email – which would save a huge amount of paper and postage costs each year.

“That’s phase one. We’re now at the point of scoping out a roadmap for future changes – would people want to request redemption figures online, change their bank details, or even chat live with an agent? This is all up for discussion.”

Steve: “Last of all is probably the most important. We’re about to launch some improvements to how we’ve systemised our Forbearance toolkit for customer-facing teams. Although they already have the necessary tools and options to support customers who are struggling to meet their payments each month, some of them need to be applied onto our systems manually – which just takes extra time.

We’re taking this opportunity to make the current processes as lean as possible, and then automating them. It’s great news for our colleagues, as it means with just a few clicks of the mouse – what did take a while, now takes no time at all.