Building societies represent a stable sector of the UK retail financial marketplace - having been in business for around 150 years.
Their range of mortgages, savings and other products, such as life insurance are a mainstay of family saving and home-buying needs in the UK and beyond.
When I meet with my building society customers, I can’t look at their business without appreciating their brand values. They guide everything they do. They stand for trustworthiness, longevity, and being dependable. They provide a service, and often a wider contribution to the local communities within which they work. This is the very ethic of mutuality – for the benefit of their members.
Building societies operate as a safe haven for members’ funds, and at minimal risk. Customer service is a priority to attract and retain depositors and mortgage customers. So, it would be alien if these businesses turned on a sixpence and adopted bleeding edge technology. The organisations seek to provide a level of control that minimises risk. This manifests itself in a strong, often well-resourced, internal IT department and infrastructure managed on-premise by their own staff. But as I work with my building society customers, I also observe the headwinds they face.
Pressures are growing
Base rates remain historically low, and they’re expected to keep more cash on the balance sheet. Building societies have been hardest hit by the COVID mortgage breaks. It’s causing short- and medium-term cash flow and financial issues and is a real crisis. Branches are their hugely valuable face to their members, but also an expense when compared to the cost base of online competitors.
And in IT, the challenges include the need to stay ahead of the technology curve, ahead of the cybercriminals, and to maintain a high skill base within the team, despite the quickly changing landscape.
The Coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the need to reduce costs and increase adoption of digital channels that customers have a love or hate relationship with.
These are some of the questions my building society customers are asking themselves:
- How can we update IT infrastructure without risking that dependability, or adding cost?
- How can I continually upskill my people in new technologies?
- How do I buy more standard services that present less risk and need less support?
- How do I leverage the best network for my business with new technologies, such as branch SD-WAN, but avoid large transformation costs?
- I’m very aware I have more homeworkers. How can I secure my network?
- I worry about my business being targeted by cyber threats, such as ransomware, and how an incident might threaten my customers and our brand. How do I mitigate against these?
- How do I best migrate more of my more apps to the cloud?
- How do I enable my customer service teams to work from anywhere, and still manage compliance?
- What’s coming next in IT? How do I establish a longer-term IT strategy for my organisation?
I firmly believe the answers are more of an evolution from where we are today, and much less the need for risky transformation. Those strong internal IT teams are a real asset but may need support in their pinch points of knowledge, tools and skills.
IT teams should focus on business outcomes rather than technology specifications. You can leverage new digital services, and yet deal with any cyber threats effectively.
Getting the right infrastructure
Increasingly, you’ll need to coordinate services across your network and the cloud. For example, branch SD-WAN services can optimise performance and connectivity costs whilst offering additional benefits such as security. It helps if you can access advice, and the latest tried and tested network technologies.
Moving apps and workload to the cloud may all be the rage, but for many building societies, regulation, compliance and the certainty of having your data where you can ‘see’ it remain important. You need to seek out the benefits of cloud for your own data centre – such as more automation, increased productivity, and better visibility of your private infrastructure.
Getting the right collaboration tools
Your people now need to be able to work from any location. They’ve gotten used to pub quizzes on Zoom, but corporate grade services are important. You may benefit from moving to cloud-centric voice and collaboration services.
Such cloud solutions need to support compliance (recording, etc), be secure and be available on PCs, as well as mobile phones. If you’re getting by with a mix of Skype for Business, WebEx, Teams and Zoom, now’s the time to reflect on your strategy and get a more consistent secure service at a better price point.
Handling security threats
We recognise your need to maintain trust. But creating an internal fortress and worrying about security can hold your organisation back from making the right infrastructure choices. Your team will be working increasingly hard to secure your sophisticated environment and scale to counter the growing cyber threat.
In recent months, we’ve helped many organisations move their employees and call centre agent colleagues to homeworking and got them the VPN and related services they need. This has been far easier where they’re already using cloud-based contact centre technologies which have helped them to flex with demand. It’s also important to keep your costs predictable, and under control.
If your organisation is being affected in the current pandemic or you have any questions about accelerating digital services, please reach out to us. Whether it’s practical help or reassurance, we’re here for you.
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