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Prioritizing Human Connections: the journey to transforming traditional financial services with Lloyd’s Chief Digital Officer, Louise Smith

Louise Smith FS Kidz

How do you drive innovation in an organization that has been in business for over 250 years? This is the challenge that Louse Smith took on when she became Chief Digital Officer at Lloyd’s. Founded in 1765, Lloyd’s has risen to many challenges over the years, starting with 18th-century highwaymen who targeted bank messengers transporting funds to and from branches.

Louise Smith | Interview

Before starting at Lloyd’s in September 2019, Louise spent almost 9 years preparing the Royal Bank of Scotland (which includes Natwest) to meet the future head-on. She led their ‘Digital First’ strategy — leveraging her experience in customer experience, data, and analytics to differentiate the bank’s offerings to its customers.

Today, Louise faces very different challenges but the focus is still on ensuring customers know their money is secure and accessible. Louise is something of a one-woman financial services powerhouse. She’s passionate about leveraging technology to make financial services more accessible and inclusive: a reflection of her belief that she’s a “natural disruptor”.

She is also a Board Member and Chair of the Scottish Financial Enterprise FinTech Executive Group, was appointed a Government FinTech Envoy for Scotland, and is a regular contributor to The Scotsman, The Times, The Hindu, and Women in Technology.

How she has enough hours in the day to get this all done, we’ll never know…

What changes and themes have you seen in financial services over the course of your career?

If you’d asked me 5 weeks ago, I would have given you a different answer! There are 3 main themes coming to the fore right now:

  1. How do we support both people and businesses? How can we get money to those who need it as quickly as possible?
  2. People want to access financial services in new ways. We live in a 24/7, always-on culture, and those expectations are filtering through into our industry.
  3. How can we effectively use the data that’s at our disposal? The key is to make sure that we never forget it isn’t our data. It belongs to the customers and our job is to keep delivering value rather than simply exploiting the information we have. 

In general, I feel like the industry’s becoming better at communication, especially in light of recent circumstances — we’re more tolerant, more patient, and more understanding of everyone’s conditions… I feel more connected to people than I’ve ever felt before. This is part of a wider trend. Customers these days are demanding more of companies: they want them to be human, to have opinions and to do good, not just produce good products or services.

What role does data play in transforming financial services?

Data seems to be playing an increasingly large role in facilitating better conversations with customers — the financial services industry is increasingly focused on creating human connections. The focus is now on consumers, not on products.

However, there are very few businesses that use data (or digital) well. Organisations really struggle to put data and digital at the heart of their business models, but if you manage this, they’ll be the guiding force behind everything your business does. 

Having a ‘digital-first’ approach isn’t just about making the old stuff better; it’s about making new products, processes, and services. Adopting a consumer-first mindset is the key to all of this. Listen to your customers and leverage your data as much as possible. You need to have people on your team who are focused on this every single day — there’s plenty of research out there, but at the end of the day, the real breakthroughs are made by people who are desperate to make positive changes and are brave enough to try new things.

Can you share an example of a consumer-first product or service you have been involved with?

‘Emergency or Get Cash’ as it’s called now — is something that I helped create at Natwest/RBS. Basically, it’s a way for our customers to get cash without their card. We’ve all been there – in a rush to leave the house, you forget your wallet at home or you make an online purchase and don’t put your card back in your wallet. The inconvenience of having to run back home or ask a friend, family or colleague for money was a problem we identified with and wanted to solve.

We rolled this out way before Apple Pay was a thing. It’s a great showcase of how innovative you can be if you adopt a genuinely customer-centric approach.

How do you keep adapting amidst an ever-changing industry?

Adaptation is the key to evolution — it’s as simple as that. First, you need to be open to learning and listen. You need to be curious – challenge both yourself and the people around you, and try to be as much of an influence as you possibly can. If you can single-handedly start an industry-wide conversation, then that’s great! Adaptation always starts small, a few people wanting to make a difference having a conversation, all respecting each other — a tiny kernel of an idea can eventually grow into something revolutionary, provided you get enough people to believe in the idea.

Massive Rocket Theory

Data-Led Humanity

It might sound strange, but the increasing focus on customer data might actually be making businesses more human. The data that we analyse has to have some context behind it — after all, it’s produced by real humans having real experiences with real products and services… And it’s almost impossible to make any sort of data-led change that doesn’t end up having a real, human impact. So let’s look at some common areas where data analytics can be used to enhance your brand’s humanity — and ultimately improve both your customer experience and your bottom line:

1. Product Development

By analysing your customer data, you’ll begin to piece together your consumers’ pain points, which should in turn guide the products that you develop going forward.

2. Price Setting

Analysis might reveal that your competitors, who have a 10% lower average price across a similar range of products, have 15% higher annual revenue. This can help inform your pricing strategy as you move forward.

3. Improving your user experience

Whether it’s in-app, in-portal, or on your website, you should constantly be on the lookout to make your customers’ lives easier. You might see that the majority of your customers lapse after visiting a certain page. Is it too complicated? Is there something offensive on the page? Data can help you identify issues and inform potential improvements.

4. Personalisation

Personalisation is a huge talking point right now — and rightly so. People like nothing more than a tailored experience for them as individuals. Take Amazon: their carefully curated list of items is something we take for granted and for many people, it probably goes unnoticed. But we know this feature is a culmination of years of effort and mind boggling amount of data crunching and experimentation.

Personalisation makes consumers feel like you’ve got their best interests at heart… And data is the catalyst for all great personalisation efforts. Determining what data to collect and how to use it, while still managing customer privacy concerns, can be a difficult process, but if you get it right, you can find the specific data points you need that really help you understand how your customers behave and what they need. This can allow you to build a truly user-focused experience and a very powerful tool to make customers’ lives easier.