Archive for the ‘Technological Change’ Category

Making Sense of High Tech In A Regulated World

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Why do so many managers, investors and Boards in financial services and insurance find the process of evaluating and making wise decisions about technology investments so darn difficult? After all, they probably spend more time “living” with some form of technology than their partner or children.

I was reminded of this in three separate conversations recently with the COO of a mid-sized global insurance company, a Private Equity Operating Partners community and the Head of the UK’s Wealth Management regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority.

All three agreed that the speed of technological advancement and the resulting impact on firms’ business models is likely to be the biggest catalyst for businesses to raise professional standards, transparency and the customer experience. Nothing like the fear of losing clients, key people or being labelled increasingly “irrelevant” to your future customers, to move money rapidly towards upgrading skills and technology.

Where I observe key decision-makers get lost is the conversation meanders towards how to use the technology (the inputs, the “cool” images and so on), not the outcomes (results) it achieves.

Try answering these three questions:

  1. We have the correct level of accountability within the organisation to enable the technology to dramatically enhance the relationship with our target clients and their dealings with our firm (legacy systems, silos, CRM systems, internal compliance etc)
  2. We demonstrably have people today (or we can hire them quickly) with the skills and volition to apply the new technology effectively and efficiently to our target clients’ needs. In so doing, dramatically increasing the quality of the target clients’ outcomes (increased revenues, increased productivity, increased peace of mind) while reducing the time taken, and the risks of meeting or exceeding their expectations.
  3. Our target clients with minimum assistance are able to quickly grasp the degree to which they are better served and personally better supported by the new technology. Client’s good deal = (Tangible Benefits over the duration + Intangible Benefits x impact on their well-being + Supplemental Benefits) / Investment Required.

So the investors, Board and top management of a health insurance company, who is considering a $10M investment in a new “tele-health” tool for a worldwide group of executive travellers, providing “real time” access to a  General Practitioner, they would want to readily see hard evidence or strong anecdotal reports from the firm’s research stating some or all of the following before committing to the investment.

  1.  Tangible benefits: increased speed of responding to and resolving health conditions, increased productivity, reduced time procuring treatment, greater accuracy and less duplication exchanging  information with the patient’s “home” doctor, reduced costs of healthcare expenses etc.
  2. Intangible benefit: increased peace of mind for the executive and his/her next of kin, increased reassurance about the quality and accuracy of the healthcare advice, less stress and so on.
  3. Supplemental Benefits: improved image for the employer, more fulfilled executives willing to travel to remote and hazardous locations, repeat business (new user groups within the same client or in different geographies demanding the same tool), unsolicited and solicited referrals to their peers with similar needs and so on.

If you cannot unequivocally state you are “highly” confident to each of the above questions, you have ground to cover before signing off on any proposed investment in new technology.

Technology is a tremendous boon in enhancing the customer experience in a regulated world (stopping fraud, speed of making electronic payments, accessing real time valuations) but in equal measure it can erode customer loyalty at lightning speed (automated telephone banking systems, overzealous ATM fraud protection protocol etc.).

Think about the client experience you want to see, feel and hear. Understand the impact the new technology has in enhancing the relationship and your dealings with your target clients . Never allow technology to replace the relationship with the client.

 

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Professional Services In A Social and Mobile World

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Business growth in professional services firms largely depends on people with bright ideas having the intellectual and financial means and the self-confidence to apply them without fear of failure. Yet when it comes to creating the right “technological environment”, management fears seems to hinder, not help the situation. The”fear” expressed is more often than not about: security, regulatory, productivity risks or a combination of two or all of those issues. Yet when top management are challenged there is often very little substantive evidence to support their decision. It comes down to the implied “trust” they have in their internal or external experts advice. When many of those managers don’t have a peer-level or trusting relationship with those individuals, is it any wonder that they err on the side of caution.

Here are what my best clients are doing:

1. A Firm-wide conscious effort to raise awareness of what is possible. Key people are held accountable for generating new innovative ideas, not just problem solving, where technology can heighten the quality of the firm’s relationship with its’ clients. It forms part of any personal accountability plans.

2. Time is physically scheduled in group and individual monthly calendars to generate and review new ideas and to push those along to a submitted proposal stage or bring the investigation to a close.

3. Reward and recognise great ideas and great behaviours. For example, one professional service firm has a policy of a £500 monthly award (or the local currency equivalent) to a family member, not the employee, for expenditure on IT hardware, software or training. The link with the family member is expressly to reinforce the priority the firm gives to education in the home.

4. A forced “strategic choice”. Any decision made must include “what”, “where”, “when” and “why” is the client better off and be supported by hard evidence or strong anecdotal observations. They don’t confuse the tactical decisions about “how” best to communicate or respond rapidly to the client’s expressed need (in person, by phone, by email or social media).

5. They take the emotion out of the logical decision-making process. For example, they are aware of and take personal biases out of the conversation (past experiences, vested interests, personal technological prowess or fears about “risk”). They equally don’t allow meeting times to be hijacked into a debate about the efficacy or use of technology in the office environment (use of Facebook or Instagram), which largely moves onto the terrain of employee grievances.

6. “Quick Wins” given top priority. One client, automatically, places at the top of the list any technological advancement that demonstrably will have an impact on clients within 3 months or less.

7. Senior Managers expected to act as “exemplars” of the right behaviours. For example, a global actuarial firm’s partners actively encouraged information to be exchanged by technology, not the creation of spurious need for meetings. The result a 70% elimination of internal meetings in a six month period. A law firm set expectations with clients that all Partners and Fee Earners would respond within maximum 2 hour response time to calls and routine email, 4 hour response to more in-depth questions. An insurance brokerage’s hiring requirements for mid and senior level Account Manager positions demands open-minded candidates with a track record of success bringing new innovative ideas to harness technology as a “means” to enable, not replace a higher quality relationship with their past clients.

There is no excuse for top management in professional service firms not creating the right technological environment to facilitate more impressive client relationships. What it does requires is that the firm has a “process”, not a collection of random actions which make little or no sense to the customer, the business partner, the employee or any other key constituent.

©    James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.