Tectonic changes in regulation and society have transformed the UK’s once stodgy pension and savings industry, creating vast new numbers of customers, giving current ones new expectations and responsibilities, and daring providers like Standard Life to change along with them.
“We’d traditionally focused on B2B, just like other companies in our sector,” said Stephen Ingledew, Managing Director, Customer & Marketing at Standard Life (UK and Europe), noting that the company had a 190-year history innovating its relationships with employers and intermediaries.
“We needed to change our culture to understand our end customer far more than we ever did before.”
The transformation started three years ago, with the board blessing a set of core principles focused on addressing consumer needs.
“We formed a prototype, cross-functional team, and gave it regular access to customers to inform and test their ideas,” Ingledew said, adding that they were none too happy when he named the group Team Funky.
“They work in squads and tribes,” Ingledew explained. “A squad of about 15 people from a variety of disciplines will take on a specific challenge or opportunity, and then break into tribes of 3-4 people to accomplish particular tasks. As a highly regulated company that can even mean digital build experts, user experience and regulatory or compliance experts forming a tribe.”
The approach began changing the company as it changed its customer relationships. Projects got more focused, and timeframes shorter, which yielded quicker and more frequent decisions.
Conversely, the organization learned that failing fast was an important tool for innovation, but that it wasn’t synonymous with going off with ideas half-cocked.
“Early on, we developed an online education tool based on the enthusiastic first insights we got, but it didn’t engage the way we expected,” Ingledew said. “Next time, we did six iterations of customer insights early on, and then let ourselves take a bit longer to develop the solution.”
Also, senior leaders have had to learn to adapt to an environment in which they issued fewer directives, and spend more time being coaches and supporters to teams that, as Ingledew describes, have a policy that “we don’t do hippo” (which stands for “highest income person’s point of view”).
“The teams are closest to the customer, not us.”
An informal recognition system has evolved organically from the engaged teams: For instance, a bell will get run when a team has gone live with a new service, or customers has availed themselves of a benefit. Perhaps more intriguingly, these newer behaviors have started to yield innovations that Standard Life is now applying to its “old” B2B operations.
The scope of the changes cannot be understated. Standard Life has acquired over 600,000 new customers over the past few years, thanks to the employer auto-enrollment mandated by the government, and has produced a number of new ways to inform and engage with them. Its 55 year-old+ customers have been given the freedom to control their own pension savings, which has also brought forth a number of planning and management tools.
And every customer must now be afforded high transparency on costs and commissions, which has moved Standard Life to innovate both its pricing and business partnerships.
“We’re proud of our heritage, but it doesn’t guarantee the future,” Ingledew said. “We’re inventing new standards for customer engagement and, in doing so, innovating the very way our businesses operate.