How will you know when your clients are sick as a parrot?

Comparing the running of a business with managing a football team is a well-rehearsed analogy, best articulated by arguably the greatest of them all, Sir Alex Ferguson.

After vacating the dugout for the last time, the former Manchester United manager was invited to participate in a study at Harvard Business School so that company bosses could learn about his unparalleled longevity and success in the game.

A subsequent report identified not one, but six, key themes that had influenced his career and made him a serial winner.

When I started to look at how professional services companies listen to, and interact with, their clients, the football analogy hit me like a thunderclap.

When they want to know what they are doing well and badly and what they should do in the future, the default for most firms is still to conduct a survey.

The platform may change – most are now done through online questionnaires rather than face-to-face or by telephone – but the methodology remains the same and has done for decades.

Essentially, firms ask their clients a series of questions – some may commission an agency to do the work while others will do it themselves, in-house – the answers are collected and sifted, meanings interpreted and converted into ‘findings’, which are then compiled in a report that’s presented to decision makers.

The process is formal, lengthy, and often expensive and, as such, it is done periodically – at most quarterly but more often annually, or even longer.

While surveys have the benefit of being detailed and exhaustive – companies committing significant resources to such exercises will want to ensure they have covered all the possible bases – they are also limited, in that they can only ever represent a snapshot in time.

By the time board members get to read what their clients think about them, the responses may be several months old and no longer relevant. Whatever issue the questions sought to address, things may have moved on, the situation may have been resolved or become exacerbated.

So, where does the football analogy kick-in? It struck me that businesses commissioning an annual customer opinion survey, is equivalent to a Premier League football manager waiting until the end of the season before offering any coaching advice to their players.

That is clearly absurd and any team that operated such a system would inevitably be relegated. As anyone who follows about football – or any other team sport – will tell you, players need to be constantly coached, informed, cajoled, and encouraged.

New tactics need to be employed, depending on circumstances, systems used and adapted and setbacks responded to. Individuals who are not performing well may need to be deployed in other roles, given a break on the side-lines, or moved on.

Of course, all managers should also do an end-of-season debrief, so that their players can learn from their mistakes as well as their successes, but it must be as part of an ongoing system of continuous feedback.

Just as a coach will alter their tactics from match to match, a business owner should be able to react to client feedback while their work with them is ongoing, rather than at the beginning or the end of a project.

Asking a client for feedback several months into a contract, will inevitably provide information about how they view progress and the quality of the work at that moment.

But it will not cover things that have been done well or badly at the start of the process, or things that have yet to happen. Crucially, it will not provide feedback on whether the business has fulfilled its brief and met all of its targets outlined at the start of the process.

An effective client feedback gathering system requires it to be ‘always on’ meaning that businesses have an ongoing measure of what they are doing right and wrong and what’s popular and unpopular.

Many business owners are unaware that information they are already gathering, proactively or otherwise, can represent valuable and potentially actionable data – from social media comments, client interviews, feedback forms, operational data and unsolicited verbal and email comments.

‘Always on’ platforms such as MyCustomerLens uses AI to aggregate that information, to identify themes and trends and to create heat maps and mood charts which record and map how clients and their services are viewed.

Constantly collecting and monitoring customer feedback in a centralised location and automating analysis, it also puts the information in context and allows clients to engage more effectively with their customers.

As well as ensuring that everyone in the organisation is on the same page with regard to its performance, it helps managers to make more informed decisions quicker and to avoid blindspots, false assumptions and perception gaps.

This helps to reduce complaints, to build stronger client relationships, develop more sales and referrals, protect revenues.

It’s a funny old game, running a business, and giving 110% might not be enough if you can’t hear – or are not listening to – what your clients are saying when it matters.

Paul Roberts is CEO of MyCustomerLens

Recognise Bank announces major growth plans in its mission to revolutionise SME banking in the UK

Digital SME lender and savings provider, Recognise Bank, has announced ambitious growth plans following a successful £25m cash raise completed earlier this month.

Recognise, which was fully licenced at the end of 2021, has raised over £95m investment so far on its journey to provide much needed support to UK SMEs, with the Bank’s largest investor, PV27, providing the latest capital injection which will underpin a significant expansion in SME lending over the next 12 months.

Jean Murphy, CEO of Recognise Bank said: “Following the latest capital investment, Recognise Bank is well placed to significantly grow its lending book over the next 12 months and beyond. Our parallel investment in building our technology capabilities is already delivering service and efficiency improvements, all of which feed through to a much better experience for our lending and savings customers and our excellent broker partners.

Whilst the economy clearly has its challenges, we are nevertheless seeing excellent opportunities to support ambitious and experienced business customers. Our customer satisfaction ratings already exceed the industry averages and the digital tools we are developing will only build on this, as well as allowing us to deliver more new and exciting products.

We are delivering on our plan to support business entrepreneurs and build a compelling SME bank. The success of our business savings’ accounts is just one example. We now have thousands of new customers, and we are delivering value and service to business savers so often overlooked by the large UK banks.

I am absolutely confident that the power of the Recognise brand will increasingly resonate amongst UK SMEs.”

Already delivering competitive personal and business savings’ accounts, Recognise has, to date, provided £115m commercial loans to business customers. Typical loans range from £500k to £5m and options include commercial mortgages, bridging loans, professional buy-to-let loans, with asset finance currently being developed for launch later in the year.

Recognise is determined to break the mould and is investing heavily in its digital capabilities to support a fast growing reputation for quick decisions, flexibility and speed to completion whilst balancing innovation and relationship banking.

Optimum Finance expand Account Executive Team with experienced new client services hire

Bristol-based invoice finance provider Optimum Finance has appointed David Tugwell as an Account Executive to support its lead generation and new business team.

David has worked in the client services and banking industries for 18 years, having latterly been a Branch Manager for Barclays. He felt that working to support SMEs was an opportunity not to be missed: “The challenges facing SMEs and smaller businesses require a holistic approach, with customer service at its core. I am delighted to be joining Optimum to help build upon their success.”

Ant Persse, CEO of Optimum Finance, says David’s passion for helping businesses was key to his appointment: “David has particular skill in identifying specific business needs and in providing the tools to help them thrive,” he explains.

“He will play an essential role in ensuring that our clients receive the highly professional credit control and administrative support they need as part of a seamless invoice finance solution. It will mean our customers  secure the funding they need, when and how they need it.

“We are delighted to welcome him to the team and help us open new doors within retail and the corporate banking sector.”

Appointment of Ian Pontefract as Chairman

Skarbek Associates, the strategy implementation consultancy, is pleased to announce the appointment of Ian Pontefract as its new Chairman.

Ian joins Skarbek following a 35-year career with KPMG. He was a founding member of their Transaction Services business. As a UK Partner since 1999, he played a key role in delivering on its successful growth strategy. This included seeing its headcount increase from a team of around 10 to over 600 consultants. Ian’s focus was primarily Asset management and Private Equity. He was involved in many, often complex, transactions, helping corporate clients and private equity houses to buy, sell and refinance companies. Ian brings to Skarbek a deep expertise in both growing a consultancy business, as well as driving value for clients across a broad range of sectors.

Ian replaces Sir David Wright GCMG LVO as Chairman. Sir David remains with Skarbek as a Senior Advisor.

Commenting, Skarbek Associate CEO, Paul Heugh, said: “It is great to be welcoming Ian Pontefract as Skarbek Associates’ new Chairman. Ian brings three decades of experience in driving growth in a fast paced, outcomes focused, consulting environment. We are excited about Ian’s contribution as we look to maintain the momentum we are enjoying as we help devise and implement strategies for a wide range of companies. We are currently extremely active with our clients across the consumer healthcare, pharmaceutical, FMCG, luxury and professional services sectors, giving us real grounds to be upbeat about our prospects for 2023 and beyond.

“I would like to thank Sir David Wright for all his invaluable support as Skarbek’s Chairman over the last five years. He has been a constant and indefatigable source of wise counsel and we look forward to his continuing support in his new role as Senior Advisor.”

Ian Pontefract, newly appointed Chairman of Skarbek Associates, said: “Skarbek has already firmly established itself as a leader in its field and I look forward to supporting Paul and the team to build on the success they have enjoyed to date. The market opportunity is considerable for the consultancy that has the right team, experience and ethos, all of which drew me to the opportunity. I am delighted to be joining a board comprising such an arsenal of talent.”

Settld crowned winner of Lloyds Banking Group ‘Grow with Purpose’ contest

Award-winning bereavement admin service Settld has won high praise from some of the UK’s most senior banking executives following a Dragon’s Den-style pitching session hosted by Fintech North and supported by Lloyds Banking Group.

Settld’s co-founder and CEO Vicky Wilson scooped plaudits and the top prize of £5,000 for creating a free nationwide service which has now helped thousands of families deal with admin – or ‘sadmin’ – following a death.

The ‘Grow with Purpose’ challenge was organised by FinTech North, which was founded in 2016 and designed to showcase innovative start-ups and scale-ups and to promote the startup ecosystem in the north of England.

Joe Roche, Engagement Manager for FinTech North, said: “We are delighted that so many innovative startups took part and each of them had an inspirational story to share about their business and their journey.

“Vicky received a huge share of the votes on the night from the executive group, based on Settld’s purpose and potential to grow and generate returns. She is the winner of the £5,000 prize money. From everyone at Lloyds and FinTech North, many congratulations!”

Sophie Gregory, from Lloyds Banking Group, added: “Vicky truly inspired our group with the Settld story. She had the group hooked from the minute she walked in. Many congratulations and what a win.”

Launched in February 2021, Settld enables members of the public to notify a death to over 950 market leading service providers across the UK, from banks and insurers to energy firms, mobile providers, subscription services, social media platforms and others.

Settld’s online service – which is free to the public – also helps users close, transfer or amend accounts as well as obtaining date of death balances for probate.

Vicky Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Settld, said: “It’s terrifying standing in front of some of the top banking executives in the country and explaining why you’ve swapped your career to launch a startup – especially one in the bereavement services space.

“I’m thrilled and humbled to have won. It’s a testament to the Settld team and to the bereaved customers whom we serve. I hope, in a small way, that we are making their lives easier in times when they need help the most.”

Spring budget: Quantum and AI support will strengthen UK as a hub for innovation – comments

Following the Spring Budget yesterday, Emil Gigov, partner at Albion Capital, believes the Chancellor’s new support for the fintech and Quantum sectors will attract greater outside investment and strengthen the UK’s position as a global innovation hub: “The Chancellor’s new plans to incentivise UK fintech, AI and Quantum computing will ensure the UK remains at the forefront of technological innovation in the coming decade. The newly revealed plan to invest £2.5bn in Quantum, including doubling the funding available to researchers, will be instrumental to this.

“Tax incentives for AI and fintech companies investing in research and development will amount to a discount of 27p to the pound, encouraging businesses to commit greater spending on key research areas and catalyse the growth of these industries.

“The Chancellor’s financial support, in conjunction with the longstanding strength of our financial services, the deep pool of technical talent produced from our universities and a progressive regulatory environment, offers the business climate needed for tech companies to flourish. Government support for these industries sends a powerful message, whilst giving the next generation of tech companies a welcome leg-up in a globally competitive market.

“The UK has an excellent track-record for producing innovative fintech companies such as Solidatus, which helps banks manage their complex data systems to ensure accurate reporting and compliance with regulations and Elliptic, which enables regulatory compliance for crypto assets. A supportive Chancellor will go a long way to ensuring we continue to cultivate these companies and their associated sectors in the short and long-term.”

United Trust Bank delivers record £60.2m Profit before tax, driven by £1.9bn of new lending in 2022

United Trust Bank (UTB) increased Profit before tax by 35% in 2022 to £60.2m, driven by record new lending of over £1.9bn for the year.

Despite various political events impacting the United Kingdom’s economy and markets, most notably the sharp rise in inflation and subsequent Base Rate increases, the multi-award-winning specialist lender has delivered an excellent financial and operational performance. This includes strong new business lending and balance sheet growth across all business lines and strong growth in overall profits.

UTB’s Annual Report & Accounts for the year ending 31st December 2022 show the Bank’s operating profit increased 22% to £61.9m reflecting loan book growth, a stable net interest margin and careful cost management. Return on Equity was 21.7%.

UTB has continued to invest in its digital strategy, product development and recruitment, with staff numbers increasing 17% in 2022. The hard work and dedication of the team was reflected in the Bank and its people collectively winning 21 awards last year, including Specialist Lender of the Year.

2022 highlights include:

  • Gross new lending: £1.9bn
  • Profit before Tax: £60.2m
  • Loan book at year end: £2.4bn
  • Deposits book at year end: £2.2bn
  • Return on Equity: 21.7%

United Trust Bank Chief Executive Officer, Harley Kagan, commented: “Consumers and businesses have had a lot to contend with over the last year and the outlook for 2023 looks equally challenging. Higher inflation,  energy prices and borrowing costs are putting a lot of pressure on household and corporate finances, and we have to be mindful that the consequences of those pressures are likely to worsen.

“Our people have had to deal with a lot of change in 2022, much of this due to the Bank’s growth, emerging from the pandemic, and the volatile markets. These impressive results would not have been possible without the dedication of our staff who have collectively delivered on every measure. Their resilience and tenacity, together with the skilled leadership of the Bank’s senior management team, have driven this strong performance and we can look to the future confident that we can overcome any challenges which lie ahead.

“I would like to congratulate and thank all our people for their contributions and also thank our customers and broker partners for their continued support.”

‘Silicon Valley Bank’s Incompetence is a Policy Failure Impacting Regular Americans’

Washington, DC – Last Friday, the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), known for dealing with some of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture capitalists and startups, collapsed. This is the first bank failure of its size since the financial crisis over a decade ago, and the resulting chaos had left many businesses unable to access funds to pay their workers.

In response, the FDIC formed the Deposit Insurance National Bank of Santa Clara in an effort to ensure Americans who relied on the bank get paid. This is not a bailout of the bank (executives and shareholders are getting nothing) but a safeguard to guarantee that hard-working Americans receive the paychecks that they have already earned.

In response, Morris Pearl, Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires and a former managing director at BlackRock, Inc., released the following statement: “SVB’s negligent investment strategies put tens of billions of dollars of risk on the shoulders of businesses and workers. They utterly failed to foresee the consequences of the current market and the Federal Reserve interest rate hikes. Any competent bank manager old enough to remember Paul Volker should have seen this crisis coming a mile away.

SVB’s incompetence in running their financial institution has led to a crisis impacting regular Americans. They failed to do their due diligence, even by keeping a Risk Management Officer employed. This should be the bare minimum required of our financial institutions.

Bankers always say that regulators get in the way of doing their jobs and making profits, but this is what happens when Congress takes them at their word and loosens regulations. Bank managers have an inherent conflict of interest regarding government oversight; they get the credit if things go well, and the FDIC takes the hit if things go south.

Republicans and some Democrats played a hand in bringing about this crisis – they passed legislation that removed government oversight of this, now obvious, systemically important bank.”

Morris Pearl was a managing director on the BlackRock team that the Federal Reserve, Treasury, and FDIC hired to structure and assess the cost of the Citibank bailout in 2008 before working on similar projects in the UK, Greece, and the Republic of Ireland.

Fiona Hoyle makes the PowerList of Inspirational Women in Trade Associations

Fiona Hoyle, Director of Consumer & Mortgage Finance & Inclusion at the FLA has made the PowerList of Inspirational Women in Trade Associations.

Commenting, Stephen Haddrill, Director General at the FLA said: “I am delighted that Fiona has been recognised as one of the most inspirational women in trade associations for her work at the FLA, coinciding with International Women’s Day 2023.  Fiona has been included in the first ever Women in Trade Associations Power List which is selected by the CBI, FSB and Trade Associations Forum, and was nominated for her leadership in representing our sector, and for her work to promote diversity and inclusion.  Well done, Fiona.”

Webio Brings New Conversational Self-Service Portal to the Credit Industry

Webio, a leader in Conversational AI and digital engagement in the credit, collections, and payments industry, has launched its Self-Service Studio, the first debt collection self-service offering powered by AI-driven conversational messaging.

The Self-Service Studio leverages Webio’s digital debt collection expertise to take traditional customer self-service portals to a new level by integrating Webio’s conversational AI platform into the self-service experience, providing a conversational guide to assist customers along their entire debt management journey.

Webio’s Self Service Studio has the unique ability to identify customers who have stalled or not completed their payment journey. With the Conversational AI chatbots on-hand, customers are not left confused if they have queries, nor are they abandoned if they drop off the payment path, as the AI bot will help them get back on track.

Credit and Collections teams can send customers to the Studio through automatically generated unique URLs where they can manage their payment activities without agent intervention. This can happen from within a messaging conversation with an individual or with a batch messaging campaign.

Customers have the convenience of managing their accounts and payments in one space and at a time that suits them, and since the Studio is styled with each business’s branding, they feel safe that they are dealing with a reputable company they can trust. This is especially pertinent when it comes to vulnerable customers who can have the comfort of engaging with a business via the portal or over messaging without having to talk to a live agent.

Not only does the conversational Self-Service Studio enhance customer experience, but it is also a win for the company as more payments are made, quicker and with fewer sticking points. Additionally, businesses can use their existing payment gateways and users make payments from within the Studio without having to jump out onto a third-party payment site.

Delia Jones, Chief Operating Officer at Webio said: “The Self-Service Studio is the latest in our digital debt collection offering.  Developing this functionality in-house would be a costly exercise for an organisation, and the technical resources required are scarce, but this self-service portal is ready to go. We are making it easier for businesses of all sizes to wow their customers with a fully branded microsite that is plugged into the Webio platform, bringing all the elements of customer conversations, automation, AI and digital channels into play.

Adding Webio’s conversational messaging will reassure your customers and act as an automatic ‘safety net’ that catches, engages and brings customers who have abandoned their journey back onto their path, whether that is dropping them back into the Studio or completing the action over messaging conversations, which results in an uplift of completions.”

Companies that adopt the Self-Service Studio gain another channel through which they can digitally and conversationally engage with their customers alongside their existing messaging channels.