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Financial Assistance (FA) comprises over 1500 colleagues who work with Barclays customers going through financial difficulties. That can range from a simple missed payment that’s happened by mistake, to fundamental financial distress and all the associated vulnerabilities that go along with financial instability.
A major financial issue is usually the symptom of some other larger problem. And there are lots of reasons why someone may not be able to pay their monthly bills. Like losing your job, fighting addiction, being convicted of a crime, having a major health issue or even the death of a loved one. But it’s often the financial symptoms that need to be dealt with most quickly: to save a customer from losing their home or spiralling further into debt.
The FA team help these customers find their way to the best outcome possible. Be that consolidating debt and creating a repayment plan to get them back on track, or helping them get the support they need for insolvency and connecting them with relevant charities and authorities.
As Chief Information Officer for Financial Assistance, Laura Smethurst runs the teams that provides the tech behind this vital function.
I joined Barclays just before the pandemic. I knew the work of FA teams was important. But it soon became clear just how critical their support is for customers. And how many heart-breaking, life-changing issues our teams were dealing with. And now, with the cost-of-living crisis, our customers need us more than ever.
Laura’s teams in the UK and India have two key roles.
“It’s our job to ensure that the tech that colleagues use to service customers in need is up and running, safe, secure and resilient. But it’s also our job to deliver the transformational change needed to update and upgrade the support we offer.”
The biggest challenge is also arguably the most obvious. Finding a way for all FA conversations to be joined up, so that a customer only has to talk to one Barclays contact for all their issues.
This is tech with real world impact. We have to ensure that colleagues dealing with the toughest customer situations have the systems in place to do their jobs brilliantly. And we have to make it easy for our customers to navigate through this confusing and difficult time.
In the past, customers were segmented by the products and services they used. In a lot of cases, this makes sense, but when you’re having difficulty paying your mortgage and your credit card, it’s inefficient and unhelpful to have the same conversation twice with two different financial assistance agents. And it’s frustrating for those agents to have to hand a customer in distress over to a new department to deal with different elements of their financial issues.
Laura outlines FA’s vision for the future in plain terms; “We want one team answering every FA need. One holistic customer conversation. One consistent customer outcome. Technology can help us get there.”
Solving this problem is part of a major multi-year transformation programme. Laura’s teams are breaking new ground every day, removing legacy platforms and applications to move to a Cloud-based SAAS solution, as well as providing colleagues and customers the tools to navigate complex processes simply.
It's a once-in-a-generation programme, bringing in the new platform and making it efficient and secure. By doing so, we’re removing siloes and transforming user experiences for both customers and colleagues.
The first stage in helping a customer in distress is a relatively long, detailed conversation into the customer’s finances. Agents work through a customer’s entire household budget to understand how much they can afford to pay down in debt each month. It’s the only way to balance keeping the customer’s day-to-day life running with getting them back on their financial feet as soon as possible. And that conversation requires lots of information and paperwork.
Now the customer can work through all those details simply and easily on the Barclays Banking App. It gives customers the chance to get all the details together and work through it with an agent at a convenient time. It also gives them the option of completing the whole process on the app; all the way through to setting up a repayment plan.
For some customers, who are either too upset, embarrassed or anxious to talk to a real person about their financial worries, this is a huge benefit. It gives them the chance to face their financial issues and start dealing with them, without having a difficult first conversation with a stranger.
But making things simple is never straightforward. And it was a big challenge to bring this solution to life on the app.
Condensing a 45-minute conversation into an app isn’t easy. We had to involve experts from across the business, including Legal, Risk, Compliance, Operations, UX, UI, Copywriters and many more. And we had to balance all those competing concerns with delivering the very best experience for the customer.
Now that the work is done, there’s a second challenge; driving adoption. Ultimately, Laura’s team want the app to take care of a larger proportion of the FA customer queries, handling the simple interactions digitally so that our agents have more time to help customers when they really need it.
“Technology can make a huge difference, but it needs to be embedded into the way we work. Customers can self-serve through the app and we can send them the reminders and links that make accessing and using the app easy.” explains Laura.
The results so far have been encouraging. Already, a third of income and affordability enquiries are done online. And research shows that the conversations and recovery plans match those had via phone calls. So the processes are simpler for customers and the outcomes are just as positive.