By Bhavesh Vaghela CMO, Activeops
How better operational data can future proof operations and improve decision making
Whether in Europe, Africa, North America or Asia Pacific, the challenges facing service operations leaders over the past year have largely been the same – economic instability, cost-of-living pressures for consumers and for some, the still-lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The scale of those challenges is unprecedented” says Nozizwe Tshabuse, Managing Executive for Client Debt Management and Recoveries at Nedbank in South Africa. “The pandemic, even though it was in 2020, we continue to see the consequences of ill health and operational disruptions for service teams, as well as customers.”
Rising inflation and interest rates have also been disruptive for the financial sector and the consumer market at large, leading to increased impairments and defaults as customers struggle to repay their debts, she adds.
This era of near-constant disruption – characterized by wild and more frequent fluctuations in inbound work volumes – is making it difficult for ops leaders to judge what the ‘new normal’ looks like.
“I don’t think we’ve established a pattern yet – it’s not going back to the way it was,” says Thomas Frosina, Head of Operations at TD Bank in Canada.
Maybe there is no new normal and we’re always going to be a bit in flux.
Head of Operations at TD Bank in Canada
The uncertain operating backdrop is also increasing focus on the role operations can play in helping banks become nimbler and more efficient as market conditions change.
“The importance of operations as an engine room for strategy execution continues to grow,” says Andrew Wilson, General Manager Operations at ASB Bank in New Zealand. “Gone are the days that operations just process widgets, and I believe 2023 has provided many in operations the opportunity to expand their scope, build greater capabilities, agility and value proposition.”
For instance, Tshabuse was able to use Active Ops to better manage resources and unlock capacity despite the tougher operating conditions. That enabled work to be spread work across teams more easily, which meant that even during peak volumes, employees didn’t have to work as long hours as they did previously, improving staff wellbeing.
“Overtime was reduced by 30%,” she says. “We also saw an improvement in productivity by 21% in the first eight months after rolling out Active Operations Management (AOM).”
Given the current economic malaise, ops leaders are expecting another challenging year ahead. For starters, the squeeze on finances means resources are likely to remain constrained across ops teams, forcing them to do more with less.
“The chances of increasing resources are very little,” says Tshabuse. “But through AOM, we can identify where our latent capacity is, and we’re able to produce more without necessarily employing a human being to come and carry that additional workload. And that’s what I would define as additional resources.”
This backdrop of unpredictable work volumes is also underscoring the need for ops leaders to increase the agility of their teams through cross-skilling. Frosina, for example, says TD Bank has built a more flexible call center team so that agents who handle customer service and their colleagues who handle inbound credit decisioning can easily switch if one team is busier. He says that is something the bank will look to formalize more over the next 12 months with specific ‘flex agent’ roles being introduced. The bank is also seeking to boost flexibility by hiring more part-time workers.
“Our call volumes are like a barbell, you get an early morning rush and then again later in the day, but in the middle of the day volumes are lower and we have excess staff,” says Frosina. “So part-timers can help us because we can bring people in just for the morning or the evening. We’re probably going to hire in this part-time mode more and more.”
In addition, the next year is likely to see a heightened focus on the role operations can play in delivering improved customer experience and lifting a bank’s Net Promoter Score, says Wilson. There will also be continued focus on process improvement and a greater focus on team culture, he says.
“This is particularly important given the need to build ‘future fit’ complementary digital and human capabilities and culture in a workplace that is more hybrid in nature post-Covid,” Wilson adds.
All of this is playing out as speculation grows around how advanced artificial intelligence (AI) tools and automation could reshape the way operations are run in the near and far future.
“There will be a lot of ‘test and learn’ as operations leaders determine how AI can best be leveraged in their individual context,” says Wilson. “It has enormous potential to reduce manual and repetitive tasks, enhance workflow and triaging.
It can also really help create a step change in predictive analytics and even be used to better manage risks.
General Manager Operations at ASB Bank in New Zealand
While AI may eventually lead to fewer resources being needed to run operations, many ops leaders believe that AI will, at least at first, enhance how humans work rather than replace them. Frosina says he plans to explore how AI could be used to help agents process customer complaints. He imagines a scenario where AI would scan through the complaints and give the agent a summary of the issue rather than attempt to resolve the complaint automatically.
As the possibilities that AI opens up evolve, there will be renewed pressure on ops teams to get a better handle on their data to take advantage of those opportunities, as well as others that digital transformation more broadly present.
“The biggest challenges for us as banks is we have a lot of rich data, we just don’t know how to package it and use it effectively to enhance our client journeys,” says Tshabuse.
Addressing that challenge is likely to be near the top of the agenda for many banks over the next 12 months.
“Our focus is not just on accessibility of data but insights, increased real-time accessibility, predictive analytics, improved decisioning and importantly how we leverage this to build leadership capability and the culture we want in our business,” says Wilson.
Unpredictable inbound work volumes are also increasing the importance for ops teams to have access to real-time data. In the past, ops leaders could forecast well in advance and set and forget, says Frosina. Now, because of the unsettled operating environment and constantly evolving consumer behaviors, volumes are fluctuating on a much more frequent basis.
“We just can’t rely on someone putting a forecast out six months ago,” he says. “We’re constantly having to look at the data and see what it is telling us – was last Wednesday very busy for no particular reason, or is it the beginning of a new trend? So having more real-time data and doing that analysis [on an ongoing basis] will help guide our decisions, be it around staffing or how we’re going to prioritize work.”
As competition among banks intensifies and the pressure to deliver improved customer service increases, success will increasingly hinge on a bank’s ability to unlock the value of their data.
The banks that are going to win in this industry are the ones that know how to use data as an effective tool to enhance their overall service operations.
Managing Executive for Client Debt Management and Recoveries at Nedbank in South Africa
About our guests
Nozizwe Tshabuse, Nedbank
Nozizwe Tshabuse is a trailblazer business leader, mentor, and keynote speaker. She currently holds the position of Managing Executive: Client Debt Management & Recoveries at Nedbank. Nozizwe is a banking and finance industry expert with over 22 years of experience, holding various positions in Retail Banking- from developing strategy, managing bank communities, to leading on Risk, Compliance and Operations.
Tom Frosina TD Bank
Tom Frosina, Head of Card Operations at TD Bank. Tom leads the servicing teams for Retail Card Services and selected Bankcard operations. This includes contact centers, back office operations and related support operations (workforce, training, etc.). Tom had been with TD since April 2017. Prior to that Tom has held similar roles at Citibank, Capital One, Cigna and Barclays (US and UK). Tom has partnered with ActiveOps since 2011.
Andrew Wilson, ASB
Andrew Wilson is the GM Operations at ASB. With over 20 years in financial services, Andrew is passionate about building world-class operations with role spanning Operations, Business Management, Offshoring, Change Management, and Human Resources in New Zealand, India, Singapore, and the Philippines. Prior to joining ASB, Andrew held executive operations leadership roles at ANZ and the National Bank of New Zealand.