3 takeaways from the MRS Financial Services Research conference

Last week we had the pleasure of attending the Market Research Society’s Financial Services Research conference. The event featured 8 fantastic case studies from financial services providers all using insight to provide better experiences for their customers and stakeholders.

During the course of the day, 3 key messages emerged: 1) the importance of breaking down silos, 2) the value of simplicity in both product and communications and 3) the social responsibility financial services providers have to society’s most vulnerable, all of which provide financial services providers with new opportunities to regain consumer trust.

Breaking down silos

The first key message was the importance of breaking down silos within financial services businesses. This is, of course, no mean feat. But going at least some way to breaking down barriers between internal functions has the potential to bring big returns by creating a more holistic view of the customer across the business.

This theme was picked up by UK Asset Resolution who shared the story of their transformation from a business with an internal focus with no insight team to one with a clear customer focus. They spoke of the cultural shift needed to facilitate this and how strategies such as monthly forums and dedicated “customer journey owners” have supported this.

Embracing simplicity 

Another key theme that came out strongly was the often overlooked power of simplicity. This is important for the design of products and services, as well as in the communications financial services institutions make with their customers.

Neil Samson’s paper highlighted the case for the simplicity in financial products and services. His work with The Payment Council resulted in Paym, a service which allows customers to pay friends or family using just their mobile phone number. Not only was this service inspired by insights into the importance of simplicity (consumers’ most used payment method prior to launch was the one that was easiest!) but the proposition and its positioning were both refined based on consumers’ desires for greater convenience.

The case for simplicity in communications was also made by Lloyds Banking Group. Through behavioural economics and eye-tracking, Lloyds identified a number of improvements they could make to their home insurance renewal letters, again based on the concept of simplifying their communications.

This theme has also been reflected in much of our own research in the financial services sector. Our work for Investec, developing their Voyage by Investec private bank account, for example, revealed the importance of simplicity in financial services products – even amongst the high net worth.

Taking responsibility for the most vulnerable

The final key theme of the day was that financial services providers have an important social responsibility to some of society’s most vulnerable. This was highlighted by the Financial Conduct Authority’s great paper which brought home not just the diverse nature of the financially vulnerable but its growing scale: the number of people over the age of 85 in the UK is predicted to double in the next 20 years and by 2020 half of the UK population can expect to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

The FCA gave some great recommendations for dealing with the financially vulnerable: first identify and proactively engage these people and then provide them with greater clarity to attempt to build trust. Meanwhile, papers from Capital One and the UK Asset Resolution demonstrated some great case studies of brands in this area.

Our own experience of working with the financially vulnerable has shown that the industry cannot afford to overlook this audience. Not only are there financial implications around having to write off debt but there are also brand and reputational risks too which can further erode confidence and trust in the financial services industry.

These key areas – breaking down silos to create a holistic view of the customer, embracing simplicity and taking responsibility for the financially vulnerable – present a huge opportunity for financial services firms after a series of very rocky years marred first by the financial crash and then the Libor scandal. Making progress in these three areas could go a long way towards helping financial services firms heal their wounds and finally begin to re-establish some kind of trust from consumers.