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HOW CITY FIRMS CAN SUCCESSFULLY ADOPT HYBRID WORKING

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Robin Dey, Regional Principal for Client Relations,Unispace 

 

Hybrid working in practice has quickly become a mainstay topic of the conversations surrounding the future of work, especially as employers look to understand how their businesses will be impacted. Recently, accountancy firm EY announced plans for its 17,000 staff to move to a ‘hybrid working model’ that will give them the ability to work from home two days each week. Two of its big four rivals, PwC and KPMG, have also signalled their intentions to make similar switches to their traditional working patterns.

Unispace’s most recent Workplace Market study, which surveyed real estate decision makers from 150 companies with global office footprints, found more than half (52%) of those surveyed anticipate a “return to a new normal” by the end of Q3 2021. However, more than one third (35%) of respondents within the same sample feel that devising a strategy for the future workplace – which is likely to include some element of hybrid working – could be the most significant barrier to realising this flexible new reality. So, what could a hybrid working City look like?

 

The hybrid working challenge

It’s important to note that – even in the quieter summer months – the return to the office was well underway. In the week of the 16th of July (which marked ‘Freedom Day’ in the UK) workplaces in the City of London were the busiest they’ve been for 16 months after the government dropped coronavirus restrictions in England.  City-working attendance was around 50% of pre-pandemic levels according to data compiled by Google.

The City and Canary Wharf benefit from their clustered natures. Culturally and historically, financial institutions have built their businesses around the idea of working together in close proximity, sharing knowledge frequently and leveraging the power of the group. Investment banking is driven by ideas that spring from in-person brainstorming and collaboration; bringing people together. This powerhouse approach looks to deliver value via its model to both clients and employees.

Financial services firms focus on knowledge sharing – and that was traditionally seen to be done most effectively face-to-face. This is in contrast to many of the retail banks which have historically embraced remote and hybrid more enthusiastically. This is due to the rapid consumer-led digital shift over the past decade, and to support the retailer’s ability to draw top talent from the technology industry (an early-hybrid working adopter) to support their growth. Moves to introduce hybrid working across the City will seek to accommodate these engrained preferences in order to be effective.

 

Evolving to exceed colleagues’ expectations

A survey from Accenture found that almost a quarter of the UK’s financial services workforce “would prefer to work entirely from home once a full return to office is possible” in a post-Covid world. In the same survey, 69% said they wanted to work two days or less in the office. However, the financial services industry is particularly client-led and many firms have publicly stated their focus on office-based working. While there will invariably be some activities which employees can access remotely, the overall mood music from the sector is one of an industry that is keen to put down a marker for its clients by going back to the office, expanding service lines, and returning to the pre-Covid buzz of collaboration in the workplace. That said, major banks and City institutions also want to remain competitive in terms of attracting and retaining the best talent. Companies need to balance their strategic imperative to reunite the workforce in physical environments with the employee-led demand for flexible ways of working.

 

Overcoming cultural and generational challenges

The approach to hybrid working differs across geographies. For example, in France and Italy, there’s a demand from some trade unions for financial sector employees to be given the opportunity to work from home at least two days a week as a minimum, which – if it came to pass – would require employers to adopt a hybrid working model. In the UK, by contrast, government guidance has placed the responsibility (and the choice of workplace strategy) firmly in the hands of private employers.

The talent war adds a layer of complexity to the hybrid working challenge for financial services firms. In a sector that some potential employees might perceive to be relatively homogenous, firms that elect to offer some degree of flexibility in working patterns and practices may well be seen as more attractive options for people looking to switch jobs. Indeed, while more senior members of the workforce may be comfortable working from home, the younger generation may not have the space to do so effectively. For younger investment bankers looking to build their networks and contacts, face-to-face interactions are going to be essential – that’s how the industry operates and it’s not really possible to develop the same consistent, and warm types of relationships remotely. As such, the workplace needs to be a space to collaborate, to meet and to grow, a space where culture is created and reinforced and where relationships can be forged and strengthened. So, what does the future hold and how can City firms develop a robust workplace strategy?

 

A ‘Propeller Framework’ for workplace evolution

The shift to hybrid working will change the rhythm of when employees choose to work from the office – which in turn makes City firms’ workplace strategies that much more important to get right. The office needs to evolve to meet the needs of your employees, assessing their personalities and activities and what is needed to accommodate their preferences. For financial institutions, everyday engagement across teams is vital, while client engagement is all about extracting information, discovering and meeting needs. That’s exactly what a ‘Propeller Framework’ can provide; the opportunity to understand how a company and its people truly want to engage with their workspace and what drives productivity, before implementing ways of maximising space and improving workplace efficiency.

Work is no longer simply a place. Businesses across the globe are looking for workplace solutions that improve employee retention, inspire collaboration and knowledge sharing, and normalise the true definition of flexible working. Focus less on the regimentation of individual desks and more on finding focus space with workplaces designed for collaboration, hospitality and socialising that have the flexibility to expand and contract in line with future needs. It’s not about utilising a one-size-fits-all approach but delivering an individually tailored environment.

Finding a balance between business productivity and meeting the needs of clients requires different perspectives. The old workplace model still has relevance but to move forward it’s important to consult with multiple stakeholders to understand the day-to-day needs of the firm and how a business could achieve its goals more effectively. Businesses may have been forced into change by the pandemic, or because of the cultural alignment driven by globalisation, but there’s now a real opportunity to explore how operating models and workspaces actually function – and the ways in which they can be refined to deliver better outcomes and productivity.

 

Building flexibility into design

Building flexibility into strategic planning and design will be critical to navigating a successful path towards a hybrid working model and to bring the workforce back into the office in a meaningful and safe way. Businesses may need to pivot quickly as space utilisation needs change. A Pilot scheme is a great option to test new strategies and models, repurposing spaces and collecting the activity data to confirm efficacy and inform future workspaces.

Change management will be vital to the success of any workplace programme. Key will be consistent communications, giving people confidence about expectations, working patterns, environments – whether that’s from a health and safety perspective or a needs and activity perspective – and tying in new technology to enhance employee experiences, and drive organisational culture.

While hybrid working can challenge how financial organisations have traditionally worked, it also presents an opportunity to evolve the workplace to better meet colleagues’ current and future needs. Businesses can balance these new needs and simultaneously create a centre of activity for collaboration, employee development, and client engagement, functioning alongside employees’ preferences for hybrid working rather than in opposition.

 

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THE ACCELERATION TOWARDS A MOBILE FIRST ECONOMY

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By Brad Hyett, CEO at phos

 

Over the last year, we have seen a big shift towards contactless payments. Fuelling this has of course been the coronavirus pandemic, which has made the public hesitant to handle cash due to the health concerns.

As multiple national lockdowns forced physical stores to close, and customers demanded easy, cash-free payment options, merchants had to quickly adapt. The result? An increased provision of pay and collect services.

In the UK alone, 83% of people use contactless payments according to data from the Office of National Statistics.

So it’s vital that merchants are equipped with the most efficient payment solutions, as the UK heads towards a mobile-first economy.

 

Proliferation of contactless payments

In 2020, 90% of UK card payments were contactless. This equates to an increase of 12% on the year prior, despite the total number of payments made falling by 11% from 2019 to 2020. Moreover, the affordability of smartphones has increased significantly over the last decade. And it’s estimated that 84% of UK adults now own one.

We’re Seeing merchants embrace more efficient and cost effective payment methods in response. While physical payment terminals are often too expensive for many small businesses, software point of sale, or SoftPoS, enables merchants to turn hardware that they already own – i.e. their mobile device – into a point of sale terminal.

With merchants increasingly adopting these innovative technologies, contactless payments will continue to gain popularity among the general public. In 2020, 13.7 million people in the UK either didn’t use cash at all or only used it to make a single purchase. That’s double the same figure from the previous year.

 

Changing consumer demand

Now more than ever, consumers are aware of how innovative payment solutions can add efficiency to their daily lives. As such, consumers now demand better payment services, including reduced queuing times, checkoutless stores, and bespoke loyalty schemes.

Businesses such as Mercedes offer an end-to-end digital car purchasing service, so customers can go through the whole car purchasing journey from the comfort of their own home. This includes car deliveries, financing, insurance and more.

Meanwhile, eCommerce giant Amazon has started trialling checkoutless ‘Go’ stores, speeding up the shopping experience by eliminating the queuing process altogether. The days of waiting for a table at a restaurant are also over, as more people have grown used to booking in advance.

Hence, it’s important that we empower small businesses to remain competitive and provide them with the payment solutions to meet customer demand.

 

Global transformations

The digital payments revolution isn’t slowing down anytime soon. By 2026, only 21 percent of transactions will be made using cash.

The US might have been slow out of the gate, but it’s starting to see increased adoption of mobile payments. In-store mobile payments grew by 29% in the States last year alone.

This growth was primarily fuelled by Gen Z-ers and millennials. Latest projections show that there will be 6 million new mobile wallet users by 2025, with millennials accounting for 4 million of this figure. These two generations, the former in particular, have grown up with mobile banking.

For most Gen Z-ers, their first foray into financial services was with a challenger bank like Starling or Monzo. These banks are able to offer online features such as ‘split the bill’, fee-free withdrawals abroad and much more to cater to the modern financial needs of the younger generation.

The Middle East experienced similarly sharp increases in contactless payments. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 200% growth in contactless transactions. This shift towards a mobile-first economy in the region was inevitable; the pandemic merely accelerated this shift. A recent study showed that 80% of people living in the Middle East planned to continue using contactless payments post-pandemic, with speed and security being the main draw.

 

The future is mobile

As parts of the world now start to come out of lockdown, there’s an openness to new solutions and a widespread acceptance of new technologies.

It is now a case of when, rather than if, we’ll see a permanent shift to cashless in the future. For businesses, embracing digital innovation will be key to remaining competitive and keeping pace with consumer demand in this fast-changing payments landscape.

 

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HOW MERCHANTS CAN IMPROVE THE ONLINE PAYMENTS EXPERIENCE

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By Alan Irwin, Senior Director of Product at Global Payments UK

 

The dramatic increase in online shopping over the past 18 months has encouraged many businesses to invest in developing their omnichannel shopping experiences. The reasons vary – some are keen to capitalise on the trend of older shoppers migrating towards ecommerce and some are trying to make up for loss of sales in brick-and-mortar stores during the pandemic. It is also true that many businesses are shifting their models to sell direct to consumers to avoid high marketplace fees and are therefore building their ecommerce channels for the first time.

The checkout experience is arguably the most important and delicate part of the ecommerce transaction, as it can make the difference between a happy customer likely to return, and a shopping cart abandoned out of frustration and confusion. A survey from March 2020 suggested that 88% of online shopping orders were abandoned, i.e. not converted into a purchase. A seamless, customer-centric online payment experience is therefore critically important in ensuring completed transactions. But with so many payment providers available, what should businesses be looking for when trying to keep friction to a minimum?

 

Keep clicks to a minimum

Less touchscreen interaction equals less abandonment. Adapting the payment page to fit any device and supporting popular mobile digital wallets like Google Pay ensures a seamless, stress- and hassle-free checkout experience for the customer and keeps clicks to a minimum. Friction can present itself in the most minor features – for example, when the customer is navigating the payment form, the appropriate keypad should be shown to the customer when required. It’s much easier to enter a card number using the dial pad instead of switching between QWERTY keypad layouts.

Simplifying online forms with autofill and tokenisation also significantly reduces friction at checkout and shortens necessary time taken. Ensuring checkout forms are tagged correctly for “autofill” is a great way to offer customers a single-click to input the payment, shipping, and billing data that they have stored in their browser profile. Similarly offering a guest checkout option will help convert customers who are in a hurry or looking for a one-off purchase. This can also be achieved by offering to store the payment details (called ‘tokenisation’) for express repeat and one-click purchases.

 

Make it easy to understand

A tailored payments approach can increase both domestic and international global sales. By offering a checkout experience in the customer’s language, the option to pay in their currency of choice, and use their preferred method of payment (whether it’s PayPal, Alipay or card), businesses can build loyalty quickly and put customers at ease. It is equally important for merchants to ensure they always display simple direction and information about next steps to instil confidence and prevent customer drop-off. The customer should be informed of what is happening at every stage in the process, for example, whether they will proceed to SCA (Secure Customer Authentication) next or go straight through to completion.

In addition, validating forms in real-time means merchants can highlight potential errors to the customer early on, and payment providers should provide this functionality. This could be an invalid expiry date, an incorrect digit in the card number or incorrect CVV number based on card type. When issues are only flagged at the end of the process, this forces the customer to go back through the steps to figure out the error. Real-time signposting of problems removes this potential friction and reduces the potential for a declined transaction.

 

Ensure seamless security

Merchants should work with a payment partner who offers the right blend of security and compliance management without it coming at a cost to the end-to-end checkout experience for the user. Instilling trust and security in your checkout flow while utilising the right solutions to drive seamless authentication flows will increase customer confidence and help prevent drop-off.

The greatest level of security and control comes from either utilising hosted payment fields that the
merchant can natively integrate into their checkout flow, or a hosted payment page where they can
manage the look and feel. Showcasing your brand on the checkout page with trust signals and logos also adds to building trust with the customer.

Staying ahead of regulations is also important. Secure Customer Authentication (SCA) will soon be mandatory in the UK for all eligible digital transactions, and this doesn’t have to be a friction-full process. Tools like Transaction Risk Analysis (TRA) and Exemption Optimisation Service (EOS) can quickly score transactions and drive exemptions where there is the right blend of transaction risk.

 

The devil is in the details

These three rules for successful ecommerce checkout experiences may seem straightforward, but it is important to apply them at a micro level. It can take only one minor point of friction to cause a customer to abandon their cart, and this will inevitably be replicated across other similar customers. It is critical to identify friction points early on and anticipate customer needs throughout the process. Discussing these points and any opportunities to improve customer checkout experience with your ecommerce team and payment provider is an important first step towards ensuring your entire shopping experience remains competitively seamless and loyalty is won. It may be that your payment provider cannot address them, in which case it could be time to move on in order to stay competitive.

 

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