For over 40 years, Together has been committed to providing no-nonsense lending in even the most complicated of situations.
The company works with homebuyers, investors, landlords, and small businesses, and partners with a network of intermediaries, including brokers, accountants and solicitors, to secure the finance people need to buy a new home or start a new venture.
Historically, Together relied on manual processes, which were cumbersome and time-intensive. For a business that is focused on common-sense lending, the human touch in making intelligent business decisions is essential. However, it soon became apparent that the use of technology was an integral part in supporting people in making and implementing those decisions in the most efficient and effective way.
As the company began to experience rapid growth, this became even more essential, and so Together turned to Mastek to embark on a digital transformation journey.
Simon Carter, IT Director at Together, says, “The business had ambitious growth plans, but we recognised they couldn’t be achieved if we continued to work in the same way. We were very limited in our digital engagement with our intermediaries and our customers. To transform the business, we had to transform the technology.”
A journey of transformation
Because Together lends mostly through brokers, its transformation journey initially focused on them. Mastek helped the company replace obscure, complex product interfaces with a unified broker portal that is easier to use, much more systematic and clear about what brokers and customers can expect from Together, and about how the lender’s products work.
“We’ve removed paper-dependent steps out of processes, and automated manual ones. Our own research has shown 95% broker satisfaction with the new portal, and the business has reduced the underwriting turnaround by 30%. Meanwhile the business can instantly respond to regulatory changes. Ultimately, we have been able to grow the business in line with expectations, without changing the heart of the business,” says Simon Carter.
Improvements to the broker portal have also continued. For example, a recent addition of decision-in-principle functionality uses sophisticated underwriting logic to give potential customers immediate pre-approval for a specific loan amount. This gives them more information and confidence when choosing a lender to apply to.
Realising business growth
Together’s programme of smart change has played a big part in its ability to grow the value of its loan book by 150% in just three years, two years ahead of target.
Speed and ease of service have made Together increasingly attractive to brokers and their customers. New channels, such as mortgage clubs, have opened up to the lender. And Together’s many new internal efficiencies have allowed the company to take this growth in stride.
“Importantly, the partnership has provided us with the ability to scale up or down as business requirements change. We almost doubled our head count in the last four years, and trebled the size of the loan book, so this flexibility has been essential in supporting our rapid growth. Market conditions can also change, so it’s important to have the security of knowing the technology can support the business in that scenario too,” comments Simon Carter.
He adds, “the reality is that unless we had transformed, we may not be in business today. We recognised we needed to keep pace with the changing market, but the growth we’ve witnessed since our digital transformation shows we’re more than competing.”
In the four years since starting to work with Together on the broker portal, the original 14-strong Mastek team has grown to more than 100, working on more than 125 Agile development projects and IT-enabled business enhancements.
Steve Thomason, Head of Business Systems at Together, explains, “We don’t buy our core IT products off the shelf; we’ve always pursued bespoke development of our systems of differentiation. It’s a strategy that works for us, giving us the control and flexibility to respond to broker and customer needs without ever waiting on a software provider.”
Before bringing Mastek on board, developments were managed in-house with ad-hoc use of contractors; but as the company’s ambitions grew and the pace of change accelerated, there was an unwelcome increase in delivery delays. These are now a thing of the past, with readily scalable Mastek resource and effective Agile development processes in place.
Planning for transformation
Every Together development project starts with an idea — a response to a broker need, for example — that is examined until all of the expected benefits and costs are clearly understood. Ideas that pass muster become projects (large or small) and the priority and delivery of projects is continually assessed and re-assessed. Even as the current crop of projects progresses, Together is planning ahead, usually by six to twelve months.
Collaborating for success
Besides looking outwards to its products and services, Together looks inwards for continual improvement in delivery. To this end, Mastek and Together are in daily contact. Not just to track and measure progress, but to assess ways of working, the mix of onshore and offshore resource, the performance of individuals, the support that they need, who to hire and when: everything that impacts on the success of the collaborative approach embraced by both companies.
‘Innovation’ can’t really be ordered on demand, but Together wants to be actively open to new ideas, and is looking to Mastek to bring them to the table.
“When we toured the Mastek Centre of Excellence in India and saw some of the things they were doing for other customers, it was an eye-opener,” says Thomason. “Today we have a joint innovation forum and meet regularly to discuss ideas.”
One of the novel approaches being tried is a hackathon, in which a number of small Mastek teams compete to come up with innovative solutions to a given Together challenge. Since most of the teams aren’t working on the Together account, it’s a productive — and fun — way for the Together/Mastek partnership to come up with fruitful new ideas to explore.
CUSTOMER CARE TODAY WILL BUILD RESILIENCE FOR FUTURE CRISES
Cathal McGloin, CEO of ServisBOT writes, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created major spikes in calls to financial sector helplines dealing with customers who are concerned about temporary business closures, or seeking information on mortgage holidays and insurance cover.
Easing the pressure
With call volumes surging at many contact centres, moving customers from a voice to a text-based channel and encouraging some of them to self-serve via your website or mobile app helps to reduce pressure on contact centre agents. A call-deflection solution doesn’t have to be complex, costly or time-intensive, but it can be extremely effective in managing additional call volumes more cost-effectively, while still providing your customers the information that they need to allay their concerns.
If customers are able to interact with a chatbot initially and this resolves their immediate queries, this can significantly reduce call volumes and the business can still enable the bot to handover to a customer service agent for customers that require further assistance.
Setting up a Chatbot in 48 hours
Whether your interactive voice response (IVR) is based on legacy technology or is a modern cloud-based solution, it’s possible to deflect customers from an inbound voice channel to a messaging channel. We know, because we have done this for a client who considered this impossible with their legacy on-premise IVR system. Spinning up a solution took just 2 days and allowed them to successfully deflect calls, automate the response, and still offer customers a path to live chat.
Employing a Chatbot as a Call Deflection Solution
Financial services businesses can launch a very simple bot. The bot can be as simple as just pointing a customer to the COVID-19 FAQ page or it can be an extension of an existing customer service bot that offers multiple capabilities. On day one it may just be used to quickly assess queries and handover to a live agent. However, by gathering the training phrases from customer chats, the bot can be made progressively smarter and add capabilities, so that it can be trained over the course of a week to start automating your customer service
After a week the bot can start automating to become more self-sufficient and take more of the burden from your customer service agents, allowing them to handle more complex customer issues.
Using a chatbot opens up a whole new path to automation. Once customers start to engage with your intelligent virtual agent, the bot can handle simple requests, direct them to the relevant information on your website, or help them transact in a self-service manner. All of this can happen without the need for them to engage with an agent unless they specifically request this, or the bot escalates the request to an agent. It can even be integrated with your live chat systems so that the bot works in parallel with live agents when needed.
During crisis periods, when interactions with concerned customers need to be handled well, call deflection using a chatbot or virtual agent takes the pressure off contact centre agents. It also introduces an automation path that can help customers around the clock.
Once your chatbot has been trained to respond to common customer queries round the clock and reduce the pressure on your contact centre staff, your employees can focus on providing the best care for your customers who urgently need to speak to them. Introducing virtual assistants sends a clear message to your customers that they are your priority and increases the resilience of your business against future emergencies.
NEW IVALUA STUDY SHOWS TECHNOLOGY CHALLENGES ARE HINDERING PROCUREMENT TEAMS FROM ACHIEVING BUSINESS OBJECTIVES
Lack of system integrations and actionable insights are stopping organisations from accurately measuring performance
Ivalua, a leading provider of global spend management cloud solutions, has announced the latest findings of a worldwide study of supply chain, procurement and finance business leaders on Effective Procurement Performance Measurement. The study revealed the challenges procurement teams face when it comes to achieving business objectives and the wide and growing gap in performance between advanced and less mature teams.
The research, conducted by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by Ivalua, found that procurement teams are increasingly being measured by non-cost KPIs such as revenue opportunities being created, payment performance (e.g. on time payments) and spend visibility. However, a lack of data integration between systems (44%), lack of relevant insights (40%) and insights not being made available at the right point in the process (39%) are preventing organisations from accurately measuring progress against business objectives. This is because organisations continue to face challenges when it comes to harnessing technology in procurement, with existing systems not being fit for purpose (36%), poor data quality reducing trust in information (36%) and staff having inaccurate expectations of what technology can do (34%).
The research went on to reveal that more digitally “advanced” procurement departments are far exceeding “beginner” procurement departments that are less digitally mature in the range of KPIs they track, how frequently they measure success and the levels of planned technology investments. Key findings include:
- 97% of advanced procurement departments say procurement strategy is well aligned with overall business strategy versus only 14% of beginners.
- 51% of advanced procurement departments measure performance weekly or biweekly, versus only 26% of beginners.
- Only 16% of beginners proactively monitor suppliers’ contracts for expiration and risk, versus 94% of advanced – this is critical for helping organisations manage today’s global supply chain challenges, such as the Coranavirus outbreak.
“In order for procurement teams to achieve their growing list of objectives and become strategic enablers for their organisations it’s clear they need to overcome a number of technology challenges” said David Khuat-Duy, Corporate CEO of Ivalua. “As we can see from more digitally advanced procurement departments, technology adoption has helped them to align with business objectives, actively measure performance and add value in areas such as risk management. Their investments and approach to leveraging technology is building a competitive advantage.”
According to the study, the amount organisations are spending on procurement technology has been rising and expected to accelerate. In the past 12 months, 46% of organisations increased spending by 5-10%. In the next 12 months, 39% plan to increase spending by 5-10%, while a further 43% plan to increasing spending by 10% or more. Procurement leaders are also looking to fully digitise procurement processes (40%), becoming the preferred customers of strategic suppliers (40%), implementing new software for sourcing/procurement (38%) and improving reporting and insights (38%) to help achieve objectives.
“It’s encouraging to see organisations investing more in technology, which will help procurement become a key strategic enabler that goes beyond cost reduction to build a competitive advantage,” added Khuat-Duy. “Increasing adoption of technology will allow procurement teams to gain complete visibility into all suppliers and spend. This will open up further opportunities for procurement to help identify revenue opportunities, track risk and improve sustainability, helping to contribute towards wider procurement and business objectives.”
Download the full study here.
*The February 2020 study was conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Ivalua and is based on a survey of 409 finance, procurement and supply chains decision makers throughout North America and Europe, as well as several in depth interviews.
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