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Whose role is it anyway? Why finance underpins data-led digital transformation

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Joe DosSantos, Chief Data and Information Officer, Qlik

Digital transformation is no longer an aspiration for tomorrow but a necessity of today. However, amid a rush of post-pandemic digitalization, one essential element is too often swept aside. That is how modernized data strategies can deliver up-to-date financial performance insights that drive real-time decisions and action. How can a Chief Finance Officer (CFO) transform the finance function to provide rich analysis that impacts business performance?

Finance’s ability to support today’s agile, data-driven organizations is imperative. However, according to McKinsey, less than half of CFOs play a leading role in driving enterprise-wide transformation.

As a data-driven organization we knew that finance data modernization was key to our growth ambitions. As Chief Data Officer (CDO), I worked closely with Qlik’s CFO to modernize our data, strategy and architecture, integrating finance and business data to transform Qlik into an agile, data-driven organization. In ensuring finance can harness data and digital to become an essential lever for driving the business forward, our journey has produced learnings that others may find helpful.

People first

Before getting to master data management, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), it is essential to understand the skill set that finance professionals need to play their role in modernization. Data literacy is vital; having the ability to understand data and translate it into recommendations and actions for the business. Increasingly, finance teams need to understand the principles of master data, data flow and how AI and machine learning can contribute to their decision-making process. Armed with the right data and insights, finance can better interact with broader business stakeholders in this new paradigm.

For example, my first order of business was to request our executive team to dedicate one person from their function as the go-to data champion, to speak on behalf of that group and uncover strategic drivers. Then we embarked upon a value engineering exercise to truly triangulate on the value that each of these different use cases could create, and then to focus on cross-functional issues.

If you want to drive value across the organization, you need to get people working together to become laser focused on strategic priorities. In our case, that was understanding our customer base to support retention and satisfaction, underpinned by financial metrics. By going through this exercise and involving the whole organization, the finance function has gone from number crunching to becoming a true business partner.

Finance’s insatiable appetite for data

From there, we start by going back to what seems like a basic. Just as we are all used to opening up a mobile banking app and seeing our balance, the CFO wants to know the organization’s cash position in real-time. Especially given current global currency fluctuations, it is crucial to have a clear picture to inform decisions made in the moment.

Every day organizations make micro-decisions that affect the customer, and it is no longer viable to make those decisions based on disparate data from weeks or months ago. This requires real-time data within a comprehensive master data strategy.

Finance has an insatiable desire for data, and can draw on myriad sources, including ERP, CRM, supply chain management and other dispersed systems. Data sources are constantly evolving, and finance teams must be able to quickly harness larger and more complex data sets that deliver actionable insights that support the business.

As McKinsey highlights, ‘Owing to its central role, the finance function is uniquely positioned to help define the master data strategy for the enterprise. To support the business – whether through more nuanced financial-scenario planning, insight into how to better manage liquidity, or improved guidance on where to best deploy assets – finance must be able to quickly marshal high-quality, trusted data.’

Modernizing our finance operations started by moving all data to the cloud, using our Qlik SaaS platform to address size and scale requirements. From here, it was crucial to address data usability and reusability. For example, determining how exactly we would calculate EBITDA or recurring revenue so that we had an array of replicable, reusable metrics to deliver in-the-moment insight.

Anchoring sophisticated data science in hard metrics

Formalizing definitions combined with a cloud data strategy set the foundation to be able to answer vital questions quickly. It goes further, however, opening up opportunities to leverage technology to automate, innovate and to monetize, as well as providing the scaffolding for more sophisticated data science approaches, including our use of AI.

For example, we can dissect different data segmentations that give a real picture of current performance, but that also indicate what is needed to improve future performance, whether in terms of months, quarters or years. The more value drivers connected across the business, the more transparency and insight you gain into the impact of one KPI relative to the overall performance, and this can prove incredibly powerful.

Data science helps us understand the behavioral patterns of people, their product usage, buying cycles, for example. But the key to harnessing this insight is making sure it is anchored to financial metrics. Again, this is echoed by McKinsey’s analysis; ‘Leaders can help their teams by ensuring that requests for more information are grounded in a solid understanding of an agreed-upon set of drivers of business financial performance’.

To achieve a high retention rate, we must access the metrics that drive it. That means using data science to understand customer behavior, ensuring the right, accessible analytics to measure the impact on the bottom line of using this insight. In that respect, today’s data modernization strategy uses finance as a lever for the rest of the organization to meet goals, charting a path of clarity that traverses marketing, sales, and customer success.

Future growth rooted in today’s data

Adopting a cloud-based, master-data strategy driven through finance, and supported by collaboration across the organization, we have transformed Qlik to become truly agile. We needed to better understand how to please customers and grow our revenue over time and that understanding is rooted in financial metrics.

By modernizing infrastructure finance teams can work with data in the moment, partnering with other lines of business to drive fact-based decision-making. As a result, finance is now instrumental in ensuring the business uses data to keep their eyes on the future, yet with feet firmly grounded to drive positive change today.

 

Finance

The Importance of Experienced Customer Service Advisors in Finance

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If there is one thing which can be said about the finance sector, it would be that as a customer-facing industry, the most important skills within any job position would be customer service skills. However, what would those job skills in customer service be? And what is the experience required for customer services positions? Let’s look at that in terms of the finance sector so that you can see just how important it is that customer services responsibilities are monitored closely.

What Does a Customer Service Advisor Do?

There are actually two kinds of broad categories of customer service jobs. The first, and probably most well-known, is a customer service representative who takes incoming calls or chats from a chat box. In other words, a customer service rep takes queries and handles incoming communications. A customer service advisor is more likely to initiate communications to:

  • Advise on any changes to financial terms, such as due dates and amounts
  • Follow up on late or missed payments
  • Keep the lines of communications open to maintain a positive CX, Customer Experience

While not exactly sales reps, customer service advisors can often upsell on these courtesy calls. It is one thing that basic, entry level customer services reps aren’t really trained to handle. Sometimes, they can pass calls up the hierarchical customer service ladder to be handled within the tasks of a customer services advisor who can add services or upsell financial products. However, basic level customer service reps cannot handle those kinds of services.

General Customer Services Job Description

So, what then are some job description examples for customer services? As noted above, customer service duties are mostly limited to incoming queries and contact points. Customer services skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Exceptional communication skills
  • Ability to be an active listener
  • Knowledgeable about financial products and services
  • Ability to read into a customer’s intentions
  • A calm and quiet presence
  • Ability to think on their feet for unforeseen situations

And those are just some of the skills and responsibilities in customer services. It should be said that although a job applicant has had experience in customer services, most jobs will provide training based on their company’s best practices and policies. Therefore, customer services qualifications may require entry level experience for customer service jobs, but the onboarding process will prepare them for work at that company and within the job for which they are being hired to do. During that onboarding process, they will also be made aware of very specific responsibilities of a customer service rep.

Which Side of Customer Services Would You Like to Work Within?

It often takes a certain kind of personality able to initiate calls and contacts with customers. With so many unsolicited sales calls being received daily, many consumers are put off before the conversation can even begin. It can be frustrating, to say the least. Since they are already customers/clients of your financial products, they don’t realise that customer service advisors are simply making courtesy, follow-up calls. Are you patient in nature? If so, this might be the exact job for you!

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Financial Services Makes Gains In Employee Engagement

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By Phil Chambers, GM Workday Peakon Employee Voice 

 

A new report shows that the financial services industry improved in almost all elements of employee engagement last year. Can such momentum be sustained?

After more than two years of change, one thing is certain: keeping workers engaged has become more challenging – and more urgent. Record numbers of workers have left their jobs in the UK. And, as turnover has increased, employee engagement – people’s mental and emotional investment in their work and workplace – has been tested. In today’s climate, engagement isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a business imperative – especially as companies with engaged employees are known to reap benefits including higher productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

The financial services industry hasn’t been immune from the so-called Great Reshuffle. But, according to Workday’s latest State of Engagement Report, it did make measurable gains in employee engagement during 2021. Of the 17 industries analysed, financial services’ engagement ranking jumped from ninth to fifth place.

The report analysed nearly 9 million employee responses from almost 2.5 million employees throughout 2021. It compared the engagement scores given by employees working in different industries over the 12-month period, as well as scores for the 14 drivers of engagement – including autonomy, goal setting, meaningful work, reward, and recognition.

Organisations in the financial services industry have been considered less   quick to evolve than others. PwC recently characterised insurance companies, for instance, as “traditionally risk-averse and slow to change”. But, as the report shows, financial services clearly made some improvements. It is noteworthy given the enduring pandemic-related economic turbulence of 2021 – and the fact that during that time global engagement scores overall slightly declined.

 

Where The Financial Services Industry Improved in Employee Engagement

Remarkably, the financial services industry saw increased rankings and scores in all but one of the 14 engagement drivers that the State of Engagement report measures.

Of all 17 industries analysed, financial services took top place for goal setting by the end of 2021 (up from sixth at the start of the year) and landed among the top three sectors for strategy and recognition too. These strong results indicate the industry provided clear direction to its people at both individual and organisational levels, and appropriately recognised employees when they met their goals.

The improvement in the industry’s overall engagement, however, was driven largely by a sizable increase in its environment driver score in 2021, suggesting that a significant number of employees responded positively to having more freedom around where they worked during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, it was unusual for financial services firms to offer flexible options at all. But, in 2021, more than ever before, many firms’ employees were working remotely or enjoying a hybrid of both remote and in-office work – as and when offices started to re-open. This unprecedented choice in where, how, and when they worked was appreciated, as the report indicates, by many workers in the sector.

 

Where There’s Room For Improvement

As the report found, many employees feel the amount of work they have is increasingly unmanageable. Workload continues to be a pain point across all industries globally, with workload satisfaction scores dipping slightly in 2021. At the end of the year, financial services received its lowest engagement-driver score for workload and ranked 11th among the 17 industries analysed.

This indicates employees in the financial services industry found their workload less manageable as the year progressed, which is perhaps unsurprising when considering the pandemic’s ongoing toll in many parts of the world, and the fact that remote working can lead to ‘always-on’ work lives.

To help mitigate burnout risk and diminished engagement going forward, financial services leaders and managers will need to stay close to their employees in the months ahead to find out how they can best support them, whether that’s with additional resources, greater work flexibility, or updated benefits. By regularly staying abreast of people’s needs and taking the necessary action, organisations can spot potential problems before they lead to resignations.

 

What The Industry Should Avoid Going Forward

In recent months, we’ve seen some financial institutions try to take a “return to normal” approach, requesting their people go back to working onsite five days a week. But, as the report shows, this approach may not be the best one for everyone, particularly as the past two years have revealed that many employees appreciate and benefit from a greater degree of flexibility.

Of course, not all organisations will be able to provide hybrid or remote arrangements for all their people. But greater flexibility doesn’t necessarily have to mean working remotely. It could mean more flexible scheduling options, or a shift in working hours to enable a greater work-life balance.

Either way, to retain the engagement gains achieved in 2021, the financial services industry should resist the temptation to look back, and must instead take learnings from the past two years. Amid so much economic and societal change, and with employees continuing to shift jobs in record numbers, companies cannot simply go back to before, but need to continue moving forward, listening to the needs of their people, and leading with empathy.

Specifically, leaders and managers in financial services will need to stay closer than ever to employee feedback, going beyond listening and working fast to implement change accordingly.

For the industry to continue making positive gains in employee engagement, it will need to: consider how to retain a degree of flexibility – updating models to reflect evolving employee needs; continue to provide clear individual and organisational direction to those working remotely and on site; create and maintain more manageable workloads through prioritisation and automating repetitive tasks; and continue to reward and recognise employees for their hard work and achievements.

While great strides were made last year, it’s more important now than ever that leaders in the financial services industry determine and understand how employees are feeling so that organisations can explore and shape a future of work that works for everyone.

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