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Q&A: Jennifer Tippin, Group Chief Transformation Officer at NatWest Group

Investing in resilience before the pandemic has enabled NatWest to serve its customers and society well during the crisis.

What makes an adaptive organisation?

First, openness and a willingness to change. At NatWest, we’ve been through a lot of change since the financial crisis: from briefly being the biggest bank in the world to being majority owned by the government, through significant restructuring to becoming the bank we are today. A bank that champions the potential of the people, families and businesses we serve.

A flexible, agile and risk-focused culture is the second key characteristic. And, finally, a willingness to delegate. Empowering people to take ownership of different tasks can really transform the pace of innovation. For example, we would not have been able to deliver a fully automated Bounce Back Loans platform within six days, if we had not trusted the experts who developed and launched that technology.

How have organisations in the financial services sector responded to the disruption caused by Covid-19?

There's a huge difference between the financial crisis in 2008 and this health crisis, which has led to so much economic uncertainty. Today, most banks are in a much stronger capital position than they were in the financial crisis. This has enabled the sector to respond very quickly to the needs both of individual customers and businesses through the provision of essential lending, mortgage and capital repayment holidays. 

Banks, and NatWest in particular, have been investing in building resilience over the last few years. For instance, when we had to set up 50,000 people to work from home, we could do that quickly. 


Has the pandemic increased the importance of being a purpose-driven organisation?

The pandemic has really enabled purpose-led organisations to demonstrate their value. Banks and financial services are a really important part of the social fabric of this country. The last year has shown that we have a critical role to play in supporting our customers, whether that's through payment holidays, capital relief or access to emergency funding.

We champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive. And, as a community-based organisation, we serve the society in which we work and live. Our purpose is more important now than ever before.

For example, right at the start of the pandemic, we turned our headquarters in Edinburgh into a food bank. And, a couple of weeks ago, we turned one of our office buildings into a vaccination centre. 

As a Principal Partner of this year’s COP26 Summit in Glasgow, we have also continued to play an active role in the transition to a low carbon economy. Not just getting our own house in order – we achieved net zero in our own operations in 2020 – but helping our customers to make the transition by providing £12bn of climate and sustainable funding and financing as well as launching our first green mortgages and partnering with innovative companies such as Octopus Energy to make it easier for customers to own electric vehicles.

Championing potential is not only the right thing to do. Working to benefit society will deliver long-term value and sustainable returns - when our customers, communities and economy succeed then we will too. 

How have customer demands changed since the onset of the pandemic? 

We have seen significant digital acceleration and greater adaptability from our customers.

We have kept 95% of our branches open, so customers who need to go into a branch can do so. But a lot of customers have switched to digital processes. We've seen very significant growth in our digital and mobile customer base over the course of the last year. More than half our retail customers now exclusively use digital channels to interact with us, and two thirds of Commercial Banking sales were made via digital channels in 2020. We have over 9 million digitally active customers, with nearly 8 million customers transacting on their mobile. Both of those numbers have gone up by around 10%. 

We’ve seen an exponential growth in the number of customers talking to us digitally, either via chatbot, artificial intelligence, over the phone or via video. We are also doing a lot more video calls with customers: we were doing about 100 video conversations a week in January 2020. Today, that's around 15,000 a week. 

Do you think digital experiences will continue to be preferred over face-to-face after the pandemic?

Our customers are looking for choice. They're looking for the ability to interact with the bank in whichever way they choose, when they choose. At the same time, they're also looking to get access to the very best financial-services expertise in these very challenging times.

We are building a relationship bank for a digital world, because we believe very strongly that it's the combination of smooth digital processes and access to the best people that our customers are looking for. 

We also have to remember that there are many customers who are vulnerable, who have difficult financial circumstances, who do need that extra support and want to speak to someone. So, we have to be able to provide services for those customers, as well. 

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