Why finance service providers' digital projects fail

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Why finance service providers' digital projects fail
Justin Mercer, General Manager Australia, Jade

Image: Justin Mercer, Jade.

Content sponsored by Jade.

Justin Mercer knows more than most about the challenges of delivering financial services online. In his role as General Manager Australia of software design and engineering company Jade, he’s tackled projects for a number of high-profile finance service providers.

They include insurer TAL, which turned to Jade for the design and co-development of TAL CoverBuilder, a digital platform that enables consumers to purchase life insurance. Jade also led the experience design work for Zurich’s Quote & Apply application for financial advisors, and the design and co-development of My Zurich customer self-service portal. And it delivered the integration layer that enables a worker’s compensation insurance quoting and purchasing platform for Allianz small and medium business customers.

Mercer sees finance service providers as stuck between the need to provide customers with modern digital services and the cost of replacing legacy systems. We asked him about the way forward.

Where do finance service providers’ digital projects typically go wrong?

Some of the biggest problems tie back to some of the fundamental challenges with software development. It’s about clearly defining what success looks like. That’s the classic challenge when you’re working with executives that want to get business cases up, and the board or executives want to know what they’re getting for their money.

So it’s having that mature partnership discussion up front, talking about outcomes rather than outputs. I think you can get in a vicious cycle up front, where you’re trying to figure out how much it might cost based on a very high level list of requirements. As you know, a lot of companies have moved to agile and been burnt by a never-ending project cycle. It’s actually around how you change that mindset upfront, from outputs to outcomes. How you get really strong ownership and input into the business throughout the process. You need really strong alignment between technology and the business.

When it comes to the technology, cloud technology moves at such a pace it’s always a bit daunting for companies looking at how to move off a core legacy system that has been serving them really well. They know they need to move somewhere but it’s just too expensive quite often to do a big bang project. All the big platform providers will tell you they can do everything, but at the end of the day it’s quite often around working within their guard rails. You can easily lose control of your roadmap.

What do you propose finance service providers do about that?

The solution is to de-risk that journey. It’s about giving stakeholders confidence in the proposed approach. Make sure you’re solving the right problem, that you have the evidence to validate that the solution or program you’re putting forward will drive the outcomes you need, and using that to drive the case for change.

That’s where Jade Cloud Services comes into its own. It’s about helping customers navigate that path and taking a pragmatic approach that brings the best of design thinking and software engineering together. You want a really strong vision about the roadmap and a feedback loop between business needs, stakeholders and customers. This is where having a strong product or platform mindset helps enormously.

What is the key to successful digital project partnerships?

Ultimately it comes down to trust. Every executive is looking for someone they can trust, they can eyeball – someone who has been in the trenches and has the scars and experience to prove it.

And it’s about having cross-functional teams that work really well together to solve complex problems and build strong, scalable solutions.

We start with the customer experience and whether we’re solving the right problem to provide the right outcome for the business. But there are also underlying cloud infrastructure changes we can make. That could be at a really low level around how a client’s internal team approach code branching and merge strategies, through to how they are setting up their test automation suite or deployment pipelines. When some of those little changes build up over time, all of a sudden your IT team might deliver to production on a fortnightly basis instead of a monthly basis. That gives the business agility and builds trust.

It’s about getting wins on the board and moving the mindset. And once you have some of those foundational pieces in place and the business trusts that you can deliver, and you are delivering frequently and it’s having an impact on the end customer and staff, then it starts to pay for itself. That’s where a lot of benchmarking can come from – you can start to use some success metrics, whether it’s technology metrics around mean time to deploy, or mean time to restore, all the way up to customer analytics, NPS scores and A/B testing.

But I think ultimately it comes back to that issue of trust, and how you build and earn that and then continue to iterate.

Any other comments about choosing digital project partners?

Quite often you’ve got financial services companies that probably struggle sometimes between engaging big end of town consultants – who have some great thinking, but ultimately the outcome is a report – and the lower cost offshore providers who provide a low developer daily rate but may only deliver against the specifications written rather than the intended business outcome. I think quite often the challenge is how to make that leap between the business vision or consultant’s advice and the team on the ground.

That’s a big part of our offering – working with customers, not on behalf of them. We uplift capability by delivering the outcome they need, instead of just handing things over at the end of the project and leaving them without an understanding of the application and how to grow it.

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