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How technology can help millions of seasonal affective disorder sufferers this winter

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affected 10 million people in the U.S. alone in 2019. And the knock-on effect on a person’s mental health and by extension – their job and productivity – can be substantial. But are organizations sensitive enough to their needs? And how can technology help?

Yvonne Eskenzi, the owner of London-based cybersecurity agency Eskenzi PR, has suffered from SAD since childhood and said the onset of SAD is unmistakable. “You can smell the air change and temperature,” she said. “Then you notice the days becoming shorter and darker at night, which triggers a deep sense of foreboding, sadness and anxiety.” 

Eskenzi added that she feels less creative, foggy-headed, and nowhere near as sociable as usual in a work setting. HR departments must be proactive about treating SAD in colder, darker regions. But is enough being done?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in October 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Most HR professionals have got it wrong – longer hours do not mean better performance

The phrase “hard work pays off” (or subtle variations thereof) has to be one of the most popular nuggets of advice in the last century and beyond. This maxim, passed down from generation to generation, has conditioned us to believe that the more we do something, the more we will be rewarded. 

However, there is growing evidence that shows this attitude is counter-productive. Moreover, overworking is dangerous. And most worryingly, over two-thirds (68%) of European human resources professionals are peddling the idea that high-performing employees work longer hours than average employees, according to a study by Gartner.

How, then, can performance be improved in a world where people are exhausted (because they are working harder)?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in October 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Managers confess their quiet firing tactics

The public scrutiny around “quiet firing” doesn’t appear to be letting up. For good reason. At a time when employees are reevaluating what they put into their jobs (what some now describe as quiet quitting), more employers are also reassessing what employees are putting in. And that could lead to more quiet firings — when an employer or manager uses different, passive-aggressive tactics that have the same goal: making the employee want to quit themselves.

In truth, it’s one of those secrets that has been hidden in plain sight for years. A LinkedIn News poll from late August suggested that 83% of over 20,000 voters had witnessed quiet firing. And some managers have mastered the dark art of persuading staff to leave of their own volition. WorkLife spoke to various senior leaders who admitted to quiet firing, to understand why they have resorted to the passive-aggressive work tactic.

Under the condition of anonymity and agreed on pseudonyms — for fear of career-damaging repercussions — they shared their subtle strategies. We’ve selected four of the most compelling examples.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in October 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Rise in ’employee nomading’ leaves HR teams baffled about where their staff are

Ask any human resources professional what their biggest work headache is, and you’re unlikely to hear it’s that they can’t locate their staff.

It turns out, the shift to hybrid or fully remote working that’s occurred over the last few years has meant that now HR departments are often left in the dark about where all their employees are. And in many cases, employees who decide to travel somewhere to work for a week or month aren’t always informing HR.

Well over two-thirds of employees surveyed in the U.S. and U.K. said they do not report which days they work outside of their home state or country to HR, according to HR company Topia’s Adapt to Work Anywhere report.

A further 40% of HR professionals admitted they were shocked to discover certain employees had changed their working location without informing them, but also conceded that many more employees who have gone AWOL may have done so under the radar, according to the same report.

It’s a catch-22 for employers. Most (96%) employees interviewed in the Topia survey (and other surveys indicate similar findings) ranked flexibility in working arrangements as a key factor when seeking a new employer. And 94% agreed with the statement: “I should be able to work from anywhere I want as long as I get my work done.” 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How Meta is redesigning the way its distributed employees work together

For most companies, figuring out what workplace model best suits their workforces and organizational needs will be an ongoing process of trial and error that will iterate over the next few years. Meta is no exception.

Unlike its big-tech counterparts Apple and Google, Meta is pushing forward with its remote, decentralized working model. In March many of its senior leadership team reportedly spread out to work from a range of locations beyond its Silicon Valley headquarters including New York, Hawaii, the U.K. and Israel.

That’s a strategy that won’t be without its headaches. But Meta’s senior leadership is laser-focused on ironing out any inevitable kinks.

Establishing what different challenges occur for distributed teams versus teams that are physically together in one office location is a priority. And finding the right balance between in-person and remote work will require some experimentation.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Are employers creating a lost generation of managers?

For all the benefits of flexible working, a stark question remains unanswered: How will no or little in-office experience affect our young and future managers?

To some, the opportunities to learn through osmosis, either in the office or at work socials, are already dwindling. If left unchecked, it could potentially lead to a lost generation of young managers in knowledge-worker industries, they think.

Perhaps employers deserve some sympathy. With the war for talent raging and a gloomy economic outlook, investment in developing young workers could be costly with little return.

Maybe it makes better sense to work backward: What skills will the managers of tomorrow require? UJJI research identified the five skill areas for good managers in the world of modern work as communication, problem-solving, adaptability, leadership, and productivity.

How can these skills be honed if workplace learning is limited?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How employee monitoring has shifted from creepy to empowering HR teams

A friend giddily informed me a few days ago that she had “found the perfect eraser.” Perplexed as to why something that rubs out pencil marks would evoke such glee, I asked for more details. “This eraser is the ideal weight; I can rest it on the space bar, so the screen stays awake if I leave the desk,” she said. “That way, my manager thinks I’m still being active at my computer.”

Employees who feel they are being observed for no good reason tend to find a way to game the system, argued Brian Kropp, group vp and chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice. “If your employer is trying to screw you by creepily monitoring you, there are various things you can do to screw them over,” he said.

For instance, he revealed that if computer mouse activity is being tracked, then an analog watch can help. If you position the mouse on the watch, then the second hand creates just enough motion to make it still active.

Monitoring is on the rise, though. According to Gartner’s research, around 30% of the medium and large corporate organizations it assesses had tracking systems in place before the pandemic. “Now the percentage is more than 60%,” said Brian Kropp, group vp and chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Glass half-full or half-empty: How to balance a partying culture at work

What was your honest reaction when Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, was scandalized for partying recently? In August, the 36-year-old sparked controversy after leaked videos showed her dancing and drinking with friends. 

Whichever side of the bar you sit on, Marin’s partying raised important questions about how business leaders in all walks of life should conduct themselves when with and without colleagues in a social environment. 

How do employees feel about a boozy boss? And do enforced work events, where people are encouraged to imbibe at a free bar, help or hinder the health of a workplace in a post-pandemic world?

Indeed, in most industries, for decades – if not centuries – socializing with colleagues and attending work drinks has been central to company culture. Away from the workplace, over a glass or two, people can relax, make meaningful memories, share challenges and opportunities – at work and home – and, ultimately, strengthen bonds with coworkers. But is the glass half-full, half-empty, or completely empty in 2022?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Workers share their worst toxic boss experiences

All the chatter about quiet quitting – namely, doing what a job requires and no more – has provoked deeper discussions about toxic workplace culture and poor management as organizations firm up their hybrid-working strategies.

Some execs have aired concerns that the bring-your-whole-selves-to-work trend has backfired, and in many cases has caused fragmented workforces, while some leaders have taken advantage of the concept to justify their own questionable behavior.

WorkLife spoke to a range of employees from those who consider themselves quiet quitters, to those who have resigned outright, plus those still considering resigning, to find out what prompted them to take their current course of action. Under the condition of anonymity – for fear of career-damaging repercussions – they shared their recent experiences, which highlight the alarming management they have endured. We’ve selected three of the worst accounts.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Cool ideas: How technological innovations can reduce urban temperatures

Removing reflective surfaces, increasing natural shade and harnessing the power of sewage are all options to limit the heat island effect – but progress will stall without collaboration and political boldness

Below a cloudless, blueberry-blue sky, where the sun blazes fiercely and gleams from London landmarks, a multi-person mass of liquifying limbs smoulders. The caption for Zoom Rockman’s Private Eye cartoon reads: “I love London; it’s such a melting pot.”

But few people were laughing when, on 19 July, the UK temperature exceeded 40C for the first time, according to the Met Office, and the city’s infrastructure melted – literally. Half of the six areas to surpass that level were in and around the capital: St James’s Park, Kew Gardens and Northolt. 

With global warming an increasingly hot topic and residents figuratively melting, the heat is being turned up on politicians, planners and other key stakeholders to keep cities cool.

The way our cities have been designed is no longer appropriate for modern times

Just days after the record high temperature, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, loosened purse strings. He awarded £2.85m from the Green and Healthy Streets fund to 19 projects, including rain gardens, tree pits and sustainable drainage areas. Further, a £1m grant will support “innovative and exemplary projects” on the Transport for London Road Network, and £150,000 was released to improve walking routes connecting green spaces.

“We cannot shy away from it: the climate crisis is on our doorstep,” wrote Khan on LinkedIn in early August, announcing the funding decisions. “We’re taking action before time runs out and investing £4m … to make London more resilient to heatwaves.” 

He added: “Working with London boroughs and TfL, these projects will make London more resilient against extreme weather, plus make our streets more green and pleasant for Londoners. It’s a win-win.”

Collaboration and long-term planning are paramount to reducing the impact of extreme heat in cities. And investing in innovative technology solutions can accelerate the virtuous circle to which Khan alluded.

Beware the heat island effect

Indeed, embracing an approach to building that keeps nature in mind, rather than seeking to dominate it, will lead to better urban spaces for both people and the planet. So says Chris Bennett, co-founder and managing director of sustainability services at Evora Global, a London-headquartered real asset consultancy. 

“Our urban environments are dominated by densely grouped buildings made of reflective materials creating a ‘heat island effect’,” he explains. “This is why it’s often hotter in cities than rural areas.”

Bennett believes simple tech and nature-based solutions will make a big difference. “Reducing hard reflective surfaces such as road pavements would help to lower temperatures,” he says. “Re-engineering pavements to be permeable blocks, instead of concrete or Tarmac, would allow water to flow through the pavers in wet conditions and evaporate when the heat rises, creating a cooling effect.

“Also, incorporating trees and plants reduces the reflective nature of the streetscape, provides habitats for wildlife and offers shelter from harsh ultraviolet radiation and solar heat during summer.” 

Ironically, it is partly due to technology that we find ourselves in this sticky situation. Since the 1960s, planes, trains and automobiles have heavily contributed to global warming, and cities have evolved to accommodate gas-guzzling vehicles. So it’s time for a swift U-turn, says Bennett.

“In London, we are blessed with many urban parks and squares created by the Georgians and Victorians. But many of the city’s trees have been lost to provide car parking spaces,” he says. “Planting street trees will increase protection from the climate by reducing heat stress and limiting the degradation of the urban construction materials, making buildings last longer.”

Appropriate early-stage design 

Another expert urging cross-industry action is Håvard Haukeland, co-founder of Spacemaker AI. His company provides early-stage analysis for architects and urban planners and enables buildings to be designed with the local microclimate in mind to minimise urban heat islands. 

“The way our cities have been designed is no longer appropriate for modern times,” he says. “As temperatures rise due to climate change, the design choices previously made either due to tradition or practical considerations around energy efficiency are making our cities even hotter.”

Haukeland contends that architects and urban planners need to step up. “While solutions such as additional greenery or reflective roofs can help keep things a little cooler, the reality is the most impactful solutions are done at the early stage when new developments are being built,” he continues. 

Design adaptations – including rotating structures to “open up” for wind or even altering the shape of a building – can make “the biggest difference to microclimates”, Haukeland says. Although these solutions are “much harder to implement”, he asserts that designers “must consider microclimates at the outset”.

That may be so, but how should cities upgrade older infrastructure to make it better able to withstand extreme heat? “This is the critical question when you think about the number of heritage and older buildings we have in the UK,” says Ian Ellis, smart buildings expert at Siemens Smart Infrastructure. Sensors that capture data and allow deep analysis of how people use buildings – especially as hybrid-working strategies are firmed up – could be the answer.

“This technology is already being used in buildings across the UK, where it can provide usage data on the flow of people through a building, where they congregate and how they use it,” says Ellis. “Data like this provides invaluable insights in optimising other technologies like heating and ventilation systems.”

Sensors, shade and sewage

Sebastian Peck, a partner at Kompas – an early-stage venture capital firm focused on transforming the built environment – lists some pioneering solutions to cool cities. “Vertical Field is installing sensor-controlled smart planters to purify the air from carbon dioxide and, when mounted to buildings, they help insulate them from the sun,” he says. 

Meanwhile, Lumiweave has developed an innovative fabric that provides shade during the day and harvests the sun’s energy to illuminate itself and its surroundings at night. “And,” Peck continues, “TreeTube has a patented modular system of tubes that lets tree roots grow safely in a tunnel without disrupting their surroundings.”

Peter Hogg, UK cities director at global design, engineering and management consulting company Arcadis, offers a more practical but pongy example. “We are looking at using effluent as a heat exchanger that allows you to extract energy used for cooling with minimal carbon impact. Imagine the potential in a city the size of London, which houses 8.5 million people.”

At this stage, no idea should be flushed away. And while there is much work to do, the willingness to force change – and think up unusual solutions – is finally evident, suggests Hogg. “The pandemic was a watershed,” he says. “There is a collective understanding that this situation must be addressed. Today, building plans that fail to consider the climate challenge won’t attract investors. 

“Before the coronavirus crisis, you would have to go to the Netherlands or the Nordics to find people taking this seriously. We now acknowledge that significant behavioural and structural changes are required, and quickly.”

Peck concludes that enough technologies are available to cool cities but to harness their power, leaders must be bold. 

“The difficulty is that urban planners need to rethink our cities, make them greener and ensure water is put to good use,” he says. “But changing and building back existing urban infrastructure is expensive. Cities are under pressure to demonstrate to the public that their scarce resources are well invested.

“In other words, cooling our cities is not a technological challenge, but a political one.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Smart Cities report in August 2022

WTF is pre-covery?

Before employees start working at SevenRooms, a global guest experience and retention platform for the hospitality industry, they are automatically provided two weeks paid time off by their new employer.

The initiative, called Fresh Start, is part of the growing “pre-covery” trend — a term to describe an acknowledgment that employees must recharge before beginning a new challenge to avoid burnout.

Some professionals believe it can be a protective layer between success and failure. “The best organizations have realized employees can’t run at 100% for 100% of the time,” said Brian Kropp, group vice president and chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice. “We have to create time for breaks, moments of rest and recovery. The best organizations are increasingly thinking about ‘pre-covery.’”

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Lessons from Spotify’s work-from-anywhere rollout

Spotify launched a new work model called “work from anywhere” (WFA) in February 2021 – and it was music to the ears of its 8,600 employees, according to data published in early August.  

The policy enabled staff to decide when they worked in a company office or wherever else on the planet, as long as the Swedish-headquartered company had a hub in that country.

The music-streaming company also tweaked its salary bands, recalibrating them by nation rather than city or region. That seemed to be a popular move: 6% of its 11,453 employees moved countries after this policy was introduced, and a large chunk of whom moved within the U.S.

The headline news, though, is that despite the great resignation trend, Spotify claimed staff churn has reduced compared to pre-pandemic levels and that it has also boosted the diversity of its workforce – as a direct result of the policy. 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

More companies are publishing salary bands – is this the future, or risky?

At the end of July, Hook, a creative production house based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and San Francisco, took the bold but progressive step of publishing its pay bands on its website. It is a milestone moment in a five-year journey for the company striving to achieve greater parity and transparency.

The hope is competitors and organizations in other industries that are typically slow to keep pace with change will follow its lead.

A growing number of states are adopting salary transparency laws. But is publishing salary bands truly a good idea, considering rival companies could, in theory, steal top talent by offering more money?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How hybrid working has complicated mergers & acquisitions

Up to 90% of business acquisitions don’t achieve the expected value or benefits. The principal reason for this failure is that integrating groups is notoriously challenging – and even more so now, with many organizations shifting to hybrid working strategies. 

Global deal-making activities hit a record $6 trillion last year. And yet, while employees are the most critical asset of most companies, they often get neglected in the excitement of an M&A.

The age-old M&A model typically involved the employees of one company leaving their offices, to join those of their new employer. But with today’s hybrid and flexible working setups, that looks very different. And adds new complexity to the long-term challenge of successful cultural integration.

Organic opportunities for new colleagues to connect are likely to be missed thanks to the move to hybrid working. So what could – and should – be done?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How to fix the metaverse’s sexual harassment problem (and make ‘metawork’ a reality)

Since Meta – the tech titan formerly known as Facebook – revealed last year that it would invest heavily in the metaverse, there has been massive enthusiasm about the possibilities of this nascent technology, not least in a future-of-work capacity. 

Indeed, at the end of July, a study by Grand View Research predicted the booming metaverse market will reach $6.8 trillion by 2030. However, alarming recent data indicates that almost two-thirds of adults believe metaverse technologies will enable sexual harassment.

national tracking poll by business-intelligence company Morning Consult, published in March, found that 61% of 4,420 U.S. adults were concerned about this specific subject. Women seem most worried about it, with 41% of female respondents saying they have “major” concerns, compared to 34% of males. 

The same research showed that 79% of adults are worried about the tracking and misuse of personal data in the metaverse. Add in the numerous articles written about people’s personal experiences of harassment in the metaverse, and it’s clear there is a deep-rooted trust issue that business leaders should consider before funding metaverse worlds for employees, whether onboarding staff, hosting events, or meetings.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How technology can help financial services organisations reach younger generations

Smartphone apps, gamification and proactive support are some of the ways operators can engage the digital natives of today and tomorrow

Baby boomers might have a majority of global wealth today, but tomorrow it will be different. Indeed, by 2030, Europe’s younger generations – millennials and gen z – are due to inherit around £2.3 trillion from their parents, according to recent estimates. How can financial service operators cash in on this great wealth transfer?

In 2022, client-facing teams operating in the financial service industry can – and must – leverage technology to build meaningful relationships with younger generations who are digital natives. 

Indeed, over a third (34%) of 18- to 34-year-olds would choose a different financial services provider if they were expected to visit a branch in person, according to VMware’s recent Digital Frontiers 4.0 report, which surveyed over 2,000 UK consumers. 

Similarly, Marqeta’s 2022 Consumer Money Movement report reveals generational differences. Over half (54%) of gen z – born between 1997 and 2012 – can’t recall their PINs, and more than three-quarters (77%) feel confident enough with contactless payments to leave their wallets at home and just go out with their phones. 

Consider a Chase study from 2021 indicated that 99% of gen z and 98% of Millennials use mobile banking apps, compared to 86.5% of gen x and 69.5% of Boomers.

“Younger markets live on their smartphones,” says Ben Johnson, CEO of digital transformation consultants BML Digital. “Everything needs to be available via the app, and the mobile experience has to match the ease of something like Snapchat or Pinterest.” 

Prakash Pattni, managing director of financial services digital transformation in EMEA for IBM, agrees. “Ultimately, younger consumers want to access their accounts, lock missing cards, make virtual payments and transfer money to others swiftly and securely,” he says. “Financial institutions must develop easy-to-use applications with superior uptime that can easily integrate with other apps.”

Gamification and proactive support

How can financial services operators generate trust with younger generations? “Technology is the answer,” posits Somya Patnaik, a market product manager specialising in real-time payments at ACI Worldwide. “They must bring more innovative features that will engage young people and improve their consumer experience.”

Gamification in financial services is winning a lot of trust among young consumers, suggests Patnaik. So, for instance, insurance companies might build an app that tracks fitness activities against pre-agreed goals, which, if hit, unlock rewards like cheaper insurance or gym memberships. This insight chimes with George Ioannou, managing partner at design experience company Foolproof. Learning patterns around digital activities differ according to age. Where the older generations turn to Facebook for information, younger generations are growing up using gaming platforms such as Fortnite and Discord servers. 

“This may speak to using gamified models of education within financial applications to facilitate learning, perhaps even in a sandbox, and therefore a safe environment,” says Ioannou. 

Ioannou argues that technology enables financial services organisations to become more proactive in supporting customers, and younger generations want more advice about money matters now than ever. “Operators need to step up and actively educate their users,” he adds. 

Research from Personetics, a global fintech, published at the end of June shows in the past three months only 22% of UK customers feel their primary bank has communicated with them about dealing with the cost-of-living crisis. Further, over half (53%) would consider moving banks if a rival offered better money management support and personalised advice.

Reliable source of truth 

Financial education is now starting young. NatWest is currently offering a children’s pocket-money application for free to customers. “Last year, we acquired Rooster Money, a children’s prepaid debit card and app,” explains Fay Wood, head of acquisition and digital security authentication. “We wanted to do more in the space for children.”  

She also stresses the importance of working with expert partners to provide access to apps at speed. “Five or ten years ago, we would have built something like Rooster Money in-house.”

Alongside proactive apps, social media is an invaluable tool for sales and marketing teams in the financial service industry looking to use tech to appeal to younger customers. Here, states Amanda Le Brocq, head of strategy at Marcus by Goldman Sachs, is where organisations can add value. 

“Young people are increasingly getting financial information from social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram,” she says. “But with so much content available, people can easily get the wrong information. Today, it is essential that financial services companies provide a compelling digital offering, so young people can consume content online and know it is coming from a reliable source.”

Operators wanting to engage younger customers must look further and deeper, says Meghana Nile, insurance CTO at Fujitsu. “Social media and peers influence a lot of the purchasing decisions, meaning financial services companies that have a reputation for having ethical and sustainable practices will attract buyers from gen z, who in 2030 will be the dominant purchasing demographic.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s The new financial services client experience insights report, sponsored by Seismic, in August 2022

Five ways financial services operators can build trust in the digital age

With cybercrime on the rise, customers expecting a better online banking experience, and more players in the market, organisations should push for positive reviews, cut back on nuisance communication, and be transparent

American business magnate Warren Buffett’s warning that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” is a precious lesson worth heeding by financial services operators seeking to generate trust in the digital age. 

After working hard to claw back favour following the global economic crash in 2008, the industry generally impressed during the pandemic. But with cybercrime on the rise, customers expecting a better online banking experience, and more players in the market, building trust is increasingly challenging. 

A report published in April by global cybersecurity company Imperva, based on responses from almost 7,000 consumers across Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, found that 63% of people don’t trust financial services organisations to keep their data safe. Clearly, there is much work to do.

Here are five ways financial services operators can build trust in the digital age.

1. Actively push for positive reviews

When was the last time you didn’t buy something because a bad review put you off? It’s the same for financial services operators. Hence why those in the sector must do more than monitor online reviews, suggests Jeremy Helm, a financial analyst at Modern World Business Solutions. “You need to be actively pushing to gain positive reviews,” he says. “You can set up an automated email via Trustpilot that goes out a week after a purchase is complete.”

And if the reviews are not favourable, learn from them. “Don’t ignore them,” continues Helm. “Others will be reading the negative reviews before making a purchase, so make sure to answer the complaint promptly and politely. But also, if you’re not to blame, there is nothing wrong with highlighting where the issue lay respectfully and factually.”

2. Cut back on nuisance communication

A recent freedom of information request, made by customer communication firm Quadient, showed an increase in spam communications from financial services operators over the past year, which is eroding consumer trust, according to the company’s principal of banking and financial services, Andrew Stevens.

“Operators urgently need to cut back on nuisance communication – irrelevant or non-useful contact, which only damages trust and drives customers away,” he says. The FOI request showed 8,796 banking-related spam calls and texts were reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2021 – 38% higher than the 2020 figure. Additionally, insurance-related nuisance calls and texts rose by 40%, with 3,989 complaints.

“Our research shows 43% of consumers are willing to blacklist businesses for sending spam,” continues Stevens. “Instead of bombarding customers with irrelevant offers and deals, they should remember that every piece of communication is an opportunity to win customers’ trust. For instance, by providing useful information to help them save money amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.”

3. Learn from tech titans and be clear about values

“Interestingly, the five most trusted brands across any industry globally are all large-scale tech firms,” says Nick Chadbourne, CEO of LMS, which supplies conveyancing services. “They provide a seamless cross-platform experience that is personalised to individual users. Google is probably the best example.” 

He spots a paradox, though. “These companies are probably utilising our data for commercial gain more than any other business. Yet, there is a perceived trust from consumers. This is partly because of how these businesses fit with their values. But also because they deliver great customer experience and hyper-personalisation. Financial services firms could benefit and build trust by taking a similar approach.”

Sébastien Marotte, president of EMEA at content management company Box, agrees. However, he calls for greater clarity about data use. “The best way for financial service organisations to build and maintain trust is through open and transparent compliance reporting.”

4. Don’t forget the importance of human touch

Financial services organisations collect more information on their customers than any other industry, according to Adam Mayer, a director at data and analytics firm, Qlik. “Trust is imperative to this industry – and needs to be built from the ground up,” he says. “Don’t forget the importance of a human touch when building trust in digital technologies.” 

While AI and predictive analytics can generate powerful recommendations, employees will provide oversight into actual decision-making, Mayer adds. “And, more importantly, they will explain those decisions to the customer. Blending human and machine insights improves the accountability actions being made, which helps smoothen some of the hurdles around trust and regulation.”

Additionally, ensuring employees have the requisite data literacy to understand, question and apply the predictive forecasts to their decision-making process is critical.

5. Show your AI workings

As more financial services are investing in AI solutions, it’s vital to show how decisions have been made. “Explainable AI addresses one of the key issues for banks using AI applications, as they typically operate as ‘black boxes’ offering little if any discernible insight into how they reach their decisions across lending and fraud detection and to improve customer service,” says Hani Hagras, chief science officer at banking software company Temenos.

He provides an example. “With buy now pay later (BNPL), Temenos Explainable AI provides additional transparency, enabling the customer to understand why a particular flavour of BNPL was recommended to them and make an informed choice. This increases trust in the BNPL service and puts the customer in control.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s The new financial services client experience insights report, sponsored by Seismic, in August 2022

‘It’s pulling us apart’: Has the ‘bring our whole selves to work’ trend backfired?

In the post-Covid-19 era, business leaders are advised to be authentic in word and deed, display their vulnerabilities, and encourage staff to bring their whole selves to work. But some argue this has merely opened a can of worms within organizations — an outcome that may be hard to rectify.

Almost half (44%) of U.S. employees said they have actively avoided some co-workers because they disagree with their political views since returning to the office following the coronavirus crisis, according to unpublished Gartner research seen by WorkLife.

Brian Kropp, group vice president and chief of research for Gartner’s human resources practice, acknowledged that events of the last 2 1/2 years have frayed work relationships. Still, in his view, we have brought this problem on ourselves.

“We spend so much time talking about ‘bringing your whole self to work,’ making sure that we’re inclusive and encouraging people to be who they are when they’re in the office,” he said. “Part of an employee’s whole self is their political beliefs.”

As workplaces have become more open and inclusive, they have also invited the day’s political, societal and cultural debates into the workplace. “Unfortunately, in this period of extreme political and cultural tension, that conflict has permeated into the workplace, and now it’s pulling us apart from each other,” added Kropp.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How financial services operators are dialling up conversational AI to catch out fraudsters

Organisations are using new technology to analyse the voices of those posing as customers in real time while reducing false positives

Great Britain is the fraud capital of the world, according to a Daily Mail investigation published in June. The study calculated that 40 million adults have been targeted by scammers this year. In April, a reported £700m was lost to fraud, compared to an average of £200m per month in 2021. As well as using convincing ruses, scammers are increasingly sophisticated cybercriminals.

If the UK does go into recession, as predicted, then the level of attacks is likely to increase even further. Jon Holden is head of security at digital-first bank Atom. “Any economic and supply-chain pressure has always had an impact and motivated more fraud,” he says. He suggests that the “classic fraud triangle” of pressure, opportunity and rationalisation comes into play. 

Financial service operators are investing in nascent fraud-prevention technologies such as conversational AI and other biometric solutions to reduce fraud. “Conversational AI is being used across the industry to recognise patterns in conversations, with agents or via chatbots, that may indicate social engineering-type conversations, to shut them down in real time,” continues Holden. “Any later than real time and the impact of such AI can be deadened as the action comes too late. Linking this to segmentation models that identify the most vulnerable customers can help get action to those that need it fastest and help with target prevention activity too.”

This last point is crucial because educating customers about swindlers is not straightforward. “Unfortunately, there will always be vulnerable people being scammed,” Holden says. “The banks are doing a lot of work to identify and protect vulnerable customers, but clever social engineering, often over a long period, will always create more victims of romance scams, investment scams, or purchase scams when victims send money for goods never received.”

How AI can help fight fraud

AI is a critical tool to fight fraud. Not only does it reduce the possibility of human error but it raises the flag quickly, which enables faster, smarter interventions. Additionally, it provides “far better insight of the cyber ecosystem”, adds Holden, “almost at the point of predictive detection, which helps with both threat decisioning and threat hunting”. 

Jason Costain is head of fraud prevention at NatWest, which serves 19 million customers across its banking and financial services brands. He agrees it is vital for conversational AI to join the chat. Because the call centre is an important customer service channel and a prime target for fraudulent activity – both from lone-wolf attackers and organised crime networks – he resolved to establish more effective security mechanisms while delivering a fast, smooth experience for genuine customers. 

In late 2020, NatWest opted for a speech recognition solution by Nuance, a company which Microsoft recently acquired. It screens every incoming call and compares voice characteristics – including pitch, cadence, and accent – to a digital library of voices associated with fraud against the bank. The software immediately flags suspicious calls and alerts the call centre agent about potential fraud attempts.

Since our initial implementation of AI three years ago, the improvements to alert quality have been incredible

Before the end of the first year of deploying the Nuance Gatekeeper system, NatWest had screened 17 million incoming calls. Of those, 23,000 led to alerts and the bank found that around one in every 3,500 calls is a fraud attempt. As well as a library of ‘bad’ voices, NatWest agents now have a safe list of genuine customer voices that can be used for rapid authentication without customers needing to recall passwords and other identifying information. That knowledge enables the bank to identify and disrupt organised crime activities to protect its customers and assist law enforcement.

“We’re using voice-biometric technology to build a clear picture of our customers’ voices and what criminal voices sound like,” Costain says. “We can detect when we get a fraudulent voice coming in across our network as soon as it happens. Using a combination of biometric and behavioural data, we now have far greater confidence that we are speaking to our genuine customers and keeping them safe.”

He estimates the return on investment from the tool is more than 300%. “As payback from technology deployment, it’s been impressive. But it’s not just about stopping financial loss; it’s about disrupting criminals.” For instance, NatWest identified a prolific fraudster connected to suspect logins on 1,500 bank accounts, and an arrest followed.

“For trusted organisations like banks, where data security is everything, the identification of the future is all about layers of security: your biometrics, the devices you use, and understanding your normal pattern of behaviour,” adds Costain. “At NatWest, we are already there, and our customers are protected by it.”

Benefits of investing in conversational AI

There are other benefits to be gained by investing in conversational AI solutions. Dr Hassaan Khan is head of the School of Digital Finance at Arden University. He points to a recent survey that indicates almost 90% of the banking sector’s interactions will be automated by 2023. “To stay competitive, organisations must rethink their strategies for improved customer experience. Banks are cognisant that conversational AI can help them be prepared and meet their customers’ rising demands and expectations,” he says.

This observation chimes with Livia Benisty. She is the global head of anti-money laundering at Banking Circle, the B2B bank relied on by Stripe, Paysafe, Shopify and other big businesses, responsible for settling approximately 6% of the world’s ecommerce payments. “With AML fines rocketing – the Financial Conduct Authority dished out a record $672 million (£559m) in 2021 – it’s clear that transaction monitoring cannot cope in its current state,” Benisty says. “That’s why adopting AI and machine learning is vital for overturning criminal activity.”

She argues, however, that many in the financial services industry are reluctant to invest in the newest AML solutions for fear of being reprimanded by regulators. “If you’re a bank, you come under a lot of scrutiny and there’s been resistance to using AI like ours,” she says. “AI is seen as unproven and risky to use but the opposite is true. Since our initial implementation of AI three years ago, the improvements to alert quality have been incredible. AI alleviates admin-heavy processes, enhancing detection by increasing rules precision and highlighting red flags the naked human eye could never spot.”

Even regulators would be impressed by the results revealed by Banking Circle’s head of AML. More than 600 bank accounts have been closed or escalated to the compliance department, thanks to AI-related findings. Further, the solution “dramatically reduces” the so-called false positive alerts. “It’s well known the industry can see rates of a staggering 99%,” adds Benisty. “In highlighting fewer non-risky payments, fewer false positives are generated, ultimately meaning more time to investigate suspicious payments.”

As the economy weakens, and criminals grow stronger, financial services operators would be wise to dial up their conversational AI capabilities to improve customer experience today and pave the way to a password-less tomorrow.

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Fraud, Cybersecurity and Financial Crime report in July 2022

People are being harsher in the workplace post-pandemic – how did we get here?

Be honest: are you snappier with your colleagues and harsher with your spoken and written words than two years ago? We might not like to admit it, but the pandemic altered us all, to a degree – at work and home. 

Individually, the change might be imperceptible. However, collectively it adds up to a negative conclusion. And if left unchecked, this general lack of positivity will toxify the workplace and corrode relationships.

Brian Kropp, group vp and chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice, expressed his concern for employers and their staff. “There are numerous things pulling employees apart from each other, and that’s incredibly difficult as an organization because the purpose of having a company is bringing people together, to collaborate, and to achieve something bigger than any individual could achieve alone,” he said.

Could this be the start of a worrying trend? “We’re finding that we are entering a period where things inside and outside our organizations are causing the workforce fragmentation,” Kropp added. 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.