Future of banking: what next-generation operating models are required?

Composability, partnerships with fintechs, and meeting customers on their preferred channel are all vital, according to a roundtable of experts. Watch the full roundtable here

Financial services operators were, according to ServiceNow’s Keith Pearson, “the white knights of the pandemic”. They came to the rescue of people and businesses stricken by the fallout of the coronavirus crisis. But, with the global economy in peril, they must saddle up again. 

And yet, despite being saviours for many in the last two-and-a-half years, there is an incredible demand for banks, in particular, to evolve rapidly and offer personalised services and an omnichannel customer experience to rival the best in other industries. 

To gallop along with change, steer clear of disruption, and continue to fight the good fight, those wishing to lead the way in the future of banking must partner with fintech experts, argues Pearson, AVP of financial services industry go to market at ServiceNow. 

He points to a recent Gartner report, 2022 CIO Agenda: A Banking and Investment Perspective, which captures the challenge. “We are in a time of indefinite volatility, making it difficult for banks to plan for an indefinite future,” it reads. “Mastering business composability prepares banks to maximise business value regardless of ongoing uncertainty.” 

Fay Wood, head of retail strategy at Natwest, sets the scene. “There is a looming cost-of-living crisis after unprecedented events – a global pandemic and a war in Europe – that few would have predicted three years ago,” she says. “Money management and supporting customers with budgeting and financial tools will be critical for the industry. As a result, these services are becoming much more embedded in people’s lives.”

Increased duty of care 

Concurrently, regulators argue there is a greater responsibility on regulated firms to hold customers’ hands, metaphorically, and support them. Interestingly, some new financial terrains, whether it’s cryptocurrencies or buy now, pay later products, for instance, are not yet regulated. 

Indeed, the Financial Conduct Authority’s final regulations on its new Consumer Duty will be available at the end of July and, following consultation, appear likely to force regulated firms to deliver “the best outcomes” for retail clients, says Wood. As an example of how NatWest better educates customers, the recently acquired Rooster Money app, with a pre-paid pocket-money card for those aged three and up, is currently free to access for the bank’s 17 million customers. “We wanted to do more for children,” she adds, highlighting the role acquisition is playing in the future of banking. 

Metro Bank’s David Thomasson, managing director of digital and products, concurs that banks have to support customers better, whether online or offline, and build on the trust generated in the last two-and-a-half years. “Now, more so than before, they need to talk to somebody at the bank,” he says. “While digital is clearly becoming more important, seeing someone face to face is also vital. Our data shows that customers might not use a Metro Bank store for two months or even two years, but knowing that there is someone in a trusted environment nearby who can speak to you at a time that suits you is crucial.” 

You must be prepared to think differently about your organisation’s structure and operating model and follow that through with your technology investment

It is not just individuals who crave that support. Thomasson states that 80% of Metro Bank’s business customers gained since the start of the pandemic operate within an eight-mile radius of a branch. “This shows the importance of the bank within a community,” he continues. “A service-led proposition and being there for communities will differentiate financial services organisations going forward.” 

Banking in the metaverse 

The “big difference” identified by Nadya Hijazi, global head of wholesale digital channels at HSBC, is that banks have to go to customers, not vice versa. In March, HSBC revealed it had bought a plot of virtual real estate in The Sandbox, an online gaming space, marking the bank’s first significant foray into the metaverse. She says: “It’s about ensuring your services are available wherever your customer wants to be, whether that’s in the metaverse or using WeChat in China. You must embed your services and be at the heart of the community.” 

Banks can’t afford to ease up on innovation, and a mindset change is required to develop products and services that don’t need to be fixed, per se, Hijazi warns. “When you’ve got a revenue stream, there is no driver for change,” she says. “Usually, things change because something is not working. But now it’s dangerous to be complacent because if you don’t keep improving, then you will lose connectivity with customers.” 

This concept chimes with Jasmeet Narang, chief transformation officer and head of operations at Santander UK. “Customers want choice and convenience, not just a load of off-the-shelf products,” he says. “The old stack-them-high and sell-them-cheap approach doesn’t work anymore. Instead, you have to understand customer needs, and most critically, you have to have that human touch.” 

He stresses the importance of collaborating across the business and “organising design around the customer”, using their predicted wants and requirements as the guiding star, and justification, for any innovation. “Otherwise, you’ll always function in silos.” However, humans must be involved in the service, whatever technology is used. “It is those touch points with customers that are gold dust and will define the winners and the losers in the future of banking.” 

Culture conundrum and composability 

Narang says leaders have to activate a cultural change to drive innovation. “Top-down sponsorship is essential,” he adds. “Once you have that and a clear, long-term structure, other things follow. Also, you have got to be true to your convictions. The world will throw pandemics and wars at you, and at times you might have to be agile and flexible, but those that will succeed will keep the overall destination in mind.” 

Yorkshire Building Society’s chief commercial officer, David Morris, believes the “evolution of banking distribution models is going to have quite pronounced effects, whether that’s embedded finance or banking in the metaverse, among many examples. New entrants, whether challenger banks or technology companies, will find ways of competing in the value chain in different ways. Therefore, that’s going to have big implications for business models.” 

He continues: “How do you make sure you’re not left behind or not investing in the wrong technology? And how do you build that in an environment where you have to handle legacy infrastructure, macroeconomic uncertainty, and evolving regulations? Running an enterprise and building something different is incredibly difficult, and requires careful prioritisation and creative solution design.” 

ServiceNow’s Pearson counters that bold banking leaders who look to partner with fintechs, use the agility of the cloud, and are willing to rip up old plans will triumph. “You must be prepared to think differently about your organisation’s structure and operating model and follow that through with your technology investment.” 

He suggests the quicker banks can focus on building “composability” – essentially, a system design principle that deals with the interoperability of components – at scale, the better. “That’s what the future of banking will look and feel like,” Pearson concludes.

To find out how ServiceNow can enable digital transformation and improve experiences in your organisation, visit your.servicenow.com/businessinsights

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Fintech report in June 2022

‘Cash is no longer king’: the rapid shift to e-commerce

Customer shopping habits have been completely reshaped in recent years, with the boom in global e-commerce market sales predicted to be here to stay. So what can retail businesses do to adapt?

The retail industry has undergone a radical transformation. Even before the Covid pandemic, the shift to e-commerce was completely reshaping how the industry operates and how customers shop.

But lockdowns made these shifts more rapid and seismic, forcing businesses and consumers to shop online at record levels. The pandemic also expedited the adoption of in-store contactless payments. Research from UK Finance, which represents the banking and finance industry, found that 27% of all payments in 2020 were contactless, up from 7% five years ago.

While people have been talking about the shift to e-commerce for decades, we are now getting a much more definitive and enduring sense of what that transformation actually looks like, and what it means for retail businesses.

“Finally, cash is no longer king,” says Jacob Rider, senior programme manager at Projective, a financial business, technology and innovation consulting firm. “Notes and coins went out of widespread use during the pandemic, while payments innovation in the contactless space – and the relaxing of regulations allowing the upping of limits – means digital and contactless payment with card or phone, or wear[able] tech, is now the preferred method of payment for many.”

This means that trust is now of paramount importance – for both retailers and consumers alike. “Businesses are frantically working on recovering from the pandemic disruption, and they need to instil trust,” says Harshna Cayley, managing director, gateway products at Barclaycard Business. “Comfort and security is top of mind for a range of businesses, whether large or small.”

Another effect of these trends is the way physical and online retail shopping have increasingly blended into one experience. However customers choose to shop, they expect the benefits of both approaches. For instance, some might wish to order online and then pick up in store, or they want to try out products in store and then have the purchase fulfilled online.

Alternatively, they might expect their in-person shopping experiences to be more personalised. Retailers have often found themselves having to shapeshift in response to this demand for seamlessness and ease – and key to this are so-called omnichannel payments systems, which allow retailers to offer near-frictionless online payments regardless of whether customers are shopping in person, online or via mobile.

Analysts suggest that the ability to offer frictionless payments is critical in business. “A flawless digital experience is now required to compete,” says Rider. “Brands need to innovate again if they want a customer payments experience advantage.”

For example, regardless of how smoothly a customer progresses on their e-commerce purchasing journey – browsing, comparing and choosing an item – it is likely to come to a shuddering halt if the payment experience is challenging.

According to Barclaycard research, £39bn worth of online shopping baskets have been abandoned since the start of the pandemic. Typical reasons for customers abandoning their cart include delivery fees, concerns about cybersecurity, and the absence of their chosen payment method.

These stats don’t surprise Nick Maynard, head of research at Juniper Research, which specialises in financial and payment technologies. “Generally, friction is the main reason for cart abandonment,” he says. “This can come in many shapes or forms, including the inability to use a preferred payment method, poor design, or onerous security steps.”

Cayley argues that a robust payment gateway is crucial for online retailers. A payment gateway is essentially a communication layer that sends payment information securely from the acquirer to the customer’s issuing bank, and back again. “Barclaycard payment gateway seamlessly connects the customer’s website with our payment system,” she says. “Then it securely captures and encrypts transactions, passing the necessary information between the end customer, the merchant, and the acquiring bank.”

She notes that Barclaycard payment gateway is easy to integrate and scales depending on business needs, adding that it can improve the customer experience while helping companies comply with regulations and meet their legal obligations.

Recent global events have brought into focus other shifts in the e-commerce landscape, such as the entry of more manufacturers into the direct-to-consumer retail space. Likewise, international sales have become an increasingly important way for retailers to plug the gaps left by supply chain problems and the decline of bricks and mortar trading.

In a sense, omnichannel payments are evolving into omnipresent experiences and, as such, we can expect further rapid developments in this space, according to Jeroen Hölscher, head of global payments and cards practice at Capgemini, an IT services and consulting company. “Customers and businesses are undergoing a radical shift to digital wallets, mobile payments, virtual cards and other advanced payment solutions, which offer feature-rich, hyper-personalised digital payments experience,” he says. 

“Already, digital wallets are one of the most preferred payment methods for e-commerce purchases. Global e-commerce market sales are predicted to surpass $7tn (£5tn) by 2024, and digital wallets are expected to account for more than 50% of all the e-commerce payments.”

More recently, e-commerce merchants were once again buoyed up by Black Friday last year, with the number of payments made via Barclaycard up by 23% between midnight and 5pm compared with the same period in 2020, and up 2.4% on 2019.

“The prize for retailers is huge, with the bounce-back of the economy and consumers looking to spend,” says Cayley. “There is a massive opportunity to drive e-commerce.”

This article, sponsored by Barclaycard, was first published by Guardian Labs in January 2022

Enriching and empowering: realising the potential of data-enabled public services

Out of necessity, public bodies dialled up their digital services during the pandemic, but now is a pivotal moment to consider how to achieve a joined-up, secure, frictionless citizen experience

When considering the rapid and radical shift to digital services in the public sector during the coronavirus crisis, Ernest Hemingway’s line from The Sun Also Rises of bankruptcy happening “gradually, then suddenly” comes to mind. In this case, though, the prognosis is somewhat more optimistic.

The hurried but necessary jump into the digital era has enabled people to be empowered and enriched by data-driven public services. Now the leap has been made, the direction of travel is clear. However, there is still work to be done before achieving a connected, frictionless digital experience that benefits the state and its citizens.

“Data-driven, smart digital technologies have provided crucial support to public bodies through the pandemic, but they’ve also allowed our under-pressure services to become smarter and more responsive to our needs as citizens,” says Steve Thorn, executive director at Civica, whose software helps sustain and enhance public services around the world.

“For some public services, the digital journey was already well underway, and the pandemic catalysed this journey. For others, such as our schools, the pandemic required a more fundamental change, with face-to-face teaching giving way to online classrooms.”

Thorn singles out the track and trace applications and vaccination certificates as “prime examples of the power of data-driven, smart technologies to deliver better outcomes for citizens,” and says that more outstanding capabilities are within reach. But, he warns, the government must take its next steps carefully. 

“Public bodies across Britain and the rest of the world already sit on rich seams of data, which are growing by the day as our society becomes more digitised,” he says. “Raw data is, though, of little value. Data must be collected, managed, used and shared effectively if it is to deliver any real benefits.”

Standards, skills and sharing

To better navigate the route ahead, with the ultimate goal of providing a connected, frictionless customer experience to citizens, Civica works with the public sector on what it calls the three ‘Ss’ – namely standards, skills and sharing. 

Thorn says: “Any public body, be it a parish council or Whitehall department, must ensure that it has robust standards in place for managing data, the right people with the right skills to use that data and finally, processes in place to share data safely and effectively, so it is it is delivering the best outcomes for the greater number of people.”

Andrew Hood, chief executive of Edinburgh-based analytics consultancy Lynchpin, agrees that now is a good time for the public sector to reflect on the good and the bad digital offerings throughout the coronavirus crisis. He sees great potential in Internet of Things (IoT) technology but similarly urges caution. “The pandemic has surfaced a lot of the practical opportunities and threats around data sharing and IoT in obvious terms when viewed through the lens of things like contact tracing apps and digital vaccine passports,” Hood says.

For some public services, the digital journey was already well underway, and the pandemic catalysed this journey. For others, such as our schools, the pandemic required a more fundamental change, with face-to-face teaching giving way to online classrooms

He points to the different strategies taken by the UK’s four nations in terms of deploying open source versus proprietary solutions. “There is potentially much to learn from what has worked well and less well when considering other similar applications outside of the pandemic,” he says.

“Whether to centralise or decentralise how data is shared across millions of devices became a very key consideration for contact-tracing apps. How [do we] achieve enough sharing to enable the outcome of alerting those that had been nearby others without creating Minority Report-style databases of the movements of the entire population?”

The software robot revolution 

For David Burrows, public sector industries leader at UiPath, a robotic process automation dollar unicorn, the benefits of the public sector doubling down on automation and IoT technologies to create a more streamlined physical service for citizens – for example, with smart roads, touch-fre metering and much more – are compelling. 

Further, with the UK effectively gaining data sovereignty post-Brexit, the government is perfectly positioned to speed ahead of other European nations if all key stakeholders use the exact strategy roadmap and collaborate.

But to improve citizens’ experiences and public services, alike, and to make use of better infrastructure, it comes back to managing data. “Automation is one tool being used by UK government to achieve the frictionless digital experience needed to improve public services and more effectively serve citizens,” says Burrows. “As software robots can handle huge volumes of data more quickly and efficiently than humans can, it can significantly streamline back-office activity and reduce the risk of administrative bottlenecks.”

He points to the recent work UiPath has done with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ National Licencing and Permitting Service for water abstraction – taking water from an underground or surface source, such as a river, stream or canal. “Once the team has made the technical expert decision on whether a licence should be issued or rejected, there is significant administration to be done to inform the applicant and to update internal and external consultees and the IT system,” says Burrows.

Now, software robots can handle this admin work, cutting the non-decision-making admin down from 65 minutes per transaction to just shy of seven minutes. “The result,” he says, “is that citizens can have their licenses in a fraction of the time, all while public servants can concentrate on more valuable work.”

Looking further ahead, Burrows adds: “With some 22% of government infrastructure decision makers recently telling Forrester that their departments will implement RPA in some shape or form by the end of this year, there is no doubt that automation will continue to play a significant role in government customer strategy.”

Also scanning the horizon and hoping for more joined-up public services and tools that will enrich the lives of citizens, is Thorn. “The pandemic has provided many great examples of how digital technologies can solve individual challenges – be that supporting homeschooling or allowing GPs to interact with patients at a distance. But digital transformation is more than solutions to individual problems.”

Offering a final word of advice, he adds: “Digital transformation is a wider journey towards a future where our public services are ultimately better able to anticipate and respond to our changing needs as citizens and as a society.”

And, as encouraging as the progress that has been made in the last two years especially has been, we are at a pivotal moment. As such, the potential of connected public services is likely to be realised gradually, not suddenly – and that’s no bad thing.

This article, sponsored by Vonage, was first published on Raconteur in December 2021

How has the pandemic transformed digital healthcare for patients and practitioners?

Public and private healthcare providers have been encouraged by the digital maturity of customers, and now are using data to shift to more proactive rather than reactive services

As the UK braces itself again due to the emergence of the omicron variant, and with a record 5.83 million people awaiting non-emergency hospital treatment – according to official figures from the end of September – the continued development of digital healthcare services is critical.

The pandemic necessitated the acceleration of digital transformation across the healthcare sector. For example, the National Health Service embraced digital solutions to track and trace, rollout vaccine programmes, and implement various smartphone apps, all of which have been well received.

From a customer experience perspective, there is obviously an appetite for digital healthcare. Granted, this has been fed by the pandemic-induced lockdowns. But it’s telling that the NHS is now seeking to build out its video consultation provision and move to a hybrid offering, using face-to-face consultations when appropriate. This approach reduces costs and is more convenient for patients.

To keep pace with customer expectations, private healthcare providers have also undergone seismic change in the last two years. “It’s been a crazy time,” says James Elliott, head of customer and commercial experience at Bupa Global. “We’ve seen a massive digital transformation, and there is a big opportunity in private healthcare as we move to proactive health management.”

However, legacy problems are halting progress in the digital era, he concedes. “For a long time, we thought that the best thing to do was plaster our telephone number on every piece of paper and membership card, but that has come back to bite us,” says Elliott. Furthermore, 40% of customers contact the organisation via email, an admittedly “horrible experience.”

He adds: “We are trying not to make the mistake of creating infinite loops for customers to fall into, and we want to educate them to make the right choice. We have created a digital-first portal to triage their contact, and that could involve an urgent phone call or an outbound scheduled call.”

We’ve seen a massive digital transformation, and there is a big opportunity in private healthcare as we move to proactive health management

Bupa Global’s LivePerson platform, established before the pandemic, has enhanced its connection with customers leading to a tenfold increase in satisfaction levels. But, as live interactions – even phone calls – are “hard to manage,” Elliott says digital chat “is the answer,” whether via WhatsApp or WeChat in China. “It has to be asynchronous,” he argues.

To better organise the urgency of customer needs, Bupa Global has “put a lot of time and money” into automated systems and conversational artificial intelligence. “We want to build a trusted relationship with our customers, and so improving natural language processing capabilities is key,” adds Elliot.

Alice Pan, chief medical officer and global head of health operations at Bima, a Swedish company that delivers health and insurance services in emerging markets, agrees that developing digital services is what patients and practitioners want. Bima is creating an asynchronous chat function, having been encouraged by the digital maturity of its customers.

The organisation, which operates in nine markets in Asia and Africa, offered a telemedicine service during the pandemic, and it quickly became customers’ preferred channel for first contact, with over half (58%) ranking it top.

While this was a surprise for Pan and her team, completely “shattering preconceptions,” it validated a shift to more digital solutions. And in time, with the customer data gathered from digital interactions, Bima is aiming to provide a more preventative, proactive and personalised service.

“We are getting to know our customers better, and we are collecting data to serve them better,” says Pan. “For the first six months of the pandemic, we learnt a lot, and it was tough; it was all reactive.

“It wasn’t until the latter half of 2020 that we started to think more strategically about what the pandemic meant for mobile health and Bima. Now, though, we have a clear plan of how we can grow in the next five years. “And,” she adds, “it’s exciting, especially for our customers.”

This article, sponsored by Vonage, was first published on Raconteur in December 2021

Seven key steps to improving the digital customer experience

Country manager of UK and Ireland, Matthew Parker from Vonage, a global business cloud communications leader, shares his thoughts on the key lessons from the recent ‘Reimagining digital customer experience and brand engagement’ roundtable event

At the roundtable (written up here), the passion for customer experience came across from everyone, loud and clear. There were plenty of great statistics in there, too; I love stats. I wrote down seven things during the discussion, and these are my key takeaways.

Humans: We discussed the evolution of humans and how technology has to be intuitive. I think there is a link between humans and smart automation. Certainly, natural language processing and understanding sentiments in emails and messages is an area of investment and innovation. As another classic example, though, you want to know where your parcel is on its journey to your door. It’s a commonly asked, simple question that can be solved by automation. Tracking technology means that humans are not needed, but there are plenty of other things that do require human input and touch.

Trust: Someone mentioned trust. And a few people had different definitions of trust, but the two words I took away, linked to developing consumer trust and loyalty, were security and integrity.

The ecommerce journey:  This was another subject. There was a great stat on ecommerce growth: the pandemic spurred a 130% increase in ecommerce adoption. But looking at the ecommerce journey is so important, especially when working out where to remove friction.

Experimentation: Someone said: “Have a go and try digital transformation.” I love that. I attended an Amazon Web Services (AWS) summit a few years ago, and despite that digital transformation had been around for a long time, thousands of people there were wondering where to start. The speaker on stage, from AWS, said: “Just have a go, just have a go, pick your burning platform and just have a go.” In many ways, that’s still going on, which is great to hear.

Brand connection and value exchange: Together these make a potent combination. There has to be something for the customer in return for their data. 

The use of data: This final point wraps the session up nicely. Collecting data in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has to have a context in terms of how an organisation will use the data. That’s the essential bit. Then there is the integration of that data in the customer journey. For example, we all get driven mad if we are on an interactive voice response for 20 minutes and then, having filled out the information, the human customer support person asks us the same questions.

This article, sponsored by Vonage, was first published on Raconteur in November 2021

Reimagining digital customer experience and brand engagement

As companies strive toward a frictionless digital experience, they must find ways to improve customer loyalty and trust. How will digital customer experience evolve in the coming year?

The pandemic-induced explosion of ecommerce and the acceleration of digital transformation means that most companies will re-examine and revamp their customer experience strategies and capabilities in the coming year. With customer loyalty increasingly difficult to gain and sustain, pioneering, data-powered technologies will improve the seamlessness of these digital experiences and deliver better brand engagement.

A dozen leaders in the customer experience (CX) space spanning a range of industries – including healthcare, travel, insurance, and banking – met to discuss challenges and solutions, and debate the direction of travel in the coming year. 

The lively discussion, supported by Vonage, a global business cloud communications leader, examined customer loyalty and trust, delivering CX with less friction, and how digital CX and brand engagement might develop in the coming year.

The conversation took off with Jack Smith, director of digital at British Airways (BA), who stressed the importance of ‘human touch’ with CX, an even more crucial point in the digital age. He said that BA is both “fortunate and unfortunate” because it is a well-recognised UK organisation.

When Smith joined BA, in 2017, there was much work to do on the digital CX front. “The challenge was that the digital channels didn’t represent the same human touch evident on our flights,” he said. “The tone of voice was robotic, like a booking system, and there was no conversation.”

While chatbots and other digital solutions are popular, Smith warned: “These wonderful bits of technology and digital channels miss the point if you are led by tech; you have to remember there’s a person at the other end.”

Lucy Jones, vice president of clinical at Oviva, noted that organisations now have the challenge of meeting ever-rising customer expectations. These have drastically evolved with the shift to digital platforms for ecommerce and thanks to the acceleration of digital transformation in health and communication since the start of the pandemic. As a result, retaining customer loyalty is perilously tricky.

Building trust is a must

“Digital loyalty is not like bricks-and-mortar businesses where the cost and complexity of transitioning [to a rival] is enough to buy a little slack,” Jones said. “In the digital space, it’s simple for that alliance to be lost if we are not meeting customer expectations.” Therefore, she added, it is imperative to build trust through “providing a seamless experience, avoiding wait and holding true to your promises.”

Avoiding friction is essential, agreed James Elliott, head of customer and commercial experience at Bupa Global. “We’re desperately trying not to make the mistake of creating infinite loops for customers to fall into,” he said. “We are attempting to educate customers to make the right choice, but still 40% of them want to contact us via email, which is not an optimal, quick experience. 

Elliott added: “We want to create a digital-first portal to triage and prioritise customer needs, whether it’s an urgent phone call or a scheduled outbound call at their convenience. What you don’t want is to spend 20 minutes searching through the frequently asked questions and then another 20 minutes finding a customer service telephone number.”

Digital loyalty is effectively achieved through more personalised and omnichannel [experiences], but fundamentally it won’t work just with technology; it has to have an emotional connection with the customer

Educating customers was also high up on the list for Dr Alice Pan, global chief medical officer at Bima,a provider of health and insurance solutions for the emerging middle class in Asia and Africa. Digital technologies, she says, can not only support diagnosis and treatment of health conditions but also enable prevention and wellness promotion.

But there has been a learning curve for Bima as well. Lockdowns and the need for treatments led to Bima offering a telemedicine service in the last year, and the uptake has been incredible. “Our internal research shows that after the first use of telemedicine, the percentage of people selecting it as their preferred channel of accessing healthcare went from 5.8% to 58%,” she said. “It shows that trying something for the first time can shatter preconceptions.”

Be true to your purpose

Conny Kalcher, group chief customer officer at Zurich, identified a “major change” in what customers – especially younger generations – expect from organisations. “They want to buy from brands that do good, not just [those] doing well in business,” she said. When Kalcher took up her new role at the global insurance firm in July 2019, she updated the company’s purpose to be more ambitious and less self-interested. 

“It was ‘we are here to protect you,’ but – guess what – all insurance companies are here to protect you,” she said. “It was not a unique message, so we co-created with customers to develop a new, inclusive purpose, which is ‘create a brighter future together.’ The younger parts of our customer base desire not just a brand purpose, but a sense of community. However, if you define your purpose, it’s not just nice words on a piece of paper; you have to live by that purpose.”

However, Dr Anthoula Madden, managing director of customer experience at Accenture, said the supposed digital divide between generations is narrowing. She pointed out that the pandemic triggered a 160% increase in ecommerce from “new or low-frequency users.” She said: “The generational gap around digital seems to be fading away, and more consumers of all ages are very comfortable with shopping online, especially using their smartphones.”

Research from Oviva supported this. Jones said: “I was surprised that 60% of customers across Europe will either mostly or only use a mobile phone for engaging in shopping and interacting with services such as healthcare; and it’s not just those under the age of 25, it’s across the board.”

Additionally, Madden encouraged businesses to invest in technology solutions, but do so in an agile way, testing and learning what might work best. “You need to be prepared to experiment. Fail fast. Just try it out, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.”

Value exchange: more choice and customer empowerment

For Stephen Gilbert, EMEA loyalty solutions director at Collinson, a company that offers loyalty programme solutions and owns airport lounge and experiences programme, Priority Pass, funding tech projects is not enough. He said: “Digital loyalty is effectively achieved through more personalised and omnichannel [experiences], but fundamentally it won’t work just with technology; it has to have an emotional connection with the customer.”

Gilbert added: “That’s the strategy piece you have to determine. There has to be a perceived value exchange between the customer and the brand. That is one of the keys to a loyalty programme.” But, he warned: “If organisations don’t see this as part of their branding and view it as digital marketing alongside a piece of technology, it will fail.”

What you don’t want is to ask people to remember the first, third and seventh digits of a passcode they have not used in years and leave them in a doom loop of password hell.

That insight resonated with Sue Bradley, director of customer experience delivery at Tui, the world’s largest leisure, travel and tourism company. Tui announced it was investing more in advertising to support the launch of the new ‘Live Happy’ campaign and to drive online sales. Bradley revealed the thoughts behind the recent ‘Live happy’ campaign.

“We wanted ‘Live happy’ to be inspirational,” said Bradley. “Tui offers a wide range of products, as well as the beach package holidays which we’re well known for, we also offer cities, tours cruises and ski. Our customers want to know that they are going to have fun when they go on holiday and at Tui, we help create those moments that make life richer. We also recognise the importance of experience. This week we launched the ‘Makers of happy,’ [referring to] our colleagues who make it memorable and personal for our customers.”

Tui has also released a new smartphone application to guide the customer journey. As well as being able to chat to the team 24/7, the app shows flight information, plus details about transfers including coach number and location. “It makes it far simpler,” said Bradley. “But what we found is more than ever, in this time of a global pandemic, people want that human touch.”

Reducing friction: beware the password doom loop 

Integrating people into the digital experience was a key focus for most. Kalcher said: “A younger person might not want to talk to an agent, they prefer to find their own way, while other customers might need that personal assurance. So, it’s all about understanding your different customer segments and letting customers choose how to interact with the company.”

Smith concurred that empowering the customer is vital. But some brands miss the mark in this respect. “People often confuse ‘automation’ and ‘digital,’” he said. “They think that digital is a way to remove and automate processes, and it’s not. It can be hugely enabling, but there has to be that human need and human touch. 

He added: “For example, if you have a healthcare app that provides the patient with all their details and data, they are empowered. But it doesn’t mean they want to be left alone.”

On the topic of friction, Lisa Scott, chief marketing officer of Banked, a global payments network “built on modern bank rails,” said the Strong Customer Authentication rules, introduced by the Financial Conduct Authority, has meant another layer of verification has slowed the online purchase process in the financial services industry – and perhaps that is no bad thing. The frustration, though, is that there are so many methods of secondary authentication across various apps. 

“Do you want that additional verification to be an SMS message notification,” she asked. “Could it be something like your fingerprint or facial recognition? If they can make it simple and quick, and thereby reduce friction, then that’s good. What you don’t want is to ask people to remember the first, third and seventh digits of a passcode they have not used in years and leave them in a doom loop of password hell.”

Direction of travel: be cleverer with data use 

Looking at how CX might develop in the coming years, Ashish Bhardwaj, senior solutions architect at Informa, emphasised the importance of data. Make sure you gather customer data and compliment it with secondary data,” he said. “You can personalise experiences and make relevant, proactive suggestions for the customer. The use of data and the tone in which it is communicated should be a careful choice from the marketing and communications teams.”

Madden confessed to being a “big fan” of the John Lewis app. “It’s amazing,” she said. “It shows your loyalty card, all your receipts, and it’s quite personalised. As long as I can see some value in engaging with that brand, then I will do so, but if you are a brand that keeps bombarding me with meaningless emails, I will block you.”

Looking further ahead, Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, CEO of Patients Know Best, predicted that sustainability could – and should – feature more prominently in CX, for the greater good. He said of COP26 that he sensed a groundswell of public demand for greater environmentally friendly processes.

Al-Ubaydli said: “When I consider the next 10 years in healthcare, the big question is: with an ageing population, how can you continue to deliver universal coverage? Everyone’s talking about not having enough money to help, but even if there was enough money, there are not enough professionals to look after everyone. The only solution is digital. If a person obtains their test results and knows what to do, it avoids clogging up an appointment with the doctor.

With the COP26 refrain of “keep 1.5 alive” possibly still ringing in his ears, Al-Ubaydli suggested that the desire to embrace digital solutions would be much greater in 20 years, as patients strive for more sustainable – and less wasteful – healthcare. “If we want to be able to afford universal coverage structurally, then you must allow people to have the medical data to look after themselves.”

He added: “About 5% of the vehicles on the UK’s roads are related to the National Health Service. Indeed, 5% of carbon emissions in the developing world are healthcare-related. So, if you can prevent the need to travel, stop the need for operations and so on, that is a serious contribution to reducing carbon. By protecting the patient, you protect the healthcare system, and ultimately you protect the planet.” 

Clearly, environmental concerns are one more factor to add to the already complicated world of digital CX, which has undergone incredible evolution in the last couple of years, spurred by the coronavirus fallout. Customers are increasingly demanding, but organisations that fail to keep pace will see brand engagement and loyalty melt away.

This article, sponsored by Vonage, was first published on Raconteur in November 2021

Raise the bar with accounts receivable automation to release cash

Thanks to pioneering technology, there is now a golden opportunity for financial controllers to free enormous sums of tied-up working capital. This will empower employees and enable them to drive value and strategy, writes Kevin Kimber, Managing Director, Global AR, BlackLine

The coronavirus crisis has prompted most organisations worldwide to spend big on automating their financial services – but only a tiny fraction have upgraded their accounts receivable processes. Today, with the advanced technology and pioneering tools available, those who fail to automate their AR processes miss a golden opportunity to empower the finance teams and unlock the cash held hostage.

In November 2019, months before the pandemic hit Europe, PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated that a staggering $1.2 trillion of excess working capital was tied up on global balance sheets. While there is clearly a latent opportunity to free this enormous amount of cash, ahead of the coronavirus crisis automating AR operations was not a priority for businesses.

Back then, the reluctance to focus on upgrading AR processes for the digital age was, to an extent, understandable, given the ease of borrowing for businesses. Now, though, organisations realise that optimising these processes has never been more critical. A recent Institute of Finance and Management survey suggests 55% of finance leaders are less than satisfied with how their company’s AR procedures have performed during the recession. And over half (52%) say that too many manual processes are the biggest weakness.

The combination of the lines of credit being significantly compressed and the increased demand to have cash more readily available – to drive innovation, boost agility and strengthen resilience – has elevated the need to embrace AR automation.

Historically, solution vendors possibly didn’t know how best to position the value and business benefits of automating AR processes. It’s so easy to pigeonhole AR automation as a single process primarily about headcount reduction and driving efficiencies. While these points are valid, there is so much more from which to benefit. 

Articulating the benefits of automating the AR process

Presenting the point that “if you deploy a technology like ours, you can reduce your headcount from, say, 16 to five people” does not go far enough – there are so many additional advantages now. However, if we reframe the case for AR automation, it becomes so much more compelling.

For example, a large, global B2B manufacturer with a high volume of low-value invoices might offer 30-day payment terms. Each day is worth $150 million, so customers paying 63 days late means $9.5bn late and at risk.

Not only is this woefully inefficient, but there is also friction generated between the increasingly frustrated finance team and the customers whom they are chasing for payment.

Deploying technology like BlackLine enables that cash to be collected and applied much faster, giving access to cash quicker, reducing the need to borrow to cover working capital exposure and tightening customer relationships. Ultimately, through artificial intelligence and machine learning, automating that process will enable businesses to unlock the cash held hostage.

More than that, investment in AR solutions starts a virtuous circle: the business becomes more agile, innovative, and resilient – all essential elements for organisations seeking to thrive in the coming months and years – because the cash is available. 

Looking at the broader picture, it’s a fallacy that robots are taking our jobs. On the contrary, they are enhancing and improving them. Humans are empowered to make smarter, data-driven decisions. And at BlackLine, we are transforming the relationship finance teams have with technology.

According to Adobe’s Future of Time study, published in late August, UK business employees waste more than a day a week on low-value tasks that should be automated. So much so that almost two-thirds (59%) of respondents are seeking new jobs with better technology to reclaim work-life balance.

Automation propels finance teams from the back office to driving strategy 

Indeed, the reduction of repetitive manual tasks transforms finance departments to be more human and less robotic – they become enablers rather than blockers. Automating the AR process means that risk is easier to manage. 

For instance, BlackLine AR Automation solutions put key information at the fingertips of organisations – from live payment data to debtor performance – so teams can quickly identify customer trends and maximise cash and debtor performance metrics.

It also helps to optimise relationships with customers. Access to and analysis of the data provides a markedly better understanding of customer behaviours, allowing the finance team to be more proactive, and helpful, when engaging. For example, how and when are they paying? What levels of credit are they on? With managing existing customers and looking for new customers crucial for growth, deepening these relationships is vital. 

Further, when supported by automation and data-hungry AI algorithms, finance teams are propelled from the “back office” to the heart of the business, driving both value and strategy.

Automated solutions, such as BlackLine’s, instantly improve a business’s cash flow, better protect revenue, and boost working capital and customer-centricity. We know what customers need to thrive in the digital age. Armed with our expert help and pioneering tools, they can unlock the cash held hostage while empowering their finance teams. Organisations that prioritise automating AR processes today will win tomorrow.

Small steps to accounts receivable automation – but large rewards

1. Understand that business outcomes are being challenged, unnecessarily. In 2019 PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that $1.2 trillion of excess working capital was tied up on global balance sheets. A more recent IOFM survey suggests days sales outstanding (DSO) has increased by 59%. Additionally, PYMNTS’s B2B Payments Innovation Readiness Playbook shows businesses that rely on manual AR processes often have a 30% longer average DSO.

2. Most AR processes are not fit for purpose – so say finance leaders. The IOFM survey finds that 55% of respondents are less than satisfied with their AR operation. Over half (52%) report that too many manual processes are the biggest weakness. Further, only 23% have utilised some kind of cash application automation. Notably, the lowest number of days taken to collect debt for those businesses using AR automation is 12.

3. Realise the potential of automating AR processes. Organisations that have upgraded to BlackLine’s AR automation solutions all report huge – and immediate – benefits. “You can reduce your costs by at least 75%,” says the head of credit, Atkins Group. Meanwhile, Veolia’s UK credit manager says the solution “has allowed the credit controllers to focus on collecting cash and managing risk”.

4. BlackLine AR Intelligence delivers real-time insight into customer financial behaviour to mitigate financial risks and improve cash flow and working capital performance. With cash flow vital to every business, AR automation is a future-proofed solution.

This article first appeared in BlackLine’s special report, Optimising the accounts receivable department, published by Raconteur in November 2021

Team GB football preparation: ‘We trialled six pillows and bought every player one with a cooling cover’

Physical performance manager Dawn Scott explains the surprising ways National Lottery players have helped Team GB’s meticulous preparation for success

When guessing how National Lottery funding has helped Team GB’s women’s football players in their quest for glory, personalised cooling pillows, equipment that determines how much sodium players sweat, and dozens of bottles of ginger shots might not be the first things that come to mind.

But these are some of the more surprising examples of how Hege Riise’s squad has been supported. It is in these tiny details, and tailoring preparation and nutrition to individual players, where the all-important marginal gains are achieved, according to Dawn Scott, the FA’s physical performance manager for England Women who is operating in the same role for Team GB this summer.

“When you go into a major tournament, it’s those little bits and being prepared for every single outcome that can make the difference,” she says. “The National Lottery’s support is a game-changer. It has enabled the work the High Performance team have done around the physical and medical preparation, buying extra bits of equipment, shipping out additional nutrition, and more.

“If you add all those things together, when you have to play six matches in 17 days if you do reach the final, it gives you a better chance of success. So it’s amazing to have that support, and we all owe huge thanks to The National Lottery and the players who, through buying tickets, have helped us.”

The South Shields-born sports scientist, who jumped at the chance to be involved with Team GB, knows what it takes to reign supreme. She moved from US Soccer to the English FA shortly after playing a pivotal role in the USA’s World Cup win in 2019, four years after she had a hand in the country’s previous triumph.

Scott has experienced eight major tournaments but considering that this summer Team GB players were gathered from across the Home Nations and met at Loughborough University for two intense, 10-day camps, with just three days in between, before flying out to Japan – plus the fact that the one pre-competition match against Zambia was cancelled because of coronavirus worries – it is fair to say that preparation has not been typical.

It is why she is incredibly grateful for The National Lottery’s support, which helped buy the squad a customised gym – “with brand-new equipment” – in a Covid-secure marquee, replete with “individual plastic greenhouses” at the Loughborough camp. And, away from the weights and machines, an acclimatisation zone was installed at the other end of the marquee. 

With temperatures at the Games expected to reach 35°C and humidity hitting 95%, Scott says the heat chamber was essential for the players. “It was the first thing I asked for,” she grins. “The players had one hour in there a day and, by using a Wattbike, we raised and then maintained their core temperature above 38°C. 

“Again thanks to The National Lottery’s support, we were able to do sweat analysis and use precision hydration. We identified players who were more comfortable in the heat, and could refine their hydration strategies. For example, those who are salty sweaters, with high sodium levels, need more electrolyte drinks, plus a more detailed cooling strategy.”

Coronavirus restrictions have added a sweat-inducing layer of complication for Scott and her team. For instance, where an ice bath might have been sufficient as a cooling strategy, now every player has a “cooling vest” that is kept chilled between practices and matches thanks to “an army of small igloos” – all made possible by The National Lottery. “The logistics and planning are harder than implementing the training,” she jokes.

Cuisine also plays a vital role for the team, and has to cater for the players’ menstrual cycles. “The players need antioxidant, anti-inflammatory foods – oily fish, berries, smoothies – at certain times,” says Scott, who reveals she travelled to Japan with 70 bottles of ginger shots so the players can have their daily doses. 

Disrupted sleep caused by discomfort and inflammation around the joints can impact performance, making “sleep hygiene” important. Hence, the need for blackout blinds, a cool bedroom environment, and National Lottery-funded pillows.

“We trialled six pillows in Loughborough and bought every player one with a cooling cover,” explains Scott. “They have wearables so we can track their sleep and core temperature.”

Team GB’s women’s football has seemingly left no pillow unturned in their pursuit of glory in Japan. Scott is very much focused on taking one game at a time, but admits winning would “equal everything” in her glittering career. Win, lose or draw, National Lottery players will have provided the squad with the best preparation, down to the very smallest detail.

This article, sponsored by Camelot, operators of the National Lottery, was first published on http://www.Telegraph.co.uk in July 2021

Dame Katherine Grainger: ‘We’ve always been blessed with brilliance – but National Lottery players changed everything overnight’

Dame Katherine Grainger, Great Britain’s joint most decorated female Olympian and now Chair of UK Sport, tells the story of seismic change for all athletes over the past 20 years

Hand on heart, it is difficult to put into words how genuinely grateful countless British athletes are for National Lottery support, which began in 1997 – the year I first made the rowing team, coincidentally. It has made such a striking and transformational difference to the country’s sporting fortunes.

I was lucky to be funded by the National Lottery throughout my 20 years as an athlete. But when I joined the team, ahead of Sydney 2000, every other member was either holding down a job or had an overdraft or loan.

If you wanted to be the best in the world back then and even have a chance against the more prominent, well-funded nations, you had to beg, borrow, or steal to train and compete properly. Because there wasn’t access to top facilities, coaching and medical support. It’s unrecognisable to the standard of support we have today, thankfully.

Indeed, on the eve of Sydney, we all felt as though we were in great shape but wouldn’t be doing this were it not for help from the National Lottery, thanks to John Major’s instigation. It was an absolute game-changer.

Britain has always been blessed with brilliant athletes who have a burning desire to succeed. But without a structure and enough support, we were at a disadvantage – until National Lottery support improved everything almost overnight.

What is especially important to athletes, and makes us try even harder, is that the money comes via members of the public who have played the National Lottery. So there is a lovely link – a collaboration between top sportspeople and National Lottery players – and you want to do them proud.

Anyone who buys tickets – as I do – wants to win a life-changing amount of money, primarily, but in a way, even if your numbers don’t come up, you are helping to fulfil someone else’s dream.

It’s incredible to consider how much evolution Team GB’s athletes have undergone in just over two decades, thanks to National Lottery support. It is easy to take it for granted now, with every athlete surrounded by coaches, medical teams, nutritionists and so on, but we have taken tremendous strides.

Amazingly, the women’s rowing team first had a full-time coach in the run-up to Sydney, and before then, there had not been a centralised programme. I recall how teammates would tell me that, before I joined, because there was not a physiotherapist to see, they would be advised to lie down for a fortnight if they suffered a back injury.

However, by the time I was training, if you felt your back going on the river, you would be seen by a physio within 30 minutes and referred to an on-site doctor, if necessary. Suddenly, injuries were manageable and didn’t set athletes back. It was wholly reassuring to know you were in good hands, and that bred confidence when you were training and competing.

The coaching and the central base were part of the obvious initial upgrade. Other elements have been added over the years, building on those early gains. Before Athens 2004, for instance, many institutes of sports were established. And while great investment was first made in the physical preparation of the athletes, now there is also a focus on the mental side.

As Chair of UK Sport, I don’t know what we would do without National Lottery support, which has provided 60 per cent (£204 million) of the £340 million we have allocated for the Tokyo cycle. It has been critical to supporting the athletes and the institutes of sport in these uncertain times; I doubt many of the latter would have survived if not for the National Lottery.

Athletes have been delayed by a year, of course, and the coronavirus restrictions have added another significant cost to training and competition. Thanks again to National Lottery support, though, the Team GB athletes can be assured that they will have had the best preparation, so I’m quietly confident and have high hopes that we will perform well.

If the support suddenly stopped, it would be a massive loss and I fear it would transform sport in Britain, in a hugely debilitating way. So the thought of it continuing, and having the wonderful public support and backing, is fantastic. While it propelled our success in 2012 and 2016, every new wave of athletes is keen to make their mark. I firmly believe there are still so many memorable moments to come, and that’s essentially thanks to National Lottery support.

Dame Katherine Grainger is Great Britain’s joint most decorated female Olympian – the former rower has one gold and four silver medals – and is now Chair of UK Sport, the government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport. 

This ghostwritten article, sponsored by Camelot, operators of the National Lottery, was first published on http://www.Telegraph.co.uk in July 2021

How The National Lottery has inspired nearly three million women and girls to be more active

Oliver Pickup hears how The National Lottery has helped This Girl Can get almost three million women and girls in the UK more active already, and what’s next for the inspirational campaign

A faceless lady with a proudly untoned, unfiltered body strides towards a swimming pool. Nearing the water, she confidently twangs her bikini bottoms, springing to life Missy Elliot’s hit Get Ur Freak On. A few seconds later – during a montage depicting happy, sweaty, unknown women and girls boxing, running, playing football, among other sports – an on-screen caption reads: “I jiggle; therefore I am.” And so begins the first, iconic This Girl Can video from 2015, when Sport England’s National Lottery-funded, award-winning campaign designed to encourage more females to exercise was established. 

Since launching seven years ago, This Girl Can has persuaded almost three million women and girls in the UK (2.9m at the last count) to get more active, according to campaign lead Kate Dale. None of it would have been possible without the support of The National Lottery. 

“I’m hugely proud of what This Girl Can has achieved, in terms of celebrating active women who are doing their thing no matter how they do it, how they look, or how sweaty they get,” she says. 

“The original vision for This Girl Can was, having identified the gender gap, to help women get active – and not to use the word ‘sport’ in the title, because it carries negative memories from school days for some people. Maybe the shutters came down in their minds because they felt they weren’t good at sport, and didn’t feel invited to an exclusive club.

“We wanted to build something that women could be part of, and they could define what it meant for them. It’s not caring about how they look, how good they are – or aren’t – or understanding that it’s important to fit activity into their days no matter how many other priorities they have in the day. We found women with young children felt guilty spending time away from their little ones, but a) their lives are just as important as their children’s, and b) this activity helps them to be better parents as it makes them role models and recharges their batteries.”

Praising The National Lottery’s ongoing commitment, Dale continues: “I am often approached by women telling me how seeing that advert changed their lives, and it has encouraged them to go running or set up a football team, and so on. And it is all down to The National Lottery funding – it has been critical, especially for long-term planning and infrastructure investment. It has enabled us to make decisions for the next few years and not around shorter funding cycles.”

Dale joined Sport England in January 2004, the same year the Active Lives surveys began. The latest figures, published in April 2021, indicate that 61.5% of women in the UK did at least 150 minutes of exercise a week in November 2019 compared with 65.3% of men on the eve of the coronavirus crisis. 

She says confirmation in 2005 that London would host the Olympic Games in 2012 helped inspire women – and men – to be more active, and The National Lottery-funded campaigns like This Girl Can serve to build on that momentum. Indeed, the increased visibility of female pundits at the recent Euro 2020 serves as an example of how the gender gap has been narrowed in other ways, and it can be traced back to This Girl Can.

“Before the pandemic, the participation numbers for both genders had increased steadily over the last decade and more,” says Dale. “It is so important for people to be active for all sorts of reasons – and you don’t have to be sporty to be active. Team sport isn’t for everyone, and the funding has enabled Sport England to invest right across and understand, support and develop all sorts of physical activities. But our work is far from over.”

Looking at the post-pandemic world, she adds: “As we build back as a society, the role of The National Lottery in helping us recover from the last 18 months is going to be vital. Everyone’s lives have changed, but there is so much to do now to help women and girls get back into physical activity. We have a crucial couple of years coming up, and having The National Lottery’s support and investment is just what we need.”

This article, sponsored by Camelot, operators of the National Lottery, was first published on http://www.Telegraph.co.uk in July 2021

How National Lottery players helped prepare Hege Riise’s football team for Tokyo

GB women’s football team leader David Faulkner explains how funds from The National Lottery paid for acclimatisation equipment to help Team GB cope with Japan’s 35° heat

Team GB women’s football team will make history on Wednesday July 21 by playing its first competitive overseas match, against Chile in Sapporo. The only other occasion a British women’s team has played at the Games was at London 2012, when Hope Powell’s side suffered a 2-0 defeat to Canada at the quarter-final stage. 

David Faulkner, Team Leader of GB women’s football, says that Hege Riise’s squad is primed and feeling optimistic about a medal-winning run. But he stresses that adequate preparation would have been impossible without National Lottery support. 

“Bringing together a GB women’s football team for the first time has been a long time in the making,” says Faulkner from the Yokohama camp. He was awarded an MBE for services to sport in the Queen’s Birthday Honours earlier this year, and says National Lottery support means “the team is in the best place possible to compete against the world’s best as Great Britain, which is in itself unique”.

“The team arrived in Japan with a high level of confidence after completing a demanding schedule at Loughborough University, while evolving the team culture as part of ‘One Team GB’ – much like the British and Irish Lions.”

Before flying to the Japanese capital on July 7, the women underwent a gruelling three-week training camp. With temperatures in Japan expected to reach 35°C and humidity hitting 95%, the team used an acclimatisation chamber at Loughborough University, thanks to Lottery funding.

The chamber is a cross between a sauna and steam room, and the players were forced to exercise daily on Wattbikes with the temperature turned up, replicating the hot and humid environment expected. The physical and mental demands of the acclimatisation sessions should pay off when the competition kicks off, says Faulkner.

“There is no question that without The National Lottery’s support we would not be in a position to have the dedicated accommodation, food, gym, and an acclimation area and training pitch,” Faulkner says. “We cannot thank those that play The National Lottery enough for the funds that have provided the team with the best preparation possible for the Tokyo Games.

“Not only did it provide a high-performance environment for such intense preparation, we were also able to make it Covid-safe with our protocols and testing. We are extremely grateful for the support that has enabled us to set up such a unique performance environment where every additional percentage gained will have such an impact with delivery in Japan.”

On the extra costs required due to coronavirus precautions, the 58-year old continues: “Covid places many more demands on players and staff, such as testing every day in game time, wearing masks and social distancing at all times. However, the funding has ensured there remains a performance focus across the elements of technical, tactical, physical and psychologically.”

Nigel Railton, Chief Executive of The National Lottery operator, acknowledges the role of those who play The National Lottery in helping Team GB’s Olympians and Paralympians this summer. “Every day, National Lottery players make a huge difference to communities across the UK. Their support has a real impact on a sport and in boosting the chances in Tokyo.”

Former hockey full-back Faulkner, who earned 225 international caps, captaining both England and Great Britain, knows what it takes to achieve, having won at Seoul 1988. “To win a medal you must ensure you reach the semi-finals,” he says. 

Following the first Group E match against Chile, Riise’s side takes on hosts Japan on Saturday July 24 and Canada next Tuesday July 27.

“The players and staff are highly motivated, relishing the challenge ahead and ensuring every element of performance that can make a difference to delivery on match day is covered,” says Faulkner. “A podium finish would be a fantastic achievement for this group – but they have the energy, depth and talent to finish at the peak.”

Whatever happens, Faulkner is thankful for The National Lottery funding, which has been supporting Team GB since 1998 – two years after the Atlanta Games when Great Britain won only one big prize.

“Quite simply, the funding has provided the opportunity for more athletes across more sports to be the best they possibly can be at the pinnacle level of sport,” adds Faulkner. “At the same time, the investment has helped develop a performance system that is the envy of other sporting nations, which has resulted in consistent medal-winning performances at every Games since 1996. This, in turn, continues to inspire the next generation of Olympians, which is the true legacy of the funding.”

This article, sponsored by Camelot, first appeared in The Telegraph in July 2021

Introducing Rufus the hawk: the official bird scarer of the Wimbledon Championships

There was a time when ‘birds stopped play’ was a legitimate reason for downing rackets at Wimbledon. That was before Rufus the hawk, official bird scarer, was drafted in to ensure avian invasions are kept to a minimum.

The sky’s the limit for young players at Wimbledon, where a good performance can see their careers take off. But one star of the show will be flying higher than most at the prestigious venue with a vital job to do: Rufus the Harris Hawk.

Rufus is the tournament’s official bird scarer, tasked with frightening pigeons away from the courts. ‘‘Bird stops play’’ used to be a regular problem at Wimbledon, but since 2000 Avian Environmental Consultants Ltd, based in Northamptonshire, has provided hawks to eliminate the problem.

Rufus, who has been working at Wimbledon since 2007, is a celebrity in the tennis world. He regularly poses for pictures during the tournament, has earned a Blue Peter badge and has more than 9,000 followers on Twitter.

Imogen Davis, his handler (and social media manager) since 2012 and director of Avian Environmental Consultants, says: “Pigeons don’t know the difference between eating grass seed when the tennis is on and when there is no play, and that can cause big interruptions. As a player concentration is crucial, so we do our bit to limit that disruption.

“There is an intensive training process, and it is all food-motivated. Harris hawks are not quite like a pet – they don’t just follow you around because they love you – and are one of the few birds in the world that hunt socially; they associate the handlers with food and consider us part of their pack.

“When a pigeon or another bird spots Rufus it’s all about fight or flight, and when a huge Harris hawk with sizeable talons is flying at them they would be daft to choose the first option. The most important part of my job is to monitor his weight.

“His optimum flying weight is 1lb 6oz, so if he is at that weight I know that he is going to be keen enough to chase any birds away but not so keen that he is going to grab it and fill himself up on a pigeon.”

In preparation for The Championships, Rufus, whose kidnapping in June 2012 triggered global interest (he was found three days after being stolen from the back of Ms Davis’s car), visits the venue most weeks of the year to encourage local birds to roost away from the grounds.

During the competition he is flown from 5am, before the gates open. Ms Davis says that the Wimbledon fortnight is “incredibly tiring” and adds: “I am up from 4am and we are working at The Championships until about 10am every morning. There are some benefits – we get to see some incredible sunrises and meet celebrities, including Andy Murray and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall – but by the time most of the public have entered we have gone, because it’s our job to make sure all the birds are out of the way before the matches start.

“Rufus will not be flying that whole time; he knows all of the pigeons’ favourite spots to hang out, and he checks them to see there is nothing that might cause any trouble. As we bought Rufus when he was 16 weeks he trained at Wimbledon – it’s basically his playground, and he loves it here.”

This article, sponsored by Jaguar, was first published by The Telegraph in July 2017

Colin Jackson: ‘When things open up again, I’ll be in the front row’

Athlete Colin Jackson is desperate to attend live sporting events, hear the roar of the crowd, and also get his skates back on following his star turn on Dancing on Ice

As someone whose life has centred around sport – and athletics in particular – for more than half a century, I am utterly desperate to attend live sporting events again, once lockdown restrictions finally ease.

The pandemic has tested everyone, but has been especially tough on elite sportspeople, who have had to perform in empty stadia, if at all. Perhaps I am biased, given my passion, but I believe athletes have suffered more than most. Top-tier athletics is truly global, and without being able to travel, meaningful competition is pretty much impossible.

That’s why I’m looking forward to heading to Switzerland in September and watching Weltklasse Zürich – as a fan rather than a commentator, crucially. The annual invitation-only world-class track-and-field meeting was established in 1928, and in 2021 it will serve as the sole final of the Diamond League competition. The audience members are always so knowledgeable, and it will be a joy to mingle and learn without work pressures.

It’s hard to put into words the critical role spectators play for top sportspeople, as is also the case with actors, musicians and dancers. If you’re underperforming, a roar from the home crowd has the magical ability to lift your game by an extra percentage point, and gives you the oomph needed to push you across the line. Without a live, in-person audience, I can imagine it just feels like glorified practice.

I want the real deal, the whole package of live, atmospheric sport. I crave the moments of silence – before the starting pistol is fired, for example, or the hushed seconds ahead of a vital penalty kick in rugby union – and the spine-tingling bellows as glory is secured.

Cheering on the Six Nations champions from the sofa

I’ve watched plenty of sport from my sofa throughout lockdown, including tennis, golf, cricket, and – being a proud Welshman – rugby union. I always tune in for the Six Nations, and I was delighted when the unfancied Wales team was crowned champion this spring. I loved that most people wrote the Welsh off, but the players stayed cool and took the title again.

While the Six Nations was on, I performed in Dancing on Ice, and would dash back from training to catch the games, wearing the red of my country – and I’m glad I did. Before the coronavirus crisis, I would never have predicted in a million years that I would learn how to ice skate.

It was one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences of my life, genuinely. Finishing third in the competition was beyond my wildest dreams. I had so much fun, and when the ice rinks open again, I’ll be getting my skates on once more.

I’ve also tried to keep abreast of all the athletics news during lockdown, and tuned into events all over the world. Thanks to technology, I’ve been able to catch most meetings of interest, no matter how small. On one occasion, I contacted some Italian athletes on social media to ask them about an event, and they live-streamed it, basically just for me. I don’t know how we would have coped without the advanced tech we take for granted.

Sport has been forced to innovate – and that’s good for the future

In a way, the situation caused by the pandemic has been good because it has forced all elite sports to reflect on what benefits they provide for spectators. It has sparked innovations – though not always successfully, as the many people who rallied angrily against football’s proposed European Super League can testify.

However, having to think outside the box has been a useful exercise for all sports. For instance, I was proud of athletics when, last July, the Weltklasse Zürich was transformed into the inaugural Inspiration Games: a live, 90-minute virtual competition. Thirty top track-and-field athletes started their races simultaneously, from their tracks all over the world, and fans enjoyed the live event despite the coronavirus restrictions.

Ultimately, every single sport has had to look at reinventing itself, to an extent. It has been essential to sustaining interest in sport as a vehicle for entertainment, and I firmly believe that most sports will come out of the pandemic stronger. One thing is for sure: when things do open up again, I’ll be in the front row, roaring on the action.

This article, sponsored by American Express, was first published by The Telegraph in June 2021

How the past 12 months have changed the face of fatherhood

Homeworking and homeschooling enforced by coronavirus restrictions gave dads more time with their offspring, and both parties, as well as mothers, are enjoying the benefits

The coronavirus crisis has been a spur for transformation, with several aspects of our lives changing at a gallop, and that includes the typical role of a father. During the epochal events of 2020 and into 2021, the meaning of fatherhood has been profoundly altered, and for the better.

Most dads have welcomed with open arms the opportunity to spend more time with their offspring through lockdown – even if it meant them attempting to get their heads around quadratic equations and decimal fractions again while homeschooling. 

Statistically, mothers bore the brunt of the increased parenting duties, but dads played a more significant part, on average, than they did before the pandemic. The Office for National Statistics data supports this: during the UK’s first lockdown, which began in late March 2020, the amount of childcare provided by fathers jumped 58 per cent, while their working hours were reduced by almost 100 minutes per day.

“There is no doubt that the events of 2020 have changed the face of fatherhood,” says Dr Amanda Gummer, a child psychologist, parenting expert and author of Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide. “I believe many dads have seen the benefits of this way of life now, and therefore will be unwilling to go fully back to how it was before.”

Dr Gummer points to a recent study in the US by Making Caring Common that revealed almost 70 per cent of fathers felt closer to their children during the coronavirus crisis. Thanks to the move to hybrid working, with people performing their jobs at home and at the office, she is confident fathers will continue to relish a more active role in parenting in the coming weeks, months and years. 

“Homeworking and homeschooling have significantly altered what it means to be a man,” she continues. “Since some normality has returned, with the children returning to school, I have seen more dads performing school drop-offs and pick-ups than ever before. Being a father now means being more involved in the day-to-day activities of your child’s life – pre-pandemic, not many dads got to experience this to the extent that is possible now.”

Bilkis Miah, director and co-founder of You Be You, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to inspire primary school children and break gender stereotypes, is similarly optimistic that the more engaged father is here to stay – and this extends to other areas that traditionally have been the women’s domain. 

“Men have had to step up and fill in gaps, particularly for those who have key workers as partners,” she says. “The result: more time spent with children and sharing the ‘load’ of parenthood. 

“Men are now doing more housework and childcare than ever before. A recent report highlighted how the number of parents saying they shared housework relatively equally jumped from 26 per cent before Covid-19 to 41 per cent during the pandemic.”

Miah is hopeful that the increased role played by fathers since early 2020 will create a virtuous circle that will inform and empower future generations. “Being more present at home enables men to flourish as fathers, but it also generates a deeper bond with their children,” she adds. “Moreover, this evolution of fatherhood helps lay the foundation of the ‘new normal’. With luck, young boys can take these lessons forward and be inspired to be better fathers themselves.”

This article was originally published by the Telegraph in May 2021, and sponsored by Armani

What does it mean to be a man in 2021?

Modern men appear more willing to show their vulnerabilities – and we should celebrate that this is progress being made

As a 30-something father of two, with a marriage, mortgage and all the accompanying mayhem, I have often reflected this past year, while locked down, what it means to be a modern man. 

Having moved house, welcomed our youngest child, bought a puppy, and worked from home since the start of the pandemic, I’ve embraced the opportunity to be more available to and active with my lovely, growing family, and learnt new skills as a husband and dad.

Certainly, there has been a dramatic evolution in masculinity in the last few years, with male role models queuing up to urge others to eschew supposedly typical characteristics of bottling-up emotions and not asking for help or guidance. 

The coronavirus crisis has catalysed the trend towards a softer, more-rounded man, as we have been forced to be more, well, human, display our vulnerabilities, and communicate more kindness and calmness. 

Admittedly, the pandemic has had a polarising effect, and some men have reverted to stale stereotypes – unfortunately for those people and especially those around them. The majority, though, have embraced change and welcomed the chance to reimagine what it means to be a man in 2021.

Child psychologist and parenting expert Dr Amanda Gummer warns that “outdated concepts of masculinity are dangerous for many reasons” – not least because they can stop men who are struggling to reach out for help. 

“In years gone by, young men have been taught that ‘boys do not cry’ and that they have to be tough and strong,” she says. “Showing emotions or verbalising these feelings have often been viewed as a sign of weakness in a man.”

Dr Gummer continues: “Although there has been a shift in this viewpoint, suicide is still the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. It is these outdated concepts that act as undertone within our society, stop men from speaking out and keep these statistics high.”

Thankfully, things are changing for the better – and rapidly. “Masculinity is in a state of flux,” suggests Neil Wilkie, a psychotherapist and author of Reset: The Relationship Paradigm. “In the olden days, the men would go to work. Women would be ready for when the men returned, with a tidy house, groomed children and dinner on the table.”

In 2021, there is greater gender equality, Wilkie says – and while most celebrate this parity and progress, some men have struggled to come to terms with the new reality.

“Now their earnings and employment prospects have declined, and they are in competition with women for most jobs,” he continues. “The change in societal norms and roles is eroding their self-esteem and a sense of purpose.

“Traditional masculinity is about strength, courage, assertiveness and independence. The new masculinity needs to be about self-awareness, expressing vulnerability and emotions, communicating by listening, helping others and connecting rather than controlling.”

Dr Ashley Morgan, a Masculinities Scholar at Cardiff Metropolitan University, agrees. “There is currently a great deal of conflict between ‘traditional’ values of masculinity – dominance, control, not demonstrating emotions, other than anger – and what might be termed ‘softer’ masculinity, which is the opposite of those things,” she adds.

So here’s to all the other men and fathers who are starting to show their softer side and being comfortable taking on more “traditionally female” duties. The direction of travel is clear: the modern man is calm, kind and vocal – in a good way.

This article was originally published by the Telegraph in May 2021, and sponsored by Armani