Whenever we ask CEOs to list the biggest challenges facing the industry, building trust and driving great customer experiences are right up there. So who better to give us some insight around how we should be doing it better than John Brady – Head of Financial Services at John Lewis.
Despite falling profits at John Lewis during the first half of the year sparking High Street fears and the decision to scale back the expansion of its Waitrose supermarket chain, John Lewis’ financial services division continues to thrive. This is in an environment of disruptive competition from newcomers such as Lidl and Aldi; rising costs; and a need to invest in technology. Sound familiar?
John Lewis Partnership took the step into financial services when they opened their first business since the acquisition of Waitrose in 1937, with the launch of Greenbee back in 2006 – a direct services company with evolved from their Partnership credit card three years earlier. Ten years and a rebrand later, John Lewis Financial Services now offer customers a whole suite of products from credit cards to insurance, forex, ATM and loans. And their aspirations do not stop there, as they look forward to a bright future offering a broader suite of products and services.
What is your key aspiration for the business over the next five years?
Simple… to be ‘first choice for our customers’. But also for other customers you like the choice and values of the John Lewis brand.
In an industry that is becoming increasingly commoditised, how is John Lewis FS differentiated in the market?
Our brand and heritage provide us with a fantastic platform to build a trust relationship with our customers. Everything we do is about our customer base. Our values stem from great quality; fantastic service; and competitive pricing which translates into our financial services proposition.
What do you think are the key challenges facing your business and the industry?
Ultimately it all boils down to winning the customer’s trust back. Transparency, choice and long term pricing lie at the heart of this.
If you had carte Blanche to change the face of financial services as the Chancellor or the regulator, what would be the first thing you would do?
I would take the currently regulations even further. Particularly when it comes to simplifying things and driving more transparency throughout the market. Too often consumers do not know what they are buying. Wear and tear exclusions are a good example in the insurance sector. I would also look to help facilitate more choice by encouraging innovative platforms and technology.
Financial services are one of the least trusted industries in the world, beset with scandals. How have you managed to win the trust of your customers?
Within financial services our four pillars are clear communications; delivering a fantastic service; delighting our customers; along with choice and flexibility. This in turn has driven great NPS and CSAT scores; high renewal and conversation rates; and YoY income growth.
However, whilst we are proud of the loyalty we have engendered with our customers, we don’t necessarily always get it right. When this does happen we recognise it and react.
John Lewis is famed for its exceptional customer service. How have you found delivering the same CX to your clients via financial services? Have there been any challenges and can you site any examples of best practice?
I have been a strong advocate for driving good culture for some time now. You need to hire the right staff and ensure your staff are equipped to do their jobs well.
At John Lewis we have a culture of ‘doing the right thing’. We realise this by being prepared to leave money on the table today to maximise a customer’s lifetime value by acknowledging ‘acts of God’; not legislating for the unscrupulous 1%; and giving as much discretion as possible with our front line people. On top of this we operate a democratic structure; employ like-minded people; and offer a wide range of generous benefits.
Too often this industry is driven by productivity; squeezing cost income ratios; and maximising profit. As a business you need to be honest and decide whether your raison d’etre is to push product and maximise profit. Or are you happy to make sufficient profit and in turn build meaningful, long-term relationships with your customers. Don’t pretend to be something you are not.
John Lewis’ ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members. They share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards. We deal honestly with customers and secure their loyalty and trust. And at the same time make sufficient profit.
The face of financial services is changing. Imagine a world a ten years’ time... Who will be the big winners and losers?
I don’t want to predict the demise of certain parts of the industry, but it clear that businesses which are able to harness technology as well as having a clear, strong brand and proposition will thrive in this brave new world.
While we are in the future, what legacy would you like to leave the industry?
To have helped the industry find a better way of doing financial services.
What is the best piece of advice you have given or received?
· To believe in yourself;
· Have the courage in your convictions to see the job through; and
· Do it with passion!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?
As an enthusiastic guitarist, the musician inside of me is always fighting to get out. I would love to spend more time with the strings, but I fear it would not pay the bills.
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