Like the Santander Group as a whole, Santander International is dedicated to driving a better outcome for its customers.
The business, which offers banking to the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, as well as some UK residents and expats, has a tough task on its hands given the geographical spread of its customer base, but is working hard to maintain face-to-face services in this increasingly digital age.
Significant investment has gone into provisions like the Santander Work Café, where customers and non-customers alike can meet with employees in a relaxed environment to discuss banking, savings, mortgages or any other queries they may have.
“Prior to the Work Cafés, we always felt like we didn't understand our customers well enough,” explains Will Wright, COO at Santander International.
“Certainly, in terms of our local customers, it's really helping us to get more and more feedback and develop our offering.”
Whatever the project being delivered, there can be little doubt that Santander International’s number-one strategic priority is to grow customer loyalty. This, from Wright’s perspective, can only be achieved by guaranteeing an outstanding customer experience.
“It sounds really obvious but, in the end, we don't think there's any other way to grow our market share, which is obviously our aim,” adds Wright.
“Personally, I find it a highly motivating goal, and one that’s easy to centre my team’s individual objectives around.”
The changing face of banking
Clearly, the major talking point from a consumer’s perspective these days when it comes to banking is the disappearance of branches from town and city centres across the world.
The big question for organisations like Santander International is how to get that balance right between online and in-person provision, taking into account financial viability and the needs of customers.
Wright casts his mind back to an industry event he attended not long after joining Santander International, where small and medium-sized (SME) corporate customers were invited to give banks feedback on the quality of service provision they were receiving.
Plenty of feedback was offered, but central to it all was the withdrawal of face-to-face services – and it wasn’t popular.
“That’s when it really struck home for me, the importance of finding that balance,” Wright continues. “It’s different depending on the customer segment, but it's also crucial to realise it's different within customer segments as well.
“At a bank level, we use phrases like ‘digital first with a human touch’. It’s really important to look for those opportunities to use digital to make a customer's life easier, but we can't afford to lose that human touch.
“I think digital is where we probably have more work to do at Santander International.”
The aforementioned Santander Work Café initiative forms a major part of company-wide efforts to maintain that person-to-person interaction.
From a Santander International point of view, Work Cafés have been established in both Jersey and the Isle of Man, joining several other locations in the UK, Europe, North America and South America.
Ultimately, the island sites have proved hugely popular, becoming community hubs where all are welcome to make use of the bank, café and co-working space.
“We've put a lot of effort into maintaining that human touch with the Work Café concept,” Wright goes on.
“When we started it, I don't think we realised how successful it would be on the islands. The first was in Jersey and, at the time, we hadn’t made a decision on a second, but the success drove us to open one on the Isle of Man as quickly as possible.
“The most important thing is that this is for non-customers as well. It’s something I have to repeat a lot because it surprises people, but we really want Work Cafés to reflect our commitment to investing in local businesses and entrepreneurs.”
What’s more, the other big benefit for Santander International is the ability to gain a deeper understanding than ever before of its customers and potential customers.
Wright adds: “The Work Café team is there to get that feedback and listen to people who are interested in Santander International as a brand.”
Building operational models around technology
While deploying industry-leading tech platforms at a firm like Santander International is key, in some ways it is the easy decision, says Wright.
The bigger challenge is ensuring the business is ready for adoption and can engage in configuring and building operational models around technology.
Wright thinks about operational models in two ways, firstly considering the model under which customers are served and encouraging staff to keep the customer in mind.
He explains: “I've had a relatively long career and I've seen many, many times a tech project start with the assumption that you just lift an existing operational model into a digitised model. That normally leads to poor customer outcomes.
“I definitely encourage project teams to start by considering the customer and thinking about the operational model that would work best in terms of what we're delivering.”
Wright’s second angle is to ensure teams supporting tech platforms on a day-to-day basis are involved in their build-out and continuous improvement.
“It’s not a new concept but, if you build it, you run it,” he says. “The important thing for me is it brings those technical teams much closer to the customer.”
A healthy workplace culture
The importance of instilling a healthy workplace culture has come to the fore in recent years, but one must ask exactly what this looks like.
“To me, it’s everyone having that strong motivation and feeling of purpose in what they're doing – and generally feeling happy to be part of the team,” asserts Wright.
This is a core strategic objective across Santander’s various divisions and is supported using tools that can measure and monitor culture, as well as quick and frequent feedback surveys covering a range of topics.
“Regularly listening to colleagues gives us that opportunity to act quickly if something is raised or we can see a trend,” says the COO.
“Our smaller scale at Santander International is a big benefit as I can get to know a lot of colleagues across our business.”
The size of Santander International also means management figures can instigate tailored induction programmes, allowing new starters to get to know the company more quickly and meet wider teams across customer segments.
Moreover, the location of the Santander International business, compared to the UK arm, resulted in a swifter return to the office post-COVID. In both Jersey and the Isle of Man, employees are also benefitting from newly-refurbished surroundings following significant investment in their offices.
Wright adds: “Feedback has been really positive around that, and it means we haven’t lost – to use a cliché – those water cooler moments, which is fantastic.”
Focusing on key partners
Santander International has evolved to the point where it now has a clear strategy around partnerships. One of the most important aspects of this is to keep things relatively limited and focus on a select pool of key partners.
Typically, the business harnesses the capabilities of a combination of large, market-leading technical partners and platforms, particularly where strong relationships already exist across the group, to provide a backbone for the architecture.
These are blended with more niche, sometimes local solutions and consulting, which might be more unique to the islands.
An ongoing focus has been simplifying architecture to remove legacy bespoke solutions, typically involving numerous partners or third parties, resulting in a single strategy to solve business requirements. This, in turn, reduces integration points and subsequent risk.
“Ultimately,” says Wright, “we're striving towards that technical goal of achieving a single pane of glass for a customer, or even for colleagues to provide efficient customer service.”
He continues: “Forming strong partnerships is absolutely vital. At our scale, I think it’s even more important to be plugged into all the continuous innovations we’re striving for. We need to be working with people outside the banking arena and understanding the wider tech development that’s going on.”
“There is a wider context to some of the relationships we have locally. Even though Santander is one of the biggest banks in the world, at Santander International we need to be able to make local decisions on key partners who understand specific business models and the markets in which we operate. So, it goes back to that all-important blend.”
Pressed on what the next couple of years might look like for Santander International, one word springs to mind for Wright: transformative.
His four years as COO have been spent developing a talented team, making crucial technology design decisions, building partner relationships and implementing strong foundations to accelerate transformation.
The expectation is that capabilities rolled out in 2024 and 2025 will end up delivering huge value to customers.
“It’s really exciting and is hugely valuable to colleagues as well because I really believe some of these platforms can make it more enjoyable to be at work.
“That's always very satisfying – seeing colleagues reaping the benefits of what we're delivering. It's going to be challenging, but I think it's going to be really rewarding.”
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