More than just cake…

Last week, I spent much of the time out of the country, in Sweden.

Apart from considerable overindulgence in excellent cakes, drinking coffee and sampling delicious local food creations (not to mention some rather ropey ABBA dancing exploits too), what really struck me was the money, the cash or more precisely the complete lack of it.

I was there for 4 days, did not use it and did not need it, not once. Now I do use contactless payments here at home, but this was my first overseas trip made without the comfort blanket of cash in my pocket. It did not exchange anything at all.

Cashless

It can be done, and thinking about this there are also interesting ramifications for the financial services industry too.

First off, obviously, this was not great news for travel money and foreign exchange companies – they lost out. No float, no fees and no gain from the spread between me buying and then selling back my unused currency.

However, it was great news for my bank and their associated payment networks. They got a large slice of my business and in the process some great data on my spending (and the fact I was away from home).

Yet here, and looking through the data, there is also a note of caution. Not all cards in fact are the same.

Transacting on my bank debit or credit card seemed to attract this ‘non-sterling transaction fees’, which was not present on my ‘fin-tech’ bank provider debt card.

In addition, I also noted that there are exchange rate differences (same day comparison) between products, with the traditional bank being less favourable. In total this represented around a 3% difference.

Over the course of a vacation these differences can add up and certainly being charged the fee, did not leave me with a sense of value for money. This being said, honestly, had this fee not been charged I would likely not have noticed and the poorer value for money could have been hidden in the exchange rate.

Reflecting on Consumer Duty

This again comes back to the proposals around the FCA Consumer Duty, due to be live in April 2023. Which of these products enabled me to achieve my financial objectives, provided fair pricing and acted in good faith?

I am sure all of them would argue they did, but by this simple comparison of a very straightforward example it can be seen how some complex issues of hidden fees, evidencing across a consumer journey can be opened up, and the balance this could have on profitability… and this before we get to anything more complex. This is something we are going to have to start to unbundle, especially once the final guidance is released in July.

And, as a wider question, as our money increasingly becomes digital, on our phone, and embedded into processes such as in BNPL, is our relationship with it changing? Are we perceiving value differently and how will this impact vulnerable or result in more financial difficulty?

After all, for some, it can be harder to spot poor value for money by transaction, on the phone, than simply finding less money in your pocket at the end of the week. The dynamics change.

Budgeting tools, transparency on fees and more comparison sites are all needed… maybe now more so than ever.

Have a good week everyone.

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Office fever?

This week the number of people with COVID in the UK seems to have exploded. About 5m, or 1 in 13, apparently have active COVID cases. It does seem as if everyone knows someone under the weather.

With so many being folks ill, it is of course having an impact. Many people are off work, with even flights being cancelled and with the getaway for the Easter holidays starting it has frustrated many plans.

But closer to home it is also impacting the contact centre industry. Reports of increasing absences and the pressure on service levels have been becoming louder, and certainly mentioned more often in many conversations.

With restrictions being largely been lifted it is not, I suppose, a surprise really. With lower levels of hospitalisation and mortality, I suppose this could be the beginning of us just starting to live with the virus. It does still seem to have come all in one big rush mind you.

Of course, the difference we have between now and before is our ability to work remotely. Most of us have done it, many of us are still doing it and this is now presenting new challenges.

If you are interested in finding out what others are doing, back in the office, what strategies they have, how has this changed, you can get access to our dashboard by completing the survey (anonymously if you wish) at the link below.

Hybrid/Remote working survey: An update

To work or not to work?

With the new variant appearing, for most, to be milder in symptoms, we also now have a conundrum. To we carry on working, pushing through COVID, or not?

In my own case, I felt ill, but not really ill enough to completely stop, and yet not really well enough to run at full speed.

Admittedly on day 3, I got bored and in the modern world of not wanting to fall behind, did peck away at emails, having odd calls to try to keep things moving.

In all honesty, looking back, I am not sure how effective it was… brain fog was certainly an issue… yet I did it because I could.

With my lateral flow tests angrily blinking positive (I mean it was so solid I could have drawn it in with a sharpie) for over 10 days it was most certainly a good thing for everyone else I was not in an office and working remotely. Staying out of circulation meant I could not give it to anyone else.

But what about those in Operations and contact centres, without the luxury of flexibility I have had.

In a contact centre you can typically self certify off ill for 5 days, needing a doctor’s note beyond this. Yes, these days you may be able to work remotely, however, it is one thing doing the odd email, something else completely talking with customers all day… do need you to be top of your game for every call.

With furlough stopped, no more free lateral flow tests and guidance to return to work if you feel okay, there is now pressure to be back with a lack of visibility over who is still infectious, yet returning to the office and maybe not performing at their peak.

Of course, also remember the situation pre COVID, where we all used to go into the windowless office, with that stinking cold, dosed up on Sudafed.

Hindsight is 20-20

In hindsight, it was not great, and goodness knows how many more people we all infected. Fortunately, there is a better way (remote work) and we now have the tools and habits to make this more likely to work.

Staying at home, working remotely, increasing flexibility around working hours (working in short bursts) and trying to re-allocate lighter duties all seem sensible. Indeed, some of the newer WFM tools and techniques can plan around this extra complexity too. We are in a better position now than we have been if we do it right.

Of course, you would hope we have learnt… although it is not convincing as yet, to whether we have… we will see how this one pans out.

If you have experience of working through COVID, returning to work too early, or suggestions on new ways of working to manage, let us know in the comments.

Have a good week everyone.

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New approaches to testing

It seems like lots of people have come down with COVID this week, probably more than I have noticed before. Maybe this was, just my psychological bias, mind you, as I also came up double red on the Lateral Flow Test too (the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon I believe, if you like this stuff).

It has all been a bit of a bother. I was planning on being at Credit Week, had a full day session booked on Thursday, client work and video recording on Friday… everything now cancelled.

And, since the start of the week, I have now been shuffled off to the spare room, isolating to try to avoid infecting anyone else, and seemingly only able to slink out of the shadows when everyone is out of the house.

The good news to report though is that the LFT tests really do seem to work. An extra line appeared, was really clear, so at least we know. And, so now I am stuck in the room, waiting to feel better and the line to disappear. A new sense of jeopardy every morning as to whether I go outside to play

So far I seem to have been lucky healthwise, some fever, sore throat, slight cough, but manageable, albeit tired. The big problem I have noticed though is psychological, boredom.

Remote working and student living – again

Is it we are so used to rushing around these days or maybe just the consequence of working remotely that it seemed all a little too easy to slip into pecking away at a few emails here, having the odd conversation there, a quick meeting and before you know it 3/4 of a day had passed, and the opportunity to get the rest you now realized you needed.

Not that I have seemed to have learnt… gradually over the week, the spare room has acquired a table, the laptop, phone chargers… all I need now is a kettle, fridge and pot noodles and I will be back to full student living… and I am really not sure that is a good thing.

Affordability data

Still, the little extra time I was given back did allow me to follow the UK chancellor’s (finance minister) spring statement, primarily focused on softening the blow from the expected affordability crisis.

5p off fuel duty and changes to tax limits were the headlines. With tax cuts being money in the pocket for earners, the fuel cost reduction was to help with transport, but with the thinking, this will also flow through to other items using energy, such as food.

All of this got me thinking about the data again (not a surprise I know). What do people spend money on, how much exactly and does this change by how much you earn?

Unsurprisingly the data is available on the ONS website, and with time on my hands, I was able to look at it via the interactive graphic below.

What is clear (to my interpretation, at least from this data) is if you are in the lower 30-40% of income earners, you are having to top up your income with benefits or debt to balance the books.

And, as prices go up, assuming income or benefits does not, this gap becomes wider.

So the question from the changes we have now is… are the measures sufficient to moderate this impact and if not (and I fear not) what will happen next and what do we need to do to help?

Playing our part to help?

Outside of regular cost efficiency (to help more customers), forbearance plans and options (for support), being proactive and having some honest conversations with customers about products, affordability, and outcomes is going to be key… this could be a big shock for many any we may need to think outside of other existing toolsets to help… including addressing some of these bigger questions.

… so maybe the consumer duty is arriving in the nick of time… and getting ready now will help!

Hopefully, I will be back to full strength next week… for everyone else stay safe and if you are also off ill, get well soon.

Have a good weekend (in the sun) everyone.

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