GUEST ARTICLE: Coutts On Staying Ahead Of The Digital Game In Private Banking

Joe Norburn, Coutts, Head Of Digital, 16 November 2015


The bank's head of digital talks about what the firm has been doing in the world of modern technology.

There is today a great deal of commentary in the wealth management industry about the promise and challenge of digital technology. It seems rather fitting that one of the oldest banks in the world – Coutts – should talk about how digital developments are driving its own business. This article is by Joe Norburn, head of digital at Coutts. This publication is very pleased to share these views; of course as always, the editors don’t necessarily agree with all the content of such articles and invite readers to respond.
As an industry, wealth management and private banking has not historically been at the leading edge of digital innovation. Many firms have made great efforts to incorporate digital into their propositions, whereas others are being more cautious.

Ours is a sector where face-to-face and personal interaction between client and banker remain critical to establishing long-standing and mutually beneficial relationships. For some, digital remains seen as something that will interfere and erode the traditional model, rather than as an opportunity to meet a basic client need. If we don’t change and evolve, we won’t be relevant for the clients we serve today or those we hope to serve tomorrow. As an example, the 2015 World Wealth Report found that nearly half of all HNW individuals would use “automated advice services”, yet only 20 per cent of those who serve them believe that their clients want such capability. If we don’t keep pace with what clients want, we won’t be relevant. Having compelling, considered and integrated digital services are now table stakes.  

Founded in 1692, Coutts has more than 300 years of tradition and expertise of managing clients’ banking and investment needs. My daily challenge is to marry up this relationship-based business with digital capability to best support our clients’ current and future needs, allow self-service where that is required, and to unlock capacity in the front office so that our bankers can do what they do best – deepening relationships with their clients. We must digitise from the outside-in and the inside-out; taking an omni-channel approach as some call it.

Digital allows us to be smarter and faster, supplementing rather than replacing face–to-face interaction. We firmly believe that digital should be part of the kit bag for wealth management, allowing us to adjust to different clients and their needs, innovate to test new concepts and position Coutts as being steeped in heritage but with a modern twist.  

Client appetite for digital is clear. With more than six in 10 clients adopting the service, it has become our largest client touch point. Client self-service for simple transactions, coupled with efficient processes, is key to driving down the cost-income ratio and freeing time for our bankers to focus on higher value add activities for their clients. In turn, this helps ensure we get the level of client contact right, which drives Net Promoter Score (NPS) rates and advocacy.

Clients’ digital experience is crucial. It has to be brilliant every time, as there are ready made alternatives for them to use – calling their banker or Coutts24, our specialised telephony teams. Ours is a proposition based on client choice. If they want to speak with their banker for simple tasks, that’s fine. However, if they want the convenience of digital, we have to provide that too. The service and experience we target is shaped by our internal ambitions and what we see competitors doing. But, Coutts is also a club and a luxury brand. We therefore also take cues from other premium brands and those who do digital brilliantly outside of our sector – it is often these experiences that influence client expectations the most. The days are long gone where clients will accept lesser digital quality from their bank than elsewhere.

Clients have responded very positively to a number of changes we have introduced in the last 12 months, including simplifying the log-in process to Coutts Mobile via TouchID, rolling out secure email, providing a digital vault for all client communications, allowing for greater insight into investment portfolios, providing cashflow modelling and pending payments visibility, and to the hundreds of small usability enhancements made to the overall service.

In an industry-first we introduced the online Coutts Concierge. Clients can now manage their lifestyle needs from a PC, tablet or mobile. Flights, hotels, restaurants, tickets and more can be booked online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with all content and offers tailored to a high net worth audience. The service makes the impossible possible, be it getting a table at the hottest restaurant in town, seats at a sold out show, or organising the holiday of a lifetime.

Additionally, as part of our wider efforts to offer a fully integrated digital proposition, we’re currently re-launching our website,, which will work alongside our other digital channels, including Coutts Online, Coutts Mobile and our online Coutts Concierge platform. As part of the design process, we incorporated extensive client feedback and user testing to make sure our site is easy for users to understand and intuitive to navigate.

Much of online started with the humble website, and it is important to remember that it remains as one of the most important assets that supports our brand. We have a 21st century core banking platform, which is crucial to ensure we have the best possible client insight. This allows us to personalise our client interactions and always respond in a timely manner.

Online security continues to be a hot topic and sits hand-in-hand with improving digital channels. This is relevant for all institutions but particularly for wealth managers and private banks, as high net worth individuals offer a bigger prize to fraudsters. Cybercrime is now Britain’s most common criminal offence and we need to ensure that our systems and processes give confidence to clients that they can trust and engage with us securely. Our controls and solutions are constantly reviewed and improved, but systems change also needs to be underpinned by educating clients and colleagues alike on how best to keep safe online.

We believe it’s essential to keep in step with the channels our clients use for business while looking ahead to their future needs. Driving convergence between clients and their banker is key, using digital tools to support these relationships and providing clients the high level of service they’re used to with increased interactivity, 24/7. All this should be underpinned by a brilliant and engaging user experience.

Digital has a key role in the success of a bank, but it won’t be the differentiator in isolation – it is how it is applied which makes the difference. Long-term success will still be driven by the trust and depth of relationships, the quality of advice and the proposition. As I have said, good digital is now table-stakes.

Do or die, or more accurately, do well or die. It is integral to what we do at Coutts and we will continue to evolve and seek to deliver a compelling, comprehensive and integrated proposition. This approach, and our brand, will underpin our future growth. But, it’s not all about the tech. Technology is always commoditised over time; great service never is.


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