Technological innovation is one of our growth drivers here at Legal & General. Why? Because technology solutions increase security, improve the way we work and live – something that has been especially important recently as we and others have transitioned to working from home – and, crucially, how we access information, all of which provides a fairer and more inclusive society.
Studies have shown that extending traditional financial services to low-income households and small businesses goes hand in hand with increasing economic growth1 and decreasing income inequality,2 yet it’s not uncommon for these demographics to miss out on access to traditional financial institutions altogether. Some 1.7 million people globally remain ‘unbanked’.3 But with 87% of all adults in Great Britain using the internet daily,4 taking financial services online through technological advances and innovation makes these services more accessible to the wider population, putting people in control of their financial futures.
While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards an increasingly digital landscape, creating a more accessible and inclusive offer has driven us for a long time. “Designing for better access has been part of a designer's toolkit for a long time,” says Robert Newham, Legal & General’s Director of Digital Design. However, he says that this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day led to deeper thought on the subject at Legal & General. “Through these events, there was an awakening moment and a learning moment for us, where we saw the much broader landscape of inclusivity.”
Research from the campaign found that 40% of UK households include at least one disabled person, an estimated 10% of people in the UK have dyslexia and 2million people are living with sight loss.
So, how can we create a more accessible offer that works for the people who need it? In accordance with Legal & General’s design principals, we start and end with the customer. This means beginning with research. "It’s part of our DNA," says Newham. "We're approaching this from a beginner's mindset. We listen to our users, our customers and our employees, before starting any design treatment. We've done 220 studies this year, and this is mainly in the customer space. That's 15,000 research respondents.”
With such high numbers of response, a percentage of participants will naturally be people with impairments or disabilities, but to gain deeper insight to their needs we are actively working to engage with more of people that identify in this group.
At the same time, we know that not all of our customers feel comfortable using digital services, so we’ve maintained a post room service for those who do not have access to digital channels. We also continue to operate call centres for those more comfortable with phone service.
"They are excellent people and have amazing training on vulnerability, on looking out for the signs of vulnerability and situations where customers need extra support," says Newham. "We also offer alternative formats. So we offer materials and Braille and in other formats."
By opening up digital access while keeping more traditional services alive, we’re increasing financial resilience for our customers. So while there is always more to be done, we’re learning that digital transformation encourages people to engage with and take control over their financial futures. We’re learning that, as long we don't lose touch with those who lack digital access, digital transformation creates a more inclusive society. What's more, we’ve partnered with Co-Op Legal Services to help customers access a Lasting Power of Attorney at a discounted rate so they can rest assured their money can be accessed by the right people for when they need a helping hand. (Read more about financial inclusion in our CSR report.)
And while we know that a blended offer will be necessary to give access to all our customers, we’re still looking to the future. Belonging to a financial system is essential for full and fair participation in everyday life, and bringing money management online puts individuals in the driver’s seat of their own financial journey. “Clearly the driver for the business is to digitise – it reduces our costs to serve," adds Newham. "But we genuinely think we can help customers more digitally moving forward, using things like web chat and chat bots. These can be as useful and as engaging as what you might get through a call centre operative.”
Improving engagement is especially important when considering how the choices we make today will affect us in the decades to come. For example, by making it easier for someone to increase their pension contributions, they are more likely to do so; by making it easier for someone to meet their financial goals, they are more likely to do so. “Most people have a scheme's through their employer, but rarely log in to see how their pension is doing or change the fund allocation,” says Newham.
“Regardless of background, knowledge or impairment, we're doing everything we can do to make access easier. We talk now about extreme simplicity in design. We have to push and cajole and influence and drive to make our proposition simpler to understand.”
In an increasingly digital world, the role of data becomes ever more important. Insights from data are the foundations of the decisions that help towards building a better future. In some cases, this is simply down to the data itself. For example, we gather ESG data to score our partners’ credentials, to ensure our investments are always ethical.
But using data in this way also means protecting it. “As a business were risk averse, in a good way, about the use of data,” explains Newham. “We're like a bank in many ways in terms of how we look after it.
“However, there is an interesting twist on this. In the long term, our job is to persuade and influence customers, to share more with us so that we can help them more. It's about providing more guidance and support and advice to customers so that they can make the right decisions and get the best outcomes. That's a long term goal.”
In other cases relying on data, for example by training artificial intelligence systems, frees up the innovators in a business to focus their talents on the truly creative and collaborative thinking that can’t be done by robots, but that can make the world a better place, from developing new green energy technology to the regeneration of cities and creating thousands of jobs for a much-needed economic boost. Data is also behind an increasing number of smart devices in the home – known as the internet of things – to simply make people feel secure in their homes, something we’re trialling in our Legal & General Homes business, to better support our customers.
Put broadly, ‘going digital’ gives a wider pool of society access to a lot more, reducing the gap between have and have not.
“We all live in a digitised world,” says Newham. “Technology and data are great, enabling forces. But without creativity, without empathetic and inclusive design, you can still get it wrong.
“It's about using all of that to your advantage. It's using technology. It's using data, using the digital economy we live in, and then it's using our heart and our understanding to care for our customer."