When the UK went into lockdown in March, Allica Bank was quick to respond. We had two priorities. First, enabling all our employees to do their work safely and effectively from home. Secondly, ensuring our customers see as little interruption to our service as possible.
We’ve spoken to some of the Allica Bank team to find out how we did it.
As a bank built on modern technology, Allica was well placed to adapt to a remote style of working. The bigger challenge was being able to maintain the human and local relationships that are such an important part of Allica Bank’s proposition for customers.
Sean Sitton, Head of Technology, explained that “Allica Bank was built using technology designed to support a team working from multiple locations and to serve clients across the UK with a mix of digital tools and human expertise. Of course, no one predicted a situation close to what we are seeing now, but those early decisions enabled us to seamlessly transition to a fully remote set-up almost overnight.
“Working in close partnership with our customers, brokers and team members is what keeps Allica Bank moving. Communication and collaboration tools have, therefore, always been a priority for us – we just never expected them to be relied upon so heavily!
“The effect of this approach is that, rather than having to implement an entirely new way of working to maintain these relationships, it’s been a matter of scaling up our existing collaboration and remote working capabilities. It’s allowed to us to speak with and consult customers, brokers and each other with minimal interruption. I’ve been really pleased with how this has worked so far.”
A team that continues to grow
“Allica Bank has been bucking the trend somewhat in that we’ve carried on hiring new employees during the COVID-19 period,” explained Allica Bank’s Head of HR, Richard Whorton. “These extra team members are enabling us to continue to build new products to support small and medium-sized businesses, beyond just maintaining our existing service levels.
“We’ve brought on board 32 new employees since we moved to a fully remote operation, with several more scheduled for the weeks ahead.”
According to Sean, “the logistics of onboarding employees is where the main challenge has been for us on the tech team. Aside from being unable to introduce new joiners to the team in person – not to mention, take them out for a welcome lunch – simply getting hold of new laptops and IT equipment in general has been difficult. Fortunately, our modern and flexible technologies have allowed people to log in to our systems remotely using virtual applications.”
A new way of working
Of course, effectively continuing to serve our customers during COVID-19 isn’t just about having the right technology. Being asked to work from home every day rather than the office can be a big culture shock. While fitting other aspects of daily life around home-working can be tough, too.
"The transition from office to home-working had to be as smooth as possible if we were to maintain business as usual for our customers,” Richard said.
“It’s entirely new territory for many of our staff and it can be a bit disorientating. We’ve provided training and guidance for team members on how to manage their workload in the home environment, alongside making sure everyone has all the tools they need to do their job without any extra hassle.
“But this isn’t just a professional challenge. It's a personal one, too. Many Allica Bank employees – like myself – are home-schooling kids or have other personal commitments that need attention throughout the day. We made sure to give our staff the flexibility to fit their working hours around their home life. Thankfully, we already had the collaboration and communication tools in place to be able to do so smoothly.”
Allica’s Operational Risk Manager Jennifer Read is another one of the many parents at the company who is home-schooling their children alongside work. “I have to admit, it’s been difficult trying to juggle teaching and entertaining the kids, and at the same time keeping the house running and doing my work,” she said.
“But Allica has been incredibly understanding of my situation and priorities from day one. Their support has given me the capacity to get on with doing my job without any unnecessary pressure. Allowing me to manage my own time, understanding that I can deliver on a flexible diary, and being more than happy for the occasional meeting to have an additional small face appear at the bottom has made all the difference”
Allica Bank serves its customers best when it’s working together as a team. Yet, when everyone is working remotely, it can be difficult to uphold the camaraderie that can be more naturally generated when together in person.
"Letting our employees know they’re valued and maintaining the strong community spirit we have at Allica while in lockdown is possibly the hardest part of all,” Richard said. “Even the smallest of daily interactions between colleagues around the office can have a big effect on people’s mental health and motivation. This often goes under-appreciated.
“That’s why we’re doing everything we can to show people they’re valued and maintain a social atmosphere, even from home. From sending all employees Allica Bank branded mugs, through to regular virtual social events, such as quizzes or Easter competitions. It all helps. We’ve moved our all-company weekly stand-ups entirely online, too. It’s been a great way to keep everyone working as one unit.”
Talking about how she’s been coping with working during lockdown, Jennifer explained that “it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed with work or feelings while being cooped up inside. But, by making sure we keep talking to each other – not to mention, taking time for a coffee break and (weather permitting) getting in some exercise – it can be a big boost for the day.
“We all have our own individual challenges to deal with,” she said, “but everyone has really come together as a team to help manage them.”
How it’s gone so far
Talking about how Allica Bank’s response to COVID-19 has affected its service to customers, Nicola Tunney, Head of Operations at Allica Bank, said that “our customers have been incredibly positive about how we've responded to the situation. It was important that we were quick to react, and had the technology to maintain our service and communication channels with customers even if we weren’t in the office.
“During lockdown, we’ve continued to support small and medium-sized businesses with new lending, managing to generate more Deals in Principle for our commercial mortgage products in May than we did in March and April combined.
“The team also successfully launched Allica Bank’s first ever personal and business savings accounts, all from home. We have received loads of positive feedback about the process, and it’s great to grow the ways in which we’re empowering small and medium-sized businesses to succeed. The whole team should be very proud.
“This is, of course, a tough time for businesses and individuals alike. For Allica Bank, what’s important is that we do our part by continuing to provide the service our customers expect, with integrity, clear communication and collaboration every step of the way.”