The new normal?

Stephan Erne, Chief Digital Officer, Svenska Handelsbanken AB

The new normal?Stephan Erne, Chief Digital Officer, Svenska Handelsbanken AB

It is almost impossible to talk about financial services operations at the moment without referring to the coronavirus pandemic currently spreading across the globe. It affects all of us, in our personal lives and in how we work, with all of society being turned upside down by the effects of the coronavirus.

What is happening now lays bare the fragility of our way of living and shows just how dependent we are, that all of the wheels in our globalised economy keep on turning. But it also shows how digital solutions can help to uphold important functions within, for example, healthcare, education, and, not least, banking.

Consequently, I’m not surprised to see that also we at Handelsbanken are experiencing a catalyst effect, primarily within digital ways of working and customer interactions. With impressive enthusiasm, we now see our colleagues and customers embrace the digital tools we have access to on laptops and mobile phones to maintain information flows and relationships. And the need for information, conversation, and human relationships grows quickly in uncertain times. This is something we have worked on tirelessly during the weeks since the start of the pandemic.

The majority of simpler customer interactions were already carried out via digital channels, such as our apps and Online Banking services. However, there are now major changes afoot in meetings between customers and advisors, and in our customers' understanding of what constitutes a “real” meeting. Before the covid-19 crisis, we already used digital solutions for personal meetings as well – an area where we are now seeing increases in interest and activity. For us, this is just yet another way of making a difference with our local presence and personal advisory services, even if we cannot meet physically to the same extent.

In the first phase of the pandemic, the main focus was to adjust and react to rapidly changing circumstances and to adapt our activities. This included ensuring operations and stability in the bank as a function critical to society, all the way to our objective of being close to the customers, including digital meetings and advisory services with our local branches and advisors.

Therefore, it’s particularly pleasing that Handelsbanken received the highest rating when SKI/EPSI asked customers how well they considered their bank had managed the covid-19 crisis. In my view, one reason for the positive reactions is that we have all changed our everyday behavior very quickly, e.g., how we work, shop, learn, manage our finances, and how we socialize with each other. Here, digital tools and processes play an important role, but the most vital factor, of course, is how we use them, as our fundamental needs as humans are still the same. My conclusion is that new behavior is embraced very quickly when we see value in it. And in this case, little change management, explanations or manuals, are needed since we all have our own driving force to learn. In these times, our business model is stronger than ever. We have close local relationships from living and working in the same area as our customers. And we have branches that get involved in the local community, where customers meet the same people online, by phone, or if they visit the branch in person. When nothing is as it usually is, we have simply tried to be Handelsbanken, as usual.

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