RBS using technology to revolutionise banking for customers

Kristen Bennie works with her development team at Gogarburn. Picture: Toby Williams
Kristen Bennie works with her development team at Gogarburn. Picture: Toby Williams
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In partnership with the Royal Bank of Scotland

Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief administrative officer, Simon McNamara, described 2016 as “the year innovation moves out of the basement and into the heart of the bank” and he wasn’t wrong. Open Experience, the technology solutions centre which opened in February next door to business accelerator Entrepreneurial Spark’s hatchery in the bank’s headquarters at Gogarburn in Edinburgh, and the use of social media in the workplace are just some of the steps the bank has taken towards offering innovative ways of working to customers and staff.

The new app will help people quit smoking. Picture: Heidi K Robertson

The new app will help people quit smoking. Picture: Heidi K Robertson

“We believe that the world of financial services is changing dramatically, often driven by new technologies being placed in the hands of our customers,” explains Kevin Hanley, director of design at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

“We are living in a period of rapid change and, therefore, getting ahead of that curve, understanding how some of these new technologies are impacting our customers and working with new technology firms to develop services that benefit our customers is something that we care passionately about.”

The use of social media in the workplace is becoming more widely accepted. Twitter is a vital source of information for many organisations, while Facebook has launched a corporate version in order to tap into the business market.

Posting scouting teams in technology-rich locations across the world has meant that RBS has been at the forefront of global innovation.

“We built up a really important relationship with Facebook through our team on the ground in San Francisco,” says Hanley.

“Facebook at Work is their corporate version of Facebook. Only 25 companies were allowed to pilot the use of that technology and through our relationship with the team on the West Coast [of the US], we were one of the companies they wanted to work with on the pilot.

“We are the only financial services organisation to pilot it and we now have over 40,000 of our staff and colleagues enrolled in the programme.

“The reason why that’s exciting for us is not just about the use of Facebook but we believe it is driving a very different kind of culture across the organisation.”

“It’s collaborative,” is how Hanley describes it. “You come together in groups of common interest and people opt into things they want to be part of.

“We have been surprised and delighted at how the organisation is adopting the tool.”

As well as the team in Silicon Valley, the bank has “scouts” in Israel, keeping on top of new developments there.

“It’s a community that we recognise is offering something different to the US,” says Hanley.

“Across the UK we are better connected as well into innovative start-up communities. We are much better connected to the Scottish entrepreneurial community, particularly through our relationship with Entrepreneurial Spark.

“We work with customers to understand and identify how these new technologies can benefit them.”

Online banking is nothing new. NatWest, which is part of RBS Group, launched its early-stage version in 1998, with the concept really taking off in the early 2000s.

In 2011, mobile banking made transactions easier for customers on the move and in the five years since then, RBS’s mobile banking app has gained considerable momentum.

“We now have 4 million customers using it on average 45 times a month,” says Chris Popple, head of digital at Royal Bank of Scotland.

“Now you can do virtually any money movement. You can pay your bills but probably more importantly, you can pay your contacts if you know their mobile number or you can get cash out of a cash machine without a card with our Get Cash feature. The mobile app is very secure because it’s on a unique device that we know you have. Using your fingerprint to get in makes it a lot easier to use.”

But the one of the latest additions to RBS’s portfolio of innovative banking services stemmed from its relationship with technology giant Apple.

“They are known for customer experience so we were happy to be one of the first banks to support Apple Pay [RBS launched it in June 2015],” says Popple.

“For customers, it allows them to pay using their RBS card virtually inside their phone.”

Feedback from RBS customers using Apple Pay shows the automatic notifications that are generated each time a payment is made have been a real hit.

“The customer wouldn’t ask for notifications but when they get it they love it,” says Popple.

“It’s a little bit of reassurance for them and we hope we can do more with that in the future.”

The smartwatch was Apple’s first venture into the wearable technologies market and it’s a gadget which RBS has been quick to embrace.

“Right now you can do a couple of things with the watch,” Popple explains. “You can see your balance and your last transactions or you can generate a Get Cash code to get money out an ATM without a card.”

The team’s current project is to integrate automatic notifications into Apple Watch which would update customers about their balance or let them know when they are in their overdraft.

“We definitely see a world where mobile would be the primary way to interact with the bank,” he adds.

“My view of technology is that it should help customers do the things they want to do but it isn’t an either/or situation. We can make our staff interaction with customers much more valuable through technology.”

In 2015, RBS launched a bank card designed for blind and partially sighted customers which features Braille markings to help customers determine which is a debit card and which is for savings, as well as a notch on the right hand side which makes it easier to slide the card into a PIN pad or ATM.

For the bank’s 15,000 customers who are registered blind, the card has taken the stress out of shopping.

To co-incide with this year’s Deaf Awareness Week in May, RBS launched a new service for British Sign Language (BSL) customers, making it possible for them to chat with the bank through a BSL interpreter.

The free service is available via the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest website and the SignVideo mobile app.

Deaf and hard of hearing BSL customers will be able to talk to an adviser using their computer, tablet or smartphone via a secure video call which instantly connects to an interpreter, who then phones the RBS contact centre to relay the conversation in real time.

Gathering ideas and inspiration for innovative ideas to improve the customer and staff experience involves collaboration with the business leaders of the present and the future.

Open Experience, at RBS’s Gogarburn headquarters, is one of the bank’s brand new technology centres and is a creative and collaborative environment which works with customers and entrepreneurs to solve problems and explore opportunities.

“In Open Experience we work quickly in small, agile teams in immersive design sprints on a particular problem or opportunity,” explains Kristen Bennie, head of Open Experience.

“We bring people together from different areas across the bank, our customer base and our network globally to solve that problem or opportunity, to create a better customer experience and deliver a solution that will ultimately be for the benefit of our customers.

“On all of the projects we actually engage customers or potential customers in the creation of the solutions that we are designing and that’s a key part of how we work, using customer-led design, taking an idea to a solution.”

Within Open Experience, a user testing base allows the team to interact with customers and understand how they feel about a new idea or solution.

The fledgling businesses from Entrepreneurial Spark’s neighbouring hatchery have been making the most of Open Experience since the two facilities opened in February.

“The start-up companies in Entrepreneurial Spark benefit from our knowledge and expertise and we can benefit from them,” explains Bennie.

“At RBS we recognise that we may not have all the ideas, so we need to be open to ideas.

“We have kept openness at the heart of what Open Experience is all about. We are collaborating closely with our customers and with entrepreneurs and we are always open to new ideas and new ways of working to benefit our customers.

“Entrepreneurs are hugely important to the Scottish economy and I think that we have a fantastic opportunity there,” she adds.


Sustainably is a micro-donations app which means shoppers can be philanthropic every time they swipe their card. The tech start up entered the Entrepreneurial Spark hatchery at Royal Bank of Scotland’s headquarters at Gogarburn in February and already work is well under way on the prototype.

“On our app, you select your good causes, set a round-up amount and add your credit and debit cards,” explains Loral Quinn, pictured left, who set up the company with her daughter Eishel, right, in December 2015.

“When you use those cards, it will automatically round up and donate to the charity of your choice.”

Users will receive instant updates from their chosen good causes when they make a donation and businesses will be able to sign up to match customers’ donations.

“You can track your impact over time and collect points to get personalised rewards,” says Quinn, who worked as head of digital marketing at an investment management group before turning her attention to Sustainably .

“It’s changing the way companies do CSR [corporate social responsibility] and it makes them more connected to what their communities care about.”

Geo-targeting allows users to see what’s trending locally and discover new causes in their area.

“We are bringing the convenience of mobile and cashless transactions together to create a conscious living and giving ecosystem where everyone from individuals to big brands can all get involved in supporting good causes,” says Quinn.

Working in the Entrepreneurial Spark hatchery means Quinn can make the most of the knowledge and expertise on offer at Open Experience next door.

“We first got involved with Open Experience because they were doing an ideation hack and I went along,” she says.

“We have been going to them and getting advice and support on what we are doing. RBS have been really supportive.

“It has been really positive and it’s helpful to have that validation.”

This article appears in the Summer 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.