From AI assistants to virtual cards: How NatWest is embracing digital

21 May 2021

Image: Wendy Redshaw

NatWest Group’s Wendy Redshaw discusses the tech trends she’s most excited about and why digital transformation is like growing a beautiful garden.

As chief digital information officer for retail banking at NatWest Group, Wendy Redshaw’s remit covers the breadth of digital and technology across retail banking. She also serves as a board member for NatWest Trustee and Depositary Services, an RBS International entity.

She joined the company in October 2018, having previously worked as CIO for collaborative technology solutions at Deutsche Bank, and as a member of the supervisory board for the Russia Technology Centre.

Redshaw has also been involved in several successful fintech start-ups and numerous digital programmes for banks. She was recently awarded CIO/CTO of the year at the 2021 FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards.

‘Edge computing combined with 5G will fundamentally transform the IoT and consumer data areas’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

As the retail banking chief digital information officer (CDIO), I am responsible for digital and technology platforms ranging from systems underpinning home-buying and ownership, everyday banking and short-term borrowing, to our award-winning mobile banking app and Cora, our AI virtual assistant.

As a leader, the softer skills of driving technology strategy are equally important. I believe the digital world needs leaders who have technical skillsets plus cognitive flexibility, emotional and social intelligence, and a creative and innovative mindset.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

Our retail banking strategy is to offer leading customer service that combines the best digital experience with 24/7 access to the best people. This hybrid offering, of both physical and digital, sets us apart from the digital-only banks, and enables us to deliver to our customers when and where they need our support.

This may be physically, through the innovations during the pandemic like cash-delivery service for vulnerable customers or the rapid introduction of companion cards for carers to get cash out for customers who are shielding.

It may be a combination of digital and physical, such as our free financial health checks that are offered via face-to-face, by phone or via video banking, or truly digital, like ‘Housemate’, an app for renters to help manage shared finances and facilitate building a credit file to help with accessing access to more financial services, including lower cost borrowing.

Throughout this year we will see numerous releases of the NatWest mobile app, including cheque capture in app, and the ability to use biometrics in payment journeys. As we look ahead, we’ll see recycled and virtual cards, our AI assistant Cora getting into voice, 360-degree views of customers, banking that jumps channels to suit the customer, tailored mortgage offers and loans direct from non-bank channels, data concierge, emotional AI, avatars, and some cool climate initiatives. It’s going to be an exciting time.

How big is your team?

Our retail banking colleagues across digital and technology are a global team of more than 2,000 professionals across UK and India, who support our more than 16m customers. As a bank, we look towards our partners to provide a degree of flexibility to our workforce where appropriate, and to work with us collaboratively to bring in fresh perspectives.

Both sides bring a lot to the table, with NatWest group bringing more than 200 years of financial expertise, and our partners bringing market expertise and niche skillsets that can complement our permanent workforce.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

Digital transformation has many facets, and while no singular definition exists, it might be summarised as any act or process that aims to improve or bring about change, triggering significant shifts in any number of facets of the organisation, through combinations of information, computing, communication, and/or connective technologies.

Given such a broad definition of digital transformation, I tend to approach from a holistic and whole perspective, as well as through the sum of its component parts.

It is like growing a beautiful garden, you have an overall aspect or vision that you wish to achieve, and each flower bed contains flowers that need to be tended to in slightly different ways to get the best result overall for the garden. Through this mindset, and the recognition of the symbiotic relationships that exist within an organisational and digital ecosystem, the very essence of change and transformation can be embedded strategically, at different points in time, and in different ways.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

There are a number of revolutionary trends on the horizon. As we look forward, technology trends like edge computing combined with 5G will fundamentally transform the IoT and consumer data areas.

Imagine if you will, you are walking down a street towards a bus stop, and you look at a sign, advertising clothing. The advertising facial recognition notices you lingered for 0.5 seconds longer, indicating your interest in the article. Based on your biometric response, such as heart rate, respiration and eye movement, signs are registered that you are interested in purchasing. Your digital assistant, who is available via your digital device, asks would you like to purchase that item. And we as a financial institution can facilitate that purchase for you with a confirmation via fingerprint, eye blink or other customisable authorisation motion.

Another exciting trend deals with spatial and quantum computing that will set new precedents for human-data-machine interactions globally, across a number of fields like medical, biotech and crypto, and concepts like unsupervised machine learning will disrupt predictive and analytical capability, removing limitations of human training, knowledge and, one hopes, bias.

These are just a few of the exciting trends that are already being explored today and will shape the next five to 10 years.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

We’re continually looking at ways that we can deepen and embed secure technologies, while also providing customers with the information and insight they need to avoid falling victim to frauds and scams, which could cause them to disclose personal information.

Our security is built on a range of factors, but by including things such as ‘something you have’ as well as ‘something you know’ – for example through biometric authentication – we can build safer customer experiences. We work with the best available technology in the market while also developing our own proprietary solutions as appropriate.

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