The ever-increasing success of SME hero Aldermore Bank
While ordinarily it would be rare at best to praise a bank for its customer-focussed personal touch, Aldermore stands out as a trusted champion of the small-and-medium enterprise.
The business began in 2009, led by CEO Phillip Monks, and supported by AnaCap Financial Partners. It provides its products and solutions to consumers as well as SMEs, including asset finance, invoice finance, commercial, residential mortgages and savings, predominately online and via its network of regional offices. This diverse selection is a breath of fresh air amongst a sea of incumbent banks, ensuring Aldermore’s status as a leading alternative.
Business Review Europe met with Paul Johnson, Chief Information Officer of Aldermore Bank, at the company’s London offices to discuss its operations and how it maintains such a positive reputation.
“As CIO, my responsibilities revolve around ensuring the technology systems that we have are sustainable, reliable, ensuring all customer data is secure and used in the right way, that we’re regulatory compliant in those areas, deliver innovation, and provide the company with more product capabilities for the customer,” Johnson says of his role at Aldermore.
He began in the Royal Navy as an electronics and computer engineer, which aided in developing his leadership skills, before undertaking various technology jobs, leading to more project and customer-focussed roles.
“I joined GMAC, an auto finances company, as their CIO for Europe,” Johnson explains. “I moved to Lloyds Banking Group where I held two senior IT roles; however, after several years in large established organisations, I wanted a change – to build and develop something sustainable and exciting, which led to me moving to Aldermore Bank. I took the opportunity to help grow a new bank, which I couldn’t resist.”
As a bank without any branches, most of Aldermore’s business is conducted online, through intermediators or directly to the customer. This makes technology fundamental to everything the company does, especially regarding the interface itself and the back-end security required. Intermediaries drive a lot of Aldermore’s mortgage products and asset finance products, making relationships with them significant.
“What’s key is the relationship between Aldermore and the broker, and the broker and the customer,” says Johnson. “Once the product is originated, the relationship shifts to one that’s between the customer and us. We need to have great information going into the marketplace to show the benefits of doing business with Aldermore, and what people can expect from us.
“The fact that we don’t have any branches does mean that the channels to the customer are pretty broad – either via a basic SMS type of messenger, through electronic medium, internet channels, or mobile apps.”
Aldermore’s ongoing focus on the customer and their needs means flexibility and a dynamic approach as customers’ needs change overtime.
“It wasn’t long ago that we spoke about digital marketing, which was pretty much an origination of a first point of contact interface,” Johnson explains. “Now, the customer wants their whole lifetime managed through the digital experience where they can self-manage and self-serve.
When asked what makes the company stand out, Johnson hands the issue over to the point of view of Aldermore’s customers, stating that “other people decide why we’re different and tell us in the reviews they leave us”. The key, he says, is transparency to the customer, ensuring that what they see is what they get, and that the rules won’t change later on.
“We let them know everything well in advance, and they can decide if it’s appropriate for them,” he explains. “We are very customer-focussed. Lots of companies say that, but as a relatively new organisation, our development is really concentrated on that direct channel, our relationships, communication into the marketplace, and making sure that what we promote all those benefits.
Aldermore has an entirely open ratings and review system where any customer can leave feedback. If a bad service is given, it will be on Aldermore’s website for all to see, and this feature drives a great deal of engagement: “Transparency equals trust. If we’re transparent, they can trust us – and vice versa.”
Alongside relationships with customers, Aldermore’s relationships with suppliers are just as essential to its success. “We can plan strategically what we want for the future, and the closer suppliers can get to companies like Aldermore Bank, the more they understand the customer,” says Johnson.
Aldermore chose a handful of key suppliers to build its capability through: “We haven’t got the legacy of lots of people working within the IT area of Aldermore, and therefore some of the skills that may have been relevant five, 10, or 15 years ago are less relevant now,” Johnson says.
“Where we’ve got specific intellectual property, we use trusted partners to help us develop that capability. Those might be short-term, because we want to build some of that intellectual property and capability in-house, but only at the right point in time. Most of our relationships are quite flexible, and very collaborative.”
While Aldermore’s revenues and profits enjoyed a sizeable leap last year, Johnson states that this growth has been entirely organic based upon a continued focus on what the company does best. What has driven the company’s growth thus far is simply customers learning more about the company, which by its very nature increases levels of interest, spurring the company to ensure its products are fit for purpose.
“The really impressive increase in revenue and profitability has been due to continued focus on the customer,” explains Johnson. “We listen to them through the ratings and review process, which allows them to come back to us and tell us exactly what they do and don’t like. As we review that process we can ensure that what we’re providing is what they expect, and the overall brand becomes more and more known within the marketplace.”
As a mostly-digital business, any continuous improvement in the CIO and digital arena reflects directly upon that of the business in general: “There’s no point in us building something which is totally separate from the company’s behaviours and vision,” he says. Any improvement revolves around the concepts of: speed of service, quality of service, the breadth of product offered to the customer, ensuring the customer feels their data is secure, and that when they are engaging with Aldermore, there won’t be any issues regarding their personal information.
“Within the CIO realm, what does that mean? It means that we review the technology continuously. It means we ensure that the reliability of the systems is continuously improving, the performance is continuously improving, and with some of our partners we negotiate a deal whereby as demand grows, the capability grows, and if it drops off in any area, the actual facility drops again so our cost profile goes back down. How cost relates to our original issues and our growth; that’s how we maintain flexibility and help the company keep reinventing itself.”
Whilst planning for the future in a technological sector is difficult – potentially treacherous, even – Aldermore Bank has a vision for the future to become a one-stop shop where customers can acquire the services they need with just a click. How will it achieve that? By moving increasingly into a cloud-based infrastructure.
“I definitely see, as the world becomes more digitised, that technology will move into an on-demand type of model,” Johnson concludes. “That brings up some challenges, but it’s definitely the way things are going. It would be foolhardy not to take advantage of some of the services offered by our partnerships. I think it’s fair to say that in the future, there will be very few services that companies have on-site; we’ll move more and more into the cloud.”