Stephen Ingledew - digital Darwinist

Toni Sekinah

Stephen Ingledew went to work at Standard Life ten years ago as the director of the distribution division. He was then promoted and tasked with managing regulatory compliance after Standard Life had run into a spot of bother with the Financial Services Authority (now the Financial Conduct Authority) in 2010 after marketing materials for one of its pension funds were ruled to be misleading.

Any good leader will see a crisis as an opportunity and that’s cetainly how Ingledew identified it. “The opportunity was to turn data into actionable insight that would drive our engagements with customers both online and off line to improve retention and growth,” he said.

He brought in a marketing resource management (MRM) solution from Aprimo with the aim of standardising and structuring the development, creation and distribution of all the company’s customer-facing marketing content. Even after his departure, Ingledew speaks very highly of the vendor. “When companies want to adopt a more digital approach and adopt technologies like that of Aprimo, it means they do not have increased costs when dealing with increased volumes of communication. We can work more effectively and more efficiently with the right technology,” he explained.

But there were also some challenges. One was ensuring that the data was of a good quality and relevant. Another was getting staff on board with the technology, as it was not something that they were used to. Ingledew recalled: “The key when bringing in new technology is to get the team comfortable if it’s not their skill or their subject matter.”

Aprimo userIngledew met this challenge by cultivating ambassadors or sponsors who understood the benefit of the new system - freeing up their time - and were willing to explain them to other members of the team. For him, it was important that Standard Life became digitally transformative rather than just adopt digital channels. “Instead of just seeing verticals, you have to think much more horizontally, in terms of servicing, operation, risk management, finance and HR,” he said.

In terms of how big financial services companies should do marketing, Ingledew believes great opportunity lies in collaborating with challenger organisations and smaller financial technology startups. He noted that, “the big companies can learn from them, invest in them or bring them in to be a component of their payment or automation processes. There is a recognition that not all innovation has to happen in-house. It is actually better if it is done out-of-house.”

He used the term “digital Darwinism” to describe what is happening with large financial services companies amid rapid technological changes. In his view society and technology are changing at a faster rate than organisations can adapt. He explained: “It is not the biggest, strongest or most intelligent that survive. It is those that are most adaptable that are going to be the winners.”

He added that a company cannot just buy the best technology and wait for the magic to happen - it has to be approached in the right way. According to Ingledew, that is through “design thinking,” an iterative method of product development. With design thinking, products are built with constant feedback from the customer taken into consideration.

Ingledew said that the benefit of this interactive, agile method is that development teams can see the results of their work as they happen. It is much more efficient than the waterfall process which would involve, say, a 12-month project being launched, seeing what the results are and then realising at the very end it is not quite what the customer wants.

One way Ingledew thinks technology can be applied to marketing is through artificial intelligence whereby intelligent assistants do compliance sign-offs. An intelligent assistant allows more compliance checking to be automated with any red flags identified being confirmed by a human.

“It means that a human compliance officer can focus on areas of greater risk, instead of thinking they have to find those red flags in a whole pool,” he said. Ingledew added that AI and machine learning have been around for many years, but can now be put to use as there is now a large enough volume of data on which to train it, plus software capabilities have caught up so the intelligent assistant can do what marketers want it to.

Ingledew brought up the Pensions Act 2008 as an example of a driver of this increase in data. Soon, all employers will have to enrol their staff on a pension scheme. This means a lot more communication from pension and investment companies and, thus, a lot more data.

With regard to the effect data is having on the financial services industry, Ingledew made a simple analogy. “Data is the new oil,” he said. “It is the fuel that drives digital transformation to being personal and relevant to customers as well as providing the intelligence the business needs to make strategic and operational decisions.”

He added that, like oil, data needs to be refined and used in an effective way with new technologies and new ways of working. “On its own, its value will be limited.” One immense well of that oil is social media with seemingly endless quantities of unstructured data. Car insurer Admiral tried to access this data source through Facebook posts by young customers in order to analyse their personalities and set insurance prices accordingly. The thinking behind the firstcarquote product was to look for personality traits that would identify a customer as a careful driver. However, Facebook blocked the trial hours before it was due to launch. 

Ingledew said that data owners such as Facebook rich becoming a single gateway into a very big field and, as such, a risk to innovation. He also said that he is not sure what would happen if a similar event happened in the future. “It’s unchartered territory that we’re in. There’s a real blur and I’m not sure how it is going to play out. It is too early to predict,” he said.

The former insurance industry leader said that financial services organisations could use social media to their advantage, as a listening tool to understand and engage with their customers better. He said to do so organisations should try to become part of an online social community. “You’ve got to earn trust and respect to be a part of it. If a big financial institution comes bowling into a community, it is going to be rejected,” he said.

Looking back at his time at Standard Life and the impact he made, Ingledew was keen to point out that it was a shared effort, across business divisions and a diverse range of people.

“Marketing is far too important to just be left up to the marketers,” said Ingledew. “Everybody’s got a marketing role, whether you’re in HR, finance, risk or operations.”

In order to help cultivate the marketers of the future, Ingledew helped to set up a marketing apprenticeship programme. He concluded: “I’m a big believer in marketers needing to be a blend of scientific and creative. Diversity of all types - age, background, ethnicity, gender, perspective, experiences - are all necessary if you want creativity to come through.”