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55 (150) 2022

Finance

From manual to automation: the story of one team located across Poland and UK

By Magdalena Korgól and Jacob Kendall, Hargreaves Lansdown
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One aspiring product-led software development team located across two European countries, Poland and the UK, supporting complicated business processes and managing large dependencies on legacy architecture… could it be possible that these conditions can be the foundations of a successful story? From challenging beginnings grew full cooperation bound by trust and a single-team mindset. Can the location of individuals becomes irrelevant, while, the purpose to whom they offer value remains paramount? Here’s how a fully manual business process within a financial service – heavily constrained by regulatory compliance – can become an automated and scalable journey, one that can be frequently iterated and improved.

Hargreaves Lansdown is the UK’s largest digital wealth-management provider; helping people to save and invest with confidence for more than 40 years. Today, we are trusted with more than £120 billion by 1,737,000 clients. We are a well-established, FTSE 100 company, headquartered in Bristol and employing over 2,000 people. In 2017, the company pioneered a technology centre in Warsaw, on-boarding around 70 people, each of them experts in their disciplines.

HL has long been known for its premium customer service; maintaining and evolving this to deliver a future-proofed client experience. Underpinning this digital experience with scalable and cost-efficient back-end processes is fundamental to our strategy and critical to our future success. With this in mind, we are committed to always improving our digital capability and optimising our service to enhance our proposition and improve our efficiency. This objective is never ‘done’. Our client’s circumstances and needs ever evolving; we will forever strive to adapt our proposition to meet these in the best way possible.

An example of the important client offering within wealth management is the transfer process. The term ‘transfer’ involves the movement of assets, funds, equities, or ownership rights from one account to another. It may also refer to the movement of an account between wealth management platforms. Within HL, there is a dedicated team responsible for maintaining and improving this service to ensure clients can easily move money both in and out of HL’s administration. The goal was clearly set from the very beginning: to reduce transfer processing times and create an efficient and scalable service. With the team being co-located across Bristol and Warsaw, close collaboration was essential to establishing an effective way of working and moving forwards towards delivering value to both business and clients.

When the initiative started some time ago, we faced a problem space, full of complexity and unknowns. Undocumented business processes, undefined ways of working and no established software development process, just to name but a few. Referring to the now-legendary phrase from a response by US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld: there were “known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns".

The only option to approach such a complex problem was by adopting an agile philosophy. We used agile best practices and tools, such as employing constant improvement mindset, iterative development, event-storming sessions, increment presentations, preferring collaborative working over siloed individuals, and creating a strong feedback culture with stakeholders and wider business representatives.  At the same time, even with the positive attitude and motivated experts on board, there were times of difficulty and moments of doubt.

One of the greatest challenges was to define and deliver an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in a highly regulated environment, for such a complicated process. To avoid lengthy value-delivery timeframes, it was decided to adopt the MVP concept as a milestone that would de-risk the larger deliverable by introducing a point that allows us to pause, learn and potentially pivot, without committing too much time and money. At the beginning, we built functionality that meant the transfer request was fulfilled automatically by the application upfront, with all mandatory client data and identity verification required only at the end of the process. This decision was driven by two crucial factors, we always put the client first and secondly, we wanted to make sure that we are fully compliant. This enabled us to take advantage of our technology and to deliver the value incrementally. Also, by delivering something at all, we have established a sense of trust among the stakeholders and have not imposed any negative implications for our clients. When we were sure that everything works as expected and the application meets all requirements, we decided to switch to a fully automated process.

Another important thing we have learned was to seek regular feedback, test all the time and to release the smallest possible increment. We have improved from initially releasing to a live environment monthly to the point where we now deliver new features on a weekly basis. This gives us greater assurance and capability to meet strict regulatory deadlines, often at short notice. Even when our transfers application is stable and working effectively, we constantly seek to enhance and improve how it performs. Based on product metrics and data that we regularly monitor and listening to user feedback; we can easily identify where there is opportunity for further improvement. Fundamentally, providing value to both clients and our HL colleagues are the most important drivers for doing what we do.

We have significantly improved the performance of our transfers service and associated client experience, driving down average pension transfers processing times from 43.3 days in 2021 to 21.2 days in 2022 and improving the experience and process efficiency across all products, while subsequently reducing the volume of client complaints.  We are proud that we, as one Bristol / Warsaw product team, have contributed to such a positive impact.

 

 

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