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Darlington Building Society invests in platform for digital transformation

Building society is looking to satisfy existing customers and attract new ones by meeting their digital service-level expectations

Darlington Building Society is moving to the next stage of its digital transformation, which aims to offer more to existing customers and attract new ones.

The building society has, to date, had limited online services for customers, but it plans to change this through a partnership with fintech ieDigital.

Through ieDigital’s customer interaction platform, the building society can make its services available through multiple channels, including smartphones.

Darlington Building Society’s chief operating officer, Chris Hunter, said the organisation does not currently do much online, but has made changing this a priority as customer expectations grow. 

Hunter said the building society currently has online functionality where customers can view transactions and make faster payments, but there is no integration with systems and customer actions are not automatically completed. “Traditional building society customers are often seen as elderly people, but this is changing and we want to attract a different demographic of customers to stay relevant in the marketplace,” he said.

Initially, the finance firm wants existing customers to open more accounts online at their leisure rather than be restricted to when branches are open, before increasing the number of mortgage customers by attracting them online.

The building society currently has nine branches in Northeast England, 80,000 savings customers, 9,000 nationwide mortgage customers and 170 staff. With a small IT change team of about 15 people, its IT team works closely with IT suppliers such as ieDigital to reach its transformation goals.

First up in the digital transformation was the development of a new mortgage broker platform, investment in core infrastructure and the implementation of a new telephony system.

Read more about digital initiatives at UK building societies

The organisation will now begin to create customer-facing services. Using ieDigital’s platform, it will offer digital banking services that work across desktop, tablet and mobile devices. By the end of the first quarter of next year, its online services will be mobile enabled with the functionality of a mobile app. The platform will improve account opening for existing members, enable the onboarding of new members online and offer mortgage and savings account self-service options.

These improvements are vital, with customers demanding multiple service channels, said Hunter. “Our research shows all our customers, even those over 65, prefer mobile app first, website second and branch third. But the challenge is, they want all three.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed fuelled the take-up of digital financial services and was a wake-up call for the IT team at Darlington Building Society. They quickly realised that the current set-up could not satisfy customer demands for online services.

Hunter said that during the pandemic, customers gave organisations some leeway while they adjusted to new ways of working, but this “soon wore away” when transactions increased as the pandemic eased.

“The pandemic showed the importance of resilience and flexibility in how we serve members,” he added. “We are proud that we chose to keep branches open, expand our customer care team throughout the crisis, and maintain the high level of service our members are accustomed to.”

As well as the front-end, customer-facing technology, the building society is going through a major infrastructure upgrade. “We have a cloud-first strategy going forward,” said Hunter, adding that its current estate is private datacentres. “Currently, about half the back-office infrastructure is in the cloud and we will be fully there by the end of this month.”

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