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Interview: Leigh Smyth, head of digital inclusion, Lloyds Banking Group

Lloyds Banking Group’s head of digital inclusion thinks the company has a responsibility to help society take advantage of the benefits digital brings

Lloyds Banking Group wants to help Britain prosper. To do this, the bank wants to bridge the digital skills gap to ensure citizens can advantage of the benefits technology brings.

It is by no means an easy feat, but as head of digital inclusion, Leigh Smyth is working hard to ensure the banking group does its part.

As her job title suggests, Smyth is passionate about the benefits that come from digital technologies. She’s only been in her current role for a little over a year, but her passion is far from new.

Smyth previously worked for the government on improved access initiatives. While there, she was introduced to Martha Lane-Fox, who had just began work on the Race Online 2012 campaign, and Smyth helped write and develop the campaign strategy.

The campaign launched in 2010 to reach the nine million people in Britain who had never used the internet, attempting to get them signed up and aware of the benefits the web can bring.

“It was a great campaign and opportunity,” says Smyth. Once the campaign came to an end, Smyth was one of the founding partners who helped set up the digital skills charity Go On UK together with Lane-Fox.

It was while there that she came across Lloyds Banking Group, which came on-board as one of the partners. Smyth was fascinated by the opportunity to lead their digital inclusion programme and joined the banking group.

Lloyds has always been at the forefront of digital, she says.

“Digital is a key enabler of what we do, but there is a big skills shortfall. We need to look at how we influence the UK and our colleagues to understand the benefits of digital.”

Digital skills can save money

Earlier in 2016, the bank – together with Go On UK – launched its UK Consumer Digital Index.

The research found that adults who don’t have the digital skills to shop for discounted goods online could be losing up to £744 a year. For low-income households, the figure is £516, but it’s also a higher proportion of their overall spending.

“There are all these opportunities and benefits out there, but then you have all these groups who don’t have the skills to take advantage of them,” says Smyth.

She adds that it’s about finding out what drives people and helping them understand how digital can make a difference in their lives.

“Inspiring people to improve their digital skills isn’t something you can do through a huge communications campaign,” she says. 

“We need to talk to people and unlock their passions. We really have to put ourselves in the mindset of what digital skills mean to them.”

Digital champions

However, bridging the digital skills gap is not a one-woman job. In 2015, Lloyds Banking Group set an ambitious target of delivering 20,000 digital champions by 2017.

This means that one in four of the company’s employees will be trained and dedicated to help people and organisations to improve digital skills and financial capability.

So far, the company has trained around 12,000 digital champions in the business, says Smyth.

“Digital champions are a core part of our strategy and we’ve been able to mobilise a movement with our champions,” she adds.

Partnering up with organisations, the champions can help the wider community through local events. The company has partnered with the Tinder Foundation to offer free support to citizens needing help with digital skills.

The partnership means that Lloyds’ volunteers have access to a network of around 5,000 UK online centres, spread across local communities.

Volunteers can be found in every part of the banking group, Smyth says. Halifax recently partnered with the Society of Chief Librarians, which Smyth says makes it the first corporate partner to offer digital champions who will support IT taster sessions run in libraries across the UK.  

‘It’s our responsibility’

In the last Parliament, Lloyds Banking Group became part of the Government Digital Service’s Digital Inclusion Delivery Board, where it was tasked with overseeing a project focused on improving digital skills in small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and charities.

Under the current parliament, digital engagement lies with minister of state for culture and the digital economy Ed Vaizey, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS). Lloyds continues to be involved in the work.

“Inspiring people to improve their digital skills isn’t something you can do through a huge communications campaign”

Leigh Smyth, Lloyds Banking Group


But why does a bank get so involved in bridging the digital skills gap? Smyth says she believes that, as one of the largest consumer banks in the UK, Lloyds has a responsibility to help society and UK citizens.

“We have an obligation to do it,” she says. “I believe in everybody having the same access to opportunities and, because digital is such a core part of it, we want to make sure everyone has those skills.”

Smyth’s work has landed her as finalist in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards under the category of Digital Leader of the Year. See the full list of finalists and categories and submit your vote on the DL100 Awards website.

Voting for 2016’s list closes on 27 May.  

Computer Weekly is a media partner for the Digital Leaders Awards.

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