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Transforming Financial Services with a Human-Centric Approach

October 28, 2022



Transforming Financial Services with a Human-Centric Approach

Transforming Financial Services with a Human-Centric Approach

Colin Field, CEO of Saffron Building Society in the UK, combines years of customer-focused banking experience with a collaborative, human-centric, and flexible leadership approach. He explains how transformation of the company’s culture and ethos—emphasizing communication and transparency—enabled everyone to adapt very quickly when the COVID19 crisis started. The business has achieved stellar results during and since the pandemic, responding to consumers’ and members’ evolving circumstances and needs.


[02:50] Colin started his career in accounting and then retail banking.

[03:50] Colin discovers he enjoys seeing people win and developing their careers.

[04:35] When banks were fighting for survival, the focus was internal not on customers.

[05:54] Colin wanted to understand the business end to end and the role he and others played.

[06:54] Transitioning from a large to a small organization was a shock for Colin—a risk for both sides.

[07:34] The culture at Saffron was warm from Day One.

[08:41] Colin rose rapidly to CEO, despite having no plan to achieve the role at this time.

[09:52] Colin leads transformation of the organization‘s culture and ethos from having top down centralized control.

[11:02] The “how” of work changes, especially opening up communications.

[12:13] To affect a culture change, being candid is key, bringing people into the process and encouraging them to ask questions.

[13:34] Cultural transformation starts with trust and being relentlessly honest and open.

[15:30] Emphasizing career development meant showing people growing and winning.

[17:18] Culture needs to be aligned internally and externally, including customers too.

[18:02] To develop the business, people’s roles needed to change.

[19:05] Achieving the improvements employees had committed to build trust and gained commitment for the next, growth phase.

[20:32] When the pandemic struck, Saffron was able to adjust rapidly as employees were used to change and communicating effectively.

[21:54] The pre-crisis transformation laid a strong foundation for two of the company’s strongest trading years—during and since the pandemic.

[23:33] Saffron was able to respond flexibly to customers’ different situations.

[24:37] The human-centered approach recognizes and responds to changing customer needs.

[26:42] Coming out the pandemic, Colin senses a seismic shift in how the employee value proposition [EVP] needs to considered.

[27:22] Colin is certainly not asking employees to return to the office five days a week

[28:23] Saffron takes a ‘principles approach’—the most important principle is that a society comes first, the service of customers comes first.

[29:00] Colin observes that people know how to work best, they don’t need the rules and expectations that other companies are talking about.

[30:11] During times of heightened ambiguity, ongoing conversations and iterations are important.

[31:08] A ‘management manager’ people training program facilitating new ways of working.

[32:12] Colin believes you need to understand where the people you work with are coming from.

[32:43] Saffron’s top executive team, who are spread out across the UK, are intentional when interacting online and in person.

[34:29] How to encourage transparent dialogue and assimilate new habits.

[37:46] People are adjusting how they’re living their lives no longer bound by geography—it’s a work in progress.

[38:57] Customers’ and employees’ expectations are needing to adapt.

[40:56] Colin has an open and less conventional approach for attracting good talent.

[42:35] Colin helps employees grow in their roles and even out of the organization.

[44:17] Colin shares the story of a bus driver looking for a career change at Saffron.

[45:15] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: To make whatever transformation your organization needs, start with the culture…then leadership, people, and processes….and stay the course — it will take at least twice as long as you think it will.


“I found the thing that made my heart sing! And the thing that made me smile was seeing people win, seeing people around you win, colleagues developing their careers and actually seeing and getting proud about something you were doing as a business.”

“Trust is the hardest thing to build in terms of culture.”

“Overnight we went from a business that was head office in two central buildings and eight branches, to all of a sudden we're in no buildings, and we're in studies, spare bedrooms, dining room tables.”

“Why would we want to start saying to people “you need to come back into the office again.” It's crazy! We've just proved over two years that we don't need to do that. That makes no sense.”

“I fell the secret is to swim with the tide here as a business, you go with it as much as you possibly can do and that’s the way to unlock the benefits.”

“Our customers set, a lot of them are 50+, and a number of them are 80 plus. And people would say to me “Colin, digital channels: you're wasting your time in that group. People will not want to use digital channels.” And now that's been completely debunked.”

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