Faced with advancing digitisation, rising cost pressures and increasing customer expectations, many banks serving small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are looking to transform to a new relationship management model: one that blends the efficiency and convenience of digital offerings with the “human touch” that many SME customers still crave. The key is knowing when the human connection is important for clients, when it adds value and when they will pay a premium for it—recognising this is different for clients based on their needs and preferences.

While technology may be an enabler for a new relationship management model, getting the people element right will be a vital ingredient in delivering its full potential for customers and the business.

Pivoting to this new model means implementing transformative digital and people change simultaneously, including reimagining the work done by relationship managers (RMs). This would be challenging at any time—but is even more so in today’s increasingly competitive market place. Success will require a clear understanding of what skills and areas of focus are required for the RM role in the future, how RMs themselves can be part of the change journey and how to best unlock human potential.

Addressing the people factor

So, as banks gear up for the pivot, what challenges will they face around workforce and culture? To date, most efforts have focused on digitisation of direct channels and automation of operational tasks. But as competition from digital entrants escalates, established banks are initiating change programmes aimed directly at the RM role and the associated operating model.

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It’s a defining moment, as RMs collaborate more and more with intelligent machines to deliver services for—and build relationships with—SME customers. But how much of their work can be augmented with technology and how much automated completely? How comfortable will they be with the change? How do you ensure RMs are still valued by clients beyond fixing things that technology & automation can now manage? And how can banks guide them through the transition?

To help answer questions like these, Stephen Pegge, managing director of Commercial Finance at UK Finance hosted a podcast discussion with RBS head of front office transformation Andrew Harrison, and my Accenture colleague, Andy Young, who leads our Financial Services Talent & Organization practice.

During the podcast, they debate—among other things—how banks can enable RMs to be more productive, the best ways to introduce new ways of working, how RMs can contribute to innovation and what skillsets and mindsets—both digital and human—RMs will need to meet SME customers’ rising expectations.

When change is pervasive—prioritisation is key

Throughout the discussion, a recurrent theme is the need to avoid overwhelming RMs with a blizzard of change and information. As RBS’s Andrew Harrison points out, the key is to prioritise the actions with the greatest impact—and then enable each individual to engage with those changes in their own way. While technology may be an enabler for a new relationship management model, getting the people element right will be a vital ingredient in delivering its full potential for customers and the business.

To experience the full scope of the discussion, listen here.

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