Wendy Redshaw

Wendy Redshaw, chief digital information officer, retail banking, at NatWest Group, believes innovation belongs to everyone, not just the ‘cool kids’. 

Whether it be using artificial intelligence (AI) during a pandemic, working to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics for young girls, or helping customers fight climate change, Wendy Redshaw, chief digital information officer, retail banking at the NatWest Group, has a clear view on where innovation belongs in financial services: freed from the ‘innovation labs’ and allowed to penetrate all parts of the business. 

A few years ago, in the middle of the fintech revolution, many banks opened up vertical innovation centres, often filled with young staff and outfitted with ping pong tables and free snacks. “A lot of banks did that to prove they were innovative,” says Ms Redshaw. “I don’t think that works on its own; in fact, I really feel strongly that it doesn’t work.”

You need innovation to be delivered, and you need it to be delivered at scale

Wendy Redshaw, Natwest

Ms Redshaw admits that the era of innovation labs was great for outreach, scouting new fintech companies and creating contacts within the innovation community. But “there is an end there”, she adds. “You need innovation to be delivered, and you need it to be delivered at scale.”

These bank-led innovation labs gave off a ‘cool kids’ vibe that often felt a bit tribal within organisations. “That is not a good thing,” she adds. “What’s much better is to just say, ‘actually, you’re all the cool kids’, you’re just working on different things, but there’s nothing to stop anyone from being innovative in anything that we do.” Ms Redshaw makes the point that there are eight million customers on the NatWest mobile app, for example, so anything innovative the bank develops needs to be safe, as well as scale and perform for those customers. 

Quick thinking

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, NatWest established a ‘bank heightened-awareness period’. What that meant was every day her team would get together to look at the bank holistically, to see what needed to be changed, where there might be contradictions and to make sure that anything that needed to be delivered “at speed” didn’t hinder other services. “We were actually putting through four times as many changes as we would on a normal weekend during that period,” she says. 

Career history: Wendy Redshaw 

  • 2020 NatWest, chief digital information officer, retail banking
  • 2018 NatWest, head of technology and head of digital distribution, personal bank
  • 2014 Deutsche Bank, chief information officer for collaborative technology solutions
  • 2011 Royal Bank of Scotland, transformation programme manager
  • 2008 Lloyds Banking Group, transformation programme manager

During the pandemic, the UK government introduced a number of initiatives aimed at easing financial burdens for individuals, such as being able to take payment holidays on loans, including mortgages. “Suddenly you realise that people will probably opt for a holiday, even if they don’t need it because they just don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Ms Redshaw. “Like many others, suddenly we were swarmed with a volume of phone calls that was quite unprecedented.”

To cover the increased volume of customer calls, she says her team decided to “mobilise” their AI assistant, Cora, plus an “army of robots” in order to “take some of the pressure off” of their human customer services team. Its customer service robot Cora, launched in 2017, is now leading the UK market, based on external benchmarks such as containment rate, according to NatWest.

“[Cora’s] gone from nursery to the first year of school,” says Ms Redshaw, in terms of learning and growing with the retail bank. “[Cora] is a real part of us being a relationship bank in the digital world,” she adds. “It is part of that cross between the digital and physical worlds.” 

Three stage approach

NatWest is looking at innovation from three perspectives, says Ms Redshaw. The first is experience: “How can we better serve our corporate and business customers, and the public at large, by delivering high value digital services?” The second is convenience: “How can we help current and new customers access banking services through a more convenient or relevant digital channel?” And the third is sustainability: “How we can find innovative ways to help customers to make better decisions around climate and sustainability?”  

As part of this drive towards sustainability and climate consciousness, NatWest recently launched a carbon tracking feature along with climate tech provider, CoGo, which allows customers to see the carbon emissions associated with their daily spending, as well as providing hints and tips on how to go greener and resources for doing so. 

Before joining the bank, Ms Redshaw had viewed NatWest as “likely to be a bit old school, if I’m honest”. However, from the start of her tenure she says the bank proved to be “very fertile ground” where there was “a real appetite to do something differently than the way that they had done it before”. 

But she says any change in working needs to be sensitive to existing cultures, and listen to fears and resistances so staff feel supported as they “let go of the old way of doing things and move to the new, and still have the satisfaction of what it was that they were looking for that made them feel safe. Of course, working in this way collaboratively is actually energising and positive. So, what’s not to love?”


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