COVID-19: Will it define us?

The COVID19 humanitarian crisis should always ensure our focus and compassion is with our fellow human beings who have suffered terrible loss in such a short period of time, and this is rightly so.

There is, however, another ‘victim’ of this pandemic, our economy. Our political leaders have taken unprecedented steps to ensure short to medium term remedy, which will undoubtedly have long term impact.

While our fantastic medical professionals take on the huge challenge of saving lives, it is Merlin’s opinion that our business community has a lead role in tackling ‘head on’ the task of resurrecting our economy as soon as is practically possible.

To paraphrase Lord Kitchener: Your Economy Needs You.

During this crisis, there is little doubt that there is an absolute need for Business Leaders to seek the help of their professional advisers. There are lots of great examples of advisers coalescing around business communities to offer help.

However, ultimately it is the role of Business Leaders to make DECISIONS and there is no one better placed to know your business, culture, market, competitors and so on. That is, after all, why you are in the role you are in.

We at Merlin think our role in all of this is to help, where we can, Business Leaders make the best decisions to manage the impact of COVID-19 and adapt Operating Models to set up for success.

With spare capacity due to client projects being cancelled or deferred, in these unprecedented times we’d love to make ourselves available, at our own cost, to Business Leaders who need to make these decisions.

Areas where we are currently sharing / tailoring pragmatic and practical tools with Business Leaders and helping apply them in their context: 

1. COVID19 impact on your business – a robust, pragmatic and honest review of this external stimulus, or otherwise, to your business. A means of getting to ‘tough decisions’ or identifying opportunities that may define the future of your business.

2. Based on 1) above, YOUR impact on your business – the speed of COVID19 may have caught a lot of Business Leaders off-guard and forced knee jerk, short term decisions that may not ordinarily have been taken. Adapting and using ‘Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (FMEA) will help Business Leaders understand the Impact of Decisions, when/how often they may feel the Impact, how they will identify it and, most importantly, how they can potentially mitigate it. For example,

  1. Avoiding Creditors calls
  2. Laying off key team members
  3. Signing – when it is possible to do such – the lease on a new office.

Merlin are happy to help explain the use of these tools (and others) further, if required, and would also offer that now more than ever, when normal day job routine is most likely to be interrupted, is the time when you have time to determine the future or your business.

Once done, this then leads to what next? what will my business look like? how will we operate? What skills/technology/data will I require?  This will take you a long way towards developing your Crisis Recovery Strategy.

3. So, what is the new Normal? – by using Target Operating Model (TOM) methodology in its simplest form, you can determine what you may have to change to adapt your business to set up for success. By de-layering your business, the task of making change becomes much more focussed and only touches those layers that will require change. If, for example, Working from Home (WFH) becomes the new normal for your employees, what does that mean?

  1. Managing 20 remote workers is very different from managing 20 office workers
  2. Is your leadership team set up for the new normal?
  3. How will your clients react to a new ‘channel’?
  4. Do you have the technology, and how do you share relevant information/data?
  5. How do you maintain security?

4. COVID-19 Recovery Project Plan – Having understood, per above, what needs to be done, ‘Plan for Success’ and coalesce all your staff around a well thought through, rapid recovery Project Plan.

A lot to consider. Yes undoubtedly, however, you most likely have the opportunity NOW to determine your business future and play your role in ensuring our Economy can be as robust as possible, as fast as possible.

This is a call to action, so let’s get moving in a pragmatic and practical fashion. We would love to help in any way we can.

Business Diagnostic

Take a Step Back!

While there is no substitute for great, hands-on Executive management in any business, there is an argument to say that sometimes you can just get too close, become too involved in the day-to-day and not have time, or inclination, to step back and steer the ship.

How many times, as an Executive, do you go home at the end of the week feeling totally drained, having put in too many hours, not really feeling that you have achieved much, and with some ‘homework’ to boot.

  • Is that your life?
  • Do you recognise your business?
  • Are you simply too involved in the day-to-day running?
  • If so, then ask yourself, WHY?

There have been so many occasions in my Consulting career where I have been hired to become the crutch of the exhausted Executive who is ‘living the dream’ above.

Great job, well rewarded, no work-life balance, and no real understanding why the ‘job’, with their innate, well proven ability and skills, simply takes so much of their time.

We help Executives in this situation by carrying out a short, broad but shallow Business Diagnostic to uncover the reasons why so much ‘work’ is going on beyond what is actually required to run the business. In most cases, this falls into the category of ‘Failure Demand’, where a large percentage of ‘work’ is created within the business and becomes ‘the way we do things around here’, offering no value to Clients, or Shareholders.

This usually falls into a couple of categories;

  • In technical ‘lean’ terms, this will come from a plethora of wastes – under the “Seven Wastes of Lean” philosophy.
  • However, it can also be cultural, where the ‘norm’ is to escalate ‘issues’ to the highest level in the organisation – usually the aforementioned overworked Executive – for resolution. In most cases, the root cause of this lies with the Executives themselves, as they have permitted this to take shape and, perhaps, see their role as ‘Master Fire Fighter’ with the skills, experience and aptitude to resolve anything that is escalated in their direction.

As long as that continues, be prepared to give up your weekends until your frustrations reach a level when you have simply had enough. Alternatively, take time, step back, get some help and understand WHY you are working so many hours and then put a plan in place to stop that ‘hamster wheel’.

A Business Diagnostic will highlight, in a very short period, the root causes of your 7 day weeks, develop a solution and help drive your business towards a more process managed, higher skilled, less costly environment that perhaps will offer you the time to determine strategic direction: the things you should be doing as opposed to fixing problems.

Our Diagnostic approach provides independent, trusted resources that will partner with you, share knowledge and offer practical insights to your business needs. We utilise experienced project team members to work on-site, where we can shadow and work with you and your teams’ so they are engaged and involved in the process. Our Diagnostic Report is detailed, underpinned by data, and uses internal and external best practice, identifying non-value costs, realistic cost efficiencies, business improvements including customer satisfaction and an organisation structure that is fit for purpose.

In a recent Diagnostic exercise with a well-known, international business services provider our Diagnostic Report identified a benefit-to-cost ratio of 14:1. This is an investment that can help you take control of the increasing frustrations that you are facing as an Executive.

If you would like to understand in more detail the benefits of a Business Diagnostic, we would be delighted to organise a presentation or video conference to talk through a case study with you and your Executive Team – please contact us directly by email.​

Transforming the Retail Banking and Insurance Customer Journey

The financial services industry faces ever-increasing levels of technological (Fintech), regulatory and oversight change. This is against a backdrop of challenging economic conditions and falling levels of trust.

At the same time, customer expectations of improved quality of service through their channel of choice are demanding rapid responses from banks, building societies or insurers.

Unsurprisingly financial services providers are forced to re-think current strategies, amend their business models and review process efficiencies and systems. Without constantly seeking to be ‘best in class’ for customer experience, an organisation’s competitive position will erode more rapidly.

Recent Example:

A major Building Society faced challenges through lack of understanding of customer behaviours especially through digital channels. This was resolved by introducing an integrated channel strategy that delivered multimillion savings on branch redevelopment and a more cohesive Omni channel strategy creating a better customer and colleague journey for the organisation.

These unabating challenges mean organisations need to dramatically improve the customer journey whilst simultaneously lowering the cost base, creating multi channel consistency, and exploiting digital technologies to win and retain customers.

Example challenges in retail banking and insurance include:

  • Customer driven processes – Is the ability to deliver good customer experience being undermined by the increasing complexity of processes and poorly aligned distribution channels and operations? How do you use customer feedback to drive customer focussed change?
  • Cost to serve –The role of face-to-face and the branch is evolving to focus upon building customer relationships to drive sales. As a highly expensive component of the distribution mix, how are you maximising sales opportunities and driving out efficiency improvements within the branch network?
  • Digital channels – How far progressed are you on the digital journey? How effectively are the digital opportunities integrated into the overall distribution channels? Are you maximising the return from your digital investment or simply layering in additional costs?
  • Data insights – The sheer amount of customer data can be overwhelming. Data often resides in disparate locations; analytical capabilities may be immature and links to customer interfaces poor. This means the asset of readily available information fails to be leveraged. How are you using customer insight and analytics to deepen customer relationships?

What does this mean for you as a key fintech player?

Whether you are an emerging player or established market leader, technology will continue to evolve, it will continue to change the way you do business. FinTech will support Financial Services in streamlining operations, getting digital and fast access to money and services. But the winners will be the organisations who continually review their operating models. To provide customers 24×7 access to the channel of their choice and with a better customer experience.

With over 25 years of experience, including leading multimillion digital transformation programmes for leading Banks and Insurance companies, I am passionate about sharing best practice with practical insights, most institutions will invest in short-term experienced contractors, our strength is applying our extensive knowledge working with you as a partner to provide sustainable expertise. Our team have worked at senior level and can add real value to your thinking, before, during and after your transformation timeline.

  • We can apply strategic thinking and sense-test your vision with you
  • We can help establish your business case and help develop the structure of your programme including requirements and system selection
  • We can provide an independent review of your transformation programme mid-stream to assess
  • We can provide communication tools to support training and education towards your new operating model
  • We can provide mentoring and coaching to key individuals to ensure successful go live realisation

A True Partner

Merlin Consultancy has its core focus on ensuring we can deliver tangible benefits including:

  • A better customer experience together with improved customer advocacy and improved operational performance
  • An increase in your net promoter score (NPS)
  • Increased customer retention
  • Increased sales performance
  • Cost reduction through a reduced cost to acquire and service customers.

We can discuss in greater detail how we have supported other individuals and institutions in the Fintech community which has led to the above benefits.

This includes:

  • Increasing customer satisfaction from 59% to 85% and staff satisfaction 75% to 91%
  • Designing new target operating models with improved 30% efficiencies identified.
  • Reducing repeat contact demand by increasing first point of contact resolution.
  • Using data driven information to deliver significant cost reductions via a self-service shift.

What Next?

Ian will lead and engage the Merlin required resources to deliver a diagnostic review that is appropriate for the transformation programme life cycle. Ian has 25 years business transformation experience, delivering operating models, business change, digital transformation, customer journey, training, systems implementation and data migration. Recent clients include Gard, Medical Protection Society, Thinkmoney, Yorkshire Building Society, Co-operative Bank and Insurance and Lloyds Banking Group. He has worked at senior levels for KPMG, PWC, Capita, Unisys and Sapiens. Contact Ian direct.

Cherry-picking trusted advisors

With such scrutiny over consulting firms and conflicts of interest between audit and non-audit services, how does an organisation ensure it gets best value from a variety of providers?

​Many organisations find managing multiple consultancies complex and expensive. They cite consultancies losing focus on deliverables to “land and expand” or pre-packing teams with inexperienced, less capable consultants to “support” more valuable, experienced consultants.

Time and money is wasted on multiple “data gathering” exercises (frustrating staff) and contradictory or overlapping conclusions delivered to different sponsors resulting in internal conflict between senior management.

Merlin’s cherry-picker approach draws the best, most appropriate resources from consultancies and internal resources to ensure the best possible outcome for the organisation.

External resources may be used directly on the programme or to back-fill within the organisation to free-up internal resources with the requisite skills and content to accelerate programme delivery. So a typical team will include:

  • Key members of our client’s staff who are involved in steering and delivering the initiative
  • Overall project/programme management expertise from Merlin ensuring effective programme governance, coordination of work stream activities, milestone reviews and maintaining a focus on “value for money” from external suppliers, and the programme as a whole
  • Specialists from Merlin and our Trusted Partners or other suppliers to deliver focused outcomes
Case Study

The client had a many consultancies assisting a number of initiatives to increase market share and customer insights. Each was working on separate projects on customer segmentation, customer communications, a CRM selection project, a digital marketing platform and a new website.

The client’s staff were inundated with data gathering requests and repetitive meetings and as a result “business-as-usual” was suffering.

The consultancies were competing for follow-on work and were struggling to understand the scope of the other consultancies.

Consequently, multiple recommendations were being made beyond the scope of the individual work parcels allocated which were contradictory or included in another firm’s scope.

The Solution

Resources from all the consultancies and from the business were “pooled” and assessed individually.

Many of the consultants included in the firms’ teams were surplus to requirements (e.g. PMO support staff). Some staff were removed from their day to day roles and given project roles, backfilling them with external resources.

Data gathering was controlled in a data room and each project’s scope was shared with all the “multi-firm” teams. Deliverables were controlled by the programme lead and it was made clear to the consulting firms involved that follow-on work would be awarded on the same principles.​


The clients’ staff learned new techniques from the consultancies’ and from the individual consultants’ experiences. The amount of time wasted on data gathering was dramatically reduced and the distraction of the scramble for the follow-on work was felt to be less disruptive and contradictory. The work was delivered faster, cheaper and more cohesively with fewer external resources.

The Black Hole

Confronting bad news is part of the job for any self-respecting C-Suite Executive.

As consultants, we are often called upon when bad news breaks because, as independent professionals whose role exclusively is complex problem definition and solving for clients, we often see quickly and objectively how the situation has arisen and what must be done.

This does not imply that we are smarter than the average bear, or that the executive management teams are not. However, an objective eye may help clients get back on track faster and cheaper than perhaps they might otherwise – resolving vested interests and conflicts diplomatically (or otherwise as need be) along the way.

A “unique-to-them” corporate dilemma may be one which has been witnessed (and defeated) several times by external consultants elsewhere, thus by leveraging that experience of succinct problem definition and known successful solutions, we can deliver real value quickly.

So why does it happen?

Why do clients sometimes seem surprised to find themselves in a cost challenge position, or suddenly realise that sales are not happening as quickly or in the magnitude expected?

The Right Measures

In today’s data-rich world, when there is so much data captured and accessible, and the ability to mine it that data is “cheap-as-chips”, the prospect of being misled by the wrong or having key information buried is as dangerous as not having any data at all!

We often find that organisations (and sometimes whole sectors) are data rich and insight poor*. Linking the correct drivers to the real consequences allows remediation actions to be implemented and effect measured promptly. “The right measures lead to right measures”.

The Right Infrastructure

Evolved infrastructure (cost/systems/people) may have been perfectly relevant in a different time but may no longer be optimal for the current type or size of business or operations nor be scaleable (up or down) in the medium or long term.

An external perspective from professionals who are not invested in decisions of the past, can assist Executive Teams objectively implement a new model or organisational structure be more “fit for the future”.

The Right Change

Change is constant. Too much can swamp an organisation; too little leaves it behind the pack.

Executives need to balance the need for change alongside “keeping the show on the road”. Neither can exist in isolation as the business evolves to meet increasing demands – faster, cheaper, better.

External independent consultants help get the balance right – providing independent assessment of investment cases, reviews of hurdle rates, assurance of benefit realisation (likelihood and accrual) as well as bring change capability (solution design and implementation).

I think the value we bring to clients is that experience but with a fresh set of eyes on a ‘new’ problem. We harness that to help our clients only understand the symptom and the root causes and extract the data to help them make effective and timely corrective action.

The most rewarding projects I have led have helped the client uncover the root of the problem and discover what they must do about it; avoiding at all costs that feeling that consulting is being “done to them”. They often need help in delivering the solution, but when it is their solution, the value created is so much higher.

That we have (in all probability) experienced this before and, more importantly, resolved the issues helps clients realise that they can survive “the black hole” and they don’t need to tackle it alone.

If any of this resonates with you and the situation you face, let us provide insight and support. Contact us for a chat.