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The era of empowerment

The role data and collaborations have played at TD Bank Group in empowering their customers and employees

Shift podcast

“... [the] foundational investments we made in an innovation ecosystem... has wider repercussions in how you can adapt as an organization, as the world around you is shifting”

Rizwan Khalfan, Chief Digital and Payments Officer, TD Bank Group

The era of empowerment

The pandemic has highlighted and accelerated the ever changing preferences of customers and employees.

We sat down with Rizwan Khalfan, Chief Digital & Payments Officer from TD Bank Group, to discuss how he is focused on empowering customers and employees. The importance of ingesting empathy into personalization. And the value FinTech collaborations and acquisitions can provide in the ability to be agile, as the world around us is shifting. 

John: Welcome to another episode of Shift. Why I'm really glad you're here, we have a doozy for you today, believe me. I'm super excited. I'm joined today by Rizwan Khalfan, chief digital and payments officer at TD Bank Group. I think we're all witnessing some seismics change going on in the world right now, especially when it relates to things like what our expectations as consumers are, whether we're worried about data and privacy. So I'm so glad that you're here. Rizwan, welcome to Shift.

Rizwan Khalfan: Thanks, John. Good to see you again. And I'm looking forward to this conversation.

John: Me too. It's interesting, because I think we take a lot of things for granted right now, how organizations are adapting to this kind of post COVID world, if you will. I mean, it's been a whirlwind. And of course, we're recording this from our separate homes. Maybe you could just take a second and kind of let our listeners know a little bit about you, and what led you to the position that you're in right now?

Rizwan Khalfan: Oh yeah, sure. I've had various roles at TD. The last 10 years, I feel like a founder of a startup within the bigger bank, working with amazing talent that I've learned so much from. And we've gone on to create the largest digital bank in Canada over the last 10 years with millions of customers who depend on our digital capabilities, experiences, properties for their day to day financial needs, and we look forward to continue serving them as, as the pandemic has shifted behaviors.

John: I was wondering, you're probably in a really awesome position to answer this question, because you talked about how TD is the largest digital bank, and we all know as consumers, what digital has meant to us over the last sort of 18 months or however long we've been home. Do you see this new kind of, we'll call it a rapid growth in digital customer engagement? You see that powering a new normal, as we kind of think about going back to work or back to the office.

Rizwan Khalfan: Across our customers, we've had over a million new customers engage with us digitally. When you think about how we used to bank, where we used to go into a branch say two or three times a month, and over the course of the year, that would lend yourself into 20, 30 times a year, that interact with your bank and the branch. Well, today we have over 10 million active mobile customers.

John: 10 million?

Rizwan Khalfan: That's right John, and over 15 million active digital customers. Now the mobile customer is really interesting, because it's still growing. The mobile customer engages with us over 20 times a month.

John: That's a lot of interaction with an institution, if you will.

Rizwan Khalfan: Exactly. That is the point, that the engagement has gone up 10X, between our customers and the bank. And that's a really unique opportunity that it creates. Engagement allows us to effectively deepen that relationship with the customer, understand them better. The digital transformation has created new opportunities probably in every industry. But we can speak with some level of confidence in the financial industry, it has driven engagement, and created opportunities for us to serve our customers in new and exciting ways.

John: Do you think that customer expectations are forever changed, and that this notion of going into a branch or interacting with the branch... Unless it's something really big like a mortgage, or something where they need face to face? And will that allow the bank to kind of rethink how to offer new services that are really pinpointed in what people want?

Rizwan Khalfan: Our preferences have changed, and in some cases on a permanent basis. But you can say with confidence that that all led to the fact that our expectations have increased. To me, when we talk about trends in the market, that is the mega trend. I describe it sometimes as the era of empowerment, where consumers like me and you, our expectations are really high. Our expectations of our local grocery store is changed. How we go about shopping, buying, and getting our groceries delivered has changed forever.

Rizwan Khalfan: If I look at my Netflix expectations, the content that they're recommending. All these providers need to know who I am much more intimately than they did pre-pandemic. So there is a new normal emerging where consumers are going to be even more empowered, and I think that the concept of personalization is going to take a whole new fold. To truly understand who they are, what their needs are, importantly what their preferences are, and how with the right experience to best meet their customer's needs. I think this is an exciting time for all consumers. And it's an interesting time for industries to adapt, to evolve, to meet this trend.

John: The notion of transactional data, and preferences and purchase behavior, this wealth of data is really interesting. How do you think that organizations are going to be able to best use it? How do companies go forward thinking about how to use data for the benefit of consumer personalization and overall awesomeness?

Rizwan Khalfan: I think about it in four layers as to how we utilize this data to deliver personalization. The first one is obviously data as a platform and that's data that you have within your firewall. The second layer is the intelligence layer. This is where you would use decision engines, you'd use data analytics to understand your customers better.

Rizwan Khalfan: But now we have access to machine learning and AI models. From a predictive perspective, you can now anticipate your customer's needs based on the data. Then in walks the capability layer. So the example I'd say is that, "Hey, John, we realized that John has a bill payment coming up in five days. The data shows us that you want the bill payment capability and then sends John a reminder. The fourth layer is really important. The fourth layer is the interaction layer. So how does John want to be reminded? What is his preference? Is it an email notification? Is it a push notification on app, on a real-time basis?

Rizwan Khalfan: So the four layers would be the data layer, the intelligence layer, the capability layer and the interaction layer. In the industry, I think most are investing in all four, but I believe the interaction layer is one that we can get right. We using a human-centered design approach in order to figure out the preferences of the customers. And then in work and experience at the interaction layer there's best meets a customer's preferences. And this to me is how we can deliver personalization in a unique way going forward.

Rizwan Khalfan: But you can take it one step further, because now you have access to AI models that can actually allow you to anticipate the needs much more proactively.

Rizwan Khalfan: I'll give you a simple example that we launched, which I think is fairly unique. We have an amazing capability from an AI perspective through an acquisition, Layer 6. We acquired them three plus years ago. Just an amazing asset that's part of the TD family. And we use the Layer 6 AI model to predict customer balances two weeks out.

John: Wow.

Rizwan Khalfan: With a high level of accuracy. And when we were able to do that, we're able to reach out to customers and provide them with these soft nudges to say, "Hey, if your balances is going to run into issues to meet your monthly financial commitments, here are actionable insights that can help you navigate through those commitments." And the response was amazing.

John: We talk about preferences and how we like to use channels for different things. So keeping that balance and understanding how people like to interact. And I think understanding what channels have power for different types of tasks is really, really important. Making sure that your customers have choice about how they want to engage and what makes sense to them both now and for the future.

Rizwan Khalfan: I do believe that every customer is unique. And I know we come from an industry where we are so used to segmentation, we segment everybody into boxes and I feel like the last two years in a trend that existed before, which now has been accelerated, is understanding the preferences of customers on an individual basis. On a one-to-one basis. We've seen a huge surge in digital. But does that mean that customers, at some point don't want to have a one-on-one conversation face-to-face? Of course not. You know we have a saying that customers want everything. Which is true.

So you end up, as I said, coming back to the era of empowerment for a consumer. Organizations that can adapt to meet their customer's needs on an individual basis are best positioned to win going forward. And that's not easy. It's easier said than done. Are large incumbent organizations, do they have the flexibility to be able to adapt to meet customer's needs? Because one thing is for sure, customer expectations are growing exponentially.

John: That's really interesting. I'm just trying to think of the role of empathy because empathy on the one hand, it feels like a very human behavior, whereas what we're talking about is largely digital and automated, where do you see that balance happening?

Rizwan Khalfan: I think empathy has a significant role to play in personalization, and I'll give you an example, right? So as we talked about the digital service through the pandemic, we saw two groups of customers. One group of customers, or those that already used digital capabilities for banking. And so through the surge, we saw existing digital customers use digital capabilities more holistic, but we saw something more interesting. We saw a massive cohort of customers who had never used digital before.

And as a result of the safety and health protocols, they were actually forced to use digital as part of their safety and convenience. And I was amazed, as you know, at how they embraced digital. Given that their digital fluency was not at the same level of those customers who had been using digital capabilities for a long period of time amongst them, or obviously a lot of seniors, and the feedback I got from seniors was predominantly very positive. And I was actually inspired by their feedback. It was to the effect that, Hey, I've been forced to onboard online or digitally, and it is more convenient.

Rizwan Khalfan: Having said that, it is really important to recognize the journey they are on, and not assume a level of fluency. So I think that was an important takeaway for us, that we want to develop experiences for different levels of digital fluency.

Rizwan Khalfan: And so that's a good example of where empathy comes in. When you put yourself in your customer's shoes and say, if they're not onboarded to digital, how would you onboard them right now when you understand that their fluency level is not as high as you expected and what guard rails would you put in place? What training, what education, what visuals, what videos would you put out there so that it helps those customers.

Going forward, we've incorporated empathy into all our design practices, designing experiences that are relevant for them, based on what they are trying to achieve versus what I would say the industry has typically done before is designed for mass market, design one digital experience.

John: Oh yeah. There was a time and I think it's still that with other organizations where technology leads the experience and that's a real problem. I think the best organizations who are starting to integrate that sort of empathetic technology bent are the ones that are really going to win.

John: So there had to have been lots of adaptations and pivoting and really getting kind of TD thinking about how to serve customers when the pandemic hit. I'm really interested to know how that happened, how you transformed quickly.

Rizwan Khalfan: As somebody who's worked at TD for close to 20 years the response of our colleagues across the bank to do what's right for our customers and their colleagues and in our communities was inspirational. I would say that our colleagues across the bank rose up to the challenge. Developed hundreds of capabilities in weeks. And in some cases, days, which otherwise would have taken months, if not more.

Rizwan Khalfan: And it was amazing to see John. I'd definitely say that was one of the more proud moments in my career, just to see the response of our colleagues and the question kind of comes on reflection, how are they able to navigate and to move with purpose, speed agility, in a way that we have never seen before.

Rizwan Khalfan: So we have a lot of agile bots where we've embraced agile as a practice. It was clear that those agile boards were able to move faster. They were able to reprioritize what was important to our customers and their colleagues and tailored to deliver those capabilities in a way that if we had used a more project based methodology would have taken us a lot longer to pivot. I'd also on reflection, highlight that we have a robust innovation ecosystem at TD that we've developed over the years, that includes incubator, includes an accelerator, includes FinTech partnerships, amongst other things.

Rizwan Khalfan: And we were able to leverage these partnerships in a way that I had not seen before. And if it was not for the fact that we had these partnerships, we'd be starting from scratch. So a simple example would be John that we had launched a chat bot in Canada with a FinTech partner before the pandemic and the team in the U.S. were able to identify a need that they were seeing. A lot of our mobile customers were calling into the contact center from a specific area of the main app, which implies that they were looking for a capability they couldn't find. So right away, they use the data and analytics to figure out what are the main reasons that the customers were calling in.

Rizwan Khalfan: Why not actually pivot those for the chat bot to serve. And they were able to launch a chat bot three weeks. In three weeks, which for the next three months served 1.7 million customer requests successfully.

John: Wow.

Rizwan Khalfan: So here's an example that the foundational investments we made in an innovation ecosystem, in the talent, in an operating model, combined with modern platforms. You want to remind yourself that look in the moment it may seem like a big investment. But it has wider repercussions in how you can adapt as an organization as the world around you is shifting and how best you need to adapt and evolve to meet your customer's needs.

John: Have we trained ourselves because of the pandemic, because of rapid speed and agility and acceleration, to do things more quickly than they should be done?

Rizwan Khalfan: I would say, look, we've learned a number of things through the pandemic. And responding to our customers' needs with agility is clearly one of them. Lots of times, when the request comes in, you're like, here's all the different obstacles that you need to get over. And yet what we've experienced in the last 15 months is remarkable.

Rizwan Khalfan: I describe at TD [00:46:19] that we always knew that we had the speed muscle, but we saw it in action. This is the way we want to actually stay connected with our customers and be able to serve them on a go forward basis. And actually, the fact that their expectations are rising and changing as fast as they can, that becomes a competitive advantage for TD as long as they can continue to adapt.

John: Yeah. That's so fundamental.

Rizwan Khalfan: When I talked to hundreds of colleagues across the bank, they felt empowered. They always wanted to do what's right for customers. But the difference in the last 15 months was they felt empowered to actually action what was right in a way that I had not seen before. And that, to me, is something that we want to continue to build on. We want to continue to figure out ways to empower as many of our colleagues to be able to do what's right and enrich the lives of our customers on a go-forward basis. Because to me, that's a winning proposition.

John: That was amazing what you just said, by the way. What is greater than empowerment? What does... the cascade effect of that is incredible.

One of the things that we like to do on Shift is do a lightning round of never before asked questions to our particular guests, just to get a little sense of who they are and what they're all about. So [Rizwan 00:52:52], here we go. What is the weirdest COVID habit you've picked up?

Rizwan Khalfan: Oh, I actually go and check on my children, who by the way are 21, 19 and 17, on a regular basis. I'll knock on the door just to see what they're doing. And they're like, "You've never done that before," multiple times a day.

John: I do the same thing. Okay. What's your best working from home tip?

Rizwan Khalfan: Intimately understand your wifi network, to make sure that you're actually optimizing the network for everybody who's using it at home.

John: I don't think I've done that. I'm going to look into that. And then finally, what is your favorite movie or binge watching TV series?

Rizwan Khalfan: We just started a new series on Netflix called Manifest. It's really interesting. I think they've got two seasons on it on Netflix. We're still working through the first season as a family, but it's about a plane arriving at an airport after departing five and a half years earlier.

John: Is it worth watching? Because I saw the trailer.

Rizwan Khalfan: Yeah. I think it is. I'm still early into it, but I find it fascinating.

John: All right. Well, that wraps up another episode of Shift. I don't know about you, Rizwan, but that went by really quickly for me. Thank you so much for appearing and being a guest on here and sharing all your insights about what's been going on with TD.

Rizwan Khalfan: Thank you, John. It was an absolute pleasure, and I'm looking forward to meeting in person.

John: Me too. And I'd like just a quick shout out to our listeners. Thank you so much for listening. I know you have lots of choice when it comes to podcasts, especially business ones. So we really appreciate you spending the time to listen to PW Shift. Until next time.

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