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‘It’s been an opportunity for FIs to pivot to our work-from-home, yoga-pants world’: Slack’s Ali Rayl

  • Slack has been working in the financial services industry for years.
  • The communications platform has made strides in helping FIs communicate internally and externally with partners, vendors, and customers.
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‘It’s been an opportunity for FIs to pivot to our work-from-home, yoga-pants world’: Slack’s Ali Rayl

It’s not just banking products that bear the fruit of new technology. Banks and other financial institutions are using popular tools like communications platform Slack to collaborate more efficiently internally and in increasing numbers, to communicate with customers. Slack works with financial services organizations like TD Ameritrade, HSBC, Intuit and WealthSimple. 

Slacks’ vice president of customer experience Ali Rayl joins us on the podcast to talk about how leading financial firms are using tools like Slack to develop a new digital workplace — one that allows employees to access information and software tools anytime and anywhere, with Slack as the central hub. 

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Slack in the financial services industry

We have customers across the the size gamut in the financial industry. One of the the biggest ones is TD Ameritrade. We also have a lot of the smaller upstart banks and everything in between.

How incumbents are using Slack

I mentioned TD Ameritrade, and they’re interesting. In 2018, they undertook a digital transformation effort — they were looking ahead and saying, ‘this is where the world is going, we need to skate to where the puck is going to be.’ And they have been steadily working on making their organization and all of their employees — they have over 10,000 — into a much more digital and collaborative workplace.

When COVID hit in early 2020, this put them in an extremely good position to be one of those companies that could pivot pretty easily to our working from home, yoga pants world where we just didn’t see one another anymore. They’re working with 12 million client accounts, they have over a trillion dollars in assets. They’ve been able to do an enormous amount of collaboration. There’s an enormous amount of information and understanding that TD Ameritrade needs to be able to collaborate on to make smarter investment decisions. And they’ve been able to seamlessly do that by using Slack to collaborate.

A more collaborative back office

With TD Ameritrade, we’re seeing the same as with all financial institutions: a lot of back office. The back office has a lot of communication that they need to do, but product teams also do, too. We’re seeing with most financial institutions now that fewer people are going to banks. I think I saw that foot traffic to bank branches has decreased by something like 35%. And this means that all of these customer journeys have to be ported to an online world to serve customers. This includes product teams and development teams — these are folks working on the website, working on apps, and making sure that customers can access whatever they need from their bank, from their phones from their computers without going into a branch.

They’re using Slack for the kind of collaboration that is necessary to ensure that these products are developed, that they’re usable, that they’re comprehensible, that they meet regulatory requirements, and ultimately, that they work and serve their customers.

The hub of communications

I love that I’m talking to you, because one of my favorite analogies when I think about Slack, and the role that it plays in a workspace, is an old school bank. I roll back to movies of the 1950s where, in the bank, you have lots of pneumatic tubes and folks pushing around the mail carts with those yellow envelopes that had the red string for interdepartmental communication.

When I think about that, what I see is events: a customer coming into the branch and depositing some cash, and that cash going into the pneumatic tube and going into the back to be counted or whatever happens. That’s an event. And when somebody puts a piece of paper in the yellow envelope, it goes in the mail cart and it gets delivered to someone else. That’s an event. Banks are very event driven enterprises at their core. And what Slack does is it allows you to not just communicate about events, but it actually allows you to ingest them and see them collaboratively. So, you can see what is going on in your organization.

This is what you’re talking about with embedding workflows. And this is one way that Slack is pretty different from email, which is just kind of an undifferentiated stream of stuff that you have to parse through. Is this a system event? Is this a computer telling me about something? Is this, a newsletter from a product I never subscribed to? Is this an email from my boss? With Slack, we see folks in the financial services industry really being able to separate all of these streams of work, of business-based events, of communication into different channels. So, the right folks can access that information at the right time.

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Integration with other tools

As with any other software platform, it does take time to move the foundations of your business, the pipelines, and the way it functions into a different tool. Everybody is using Zoom or WebEx or something right now. Those actually integrate with Slack. So, folks can still start those video calls or start those audio calls from within Slack. And we integrate a ton of tools. I think we have over 2500 apps in our app directory. The goal is to make sure that whatever other tools you’re using, you can at least see those and interact with those in Slack. It keeps the attention focused. It keeps those events generated and those external systems centralized in one place so that everybody can see them and interact with them, and hopefully it reduces some of that switching cost of moving between tools, kind of reorienting your brain around the new UX. We try to minimize a lot of copying and pasting as much as we can.

How fintechs are using Slack

It’s different in that these companies didn’t need to figure out how to transform their brick and mortar presence to a mobile-only world because they’ve been mobile companies all along. And we have quite a few examples. In the US, you’re familiar with Chime. And in the UK, you know Monzo and Starling.

In the U.S., you might be familiar with Airwallex. I think they rely on Slack to make sure that they’re consistent in their communication. And one of the things that they want to do is ensure that they over communicate company goals internally, which we found is really important during this pandemic. When we’re in the office, we absorb a lot from simply being around one another — we can see our bosses talking about something and we can intuit and infer that that thing is important. And we can hear the chatter in the lunchroom about the latest project and we can intuit what is going on with that product.

We are missing all of that sort of casual but super, super important context that we get from being in the office. So one thing that we’ve seen during the pandemic is that executive teams and managers and leaders need to be really conscious about over communicating frequently, just to make sure that everybody understands what’s going on.

Collaborating and communicating externally

We have a feature called Slack Connect. And up until about a year ago, Slack was great for communicating within the walls of your company. You could invite guests into your Slack workspace, they had separate accounts, you could control it, and they could see. But really, we were a tool for thinking about working with your colleagues in your company.

With Slack Connect, we’ve really kind of blown away that barrier. And what you can do is in Slack, all of our information is organized in channels. And you can actually share one of those channels with another company. You can start sending direct messages to folks at those other companies without these guest accounts worrying about leaking any data or anything.

Airwallex is a good example of this. They’re using Slack Connect to communicate, both internally and with enterprise partners. None of our companies live in a vacuum — we all rely on an ecosystem of vendors and partners and customers to move our business forward. Airwallex is using Slack Connect to manage those aspects of their business by sharing channels and sending direct messages cross company. They’re also using Connect to talk to their customers.

Working in financial services

I’ve been at Slack since the beginning. And it’s just been like, we always learn something new. One of our early learnings in 2014 was about FINRA. We kind of knew the acronym, we kind of knew what it was about. But then suddenly, we were faced with like, oh, this is a requirement that our customers have and we need to support them in fulfilling the their requirements. And all of these changes, everything that we’ve needed to do for the financial services industry, whether it’s in the US or abroad, has really been done in partnership with our customers and in conversation with our customers understanding not just the rule of law, but what it means to them?.What does it mean for your company to be FINRA compliant? What does it mean in the financial services industry for you to fulfill your GDPR obligations?

So it has been a learning journey, but I think since we’ve done it hand in hand with our customers. It is pretty seamless for new folks coming on board because we get it now. And we’ve been able to build that understanding into the product.

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