How KBC is embracing change to win the future

The financial services landscape is still undergoing significant changes: new players are entering the market and client needs, expectations and behaviour are shifting too. So how does our Chair Partner KBC Group deal with the changes the sector is facing? Anette Böhm, Senior General Manager Corporate Human Resources at KBC, and Sofie Blockx, KBC Corporate Change & Culture Manager, explain.

In a strategy update to investors last June, KBC reiterated its ambition to become the reference in bank-insurance in its core markets – an ambition supported by a performance and client-driven corporate culture fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. These two values are essential to thrive in a changing world. “The current climate forces us to reflect on how we can provide ever more customer-centric solutions and services to meet our clients’ needs in the most optimal way possible,” says Anette.

Digital delivery

New technologies play a key part in integrating the different distribution channels, so that clients can decide freely when and what channel they wish to use when interacting with KBC. Anette: “Digital delivery of services is becoming more important, but not only that. Tendencies evident among our clients indicate that, for example, young entrepreneurs want to be able to just make a quick phone call from their cars while driving to an appointment and get things sorted out without having to cut through any red tape.

Get everyone on board

What’s the biggest challenge? Sofie: “We mustn’t forget that many employees in our business have had more or less the same job for 20 years. The increasing demand for flexibility over the past few years has been especially challenging for them. Most of our bank branches are now open in the evening and on Saturdays. Now that’s just one example of changes affecting our staff.

Secure a long-term future

And precisely because things have been stable and predictable for such a long time, it’s all the more important to provide support to help people deal with change, as Anette explains: “Employees in the banking and insurance industry are by far the most loyal. The last thing you want is to lose dedicated employees because you can’t motivate and enthuse them to embrace change. This is why we encourage people to take on different jobs within the organisation from time to time to expand their knowledge and skills. It keeps them on their toes and helps them to anticipate and deal with new challenges. Staff working in branches are particularly encouraged to acquire technical skills and capabilities to help them prepare for increasing digitisation, so that they can secure their long-term future with the Group.”

Banking on PEARL

This HR approach ties in with PEARL, the strategy and change programme KBC launched two years ago. The acronym stands for the corporate culture and values required to effectively deal with the major changes taking place within the Group: Performance, Empowerment, Accountability, Responsiveness and Local embeddedness.

Sofie: “Several initiatives have been undertaken to empower employees to identify areas for improvement, to invite them to reflect on what they can do to contribute to the future of banking and insurance. There are regular information sessions and presentations about new developments to stimulate their interest and last year we organised a huge innovation contest. No fewer than 8,000 employees from six different countries participated, coming up with about 800 novel ideas. Surely this is a strong signal that innovation, entrepreneurship and international collaboration are real priorities.

Anchor change in the organisation

The programme has been ongoing for two years and the Group is convinced it should continue. “The next step is to anchor this cultural change in the entire organisation,” says Sofie. “Anette and her team are working to embed the PEARL values into the Group’s HR strategy and operations, such as recruitment processes and appraisal systems. And extra attention is also given to training and development programmes for our senior management.” Sofie smiles as she adds: “It’s wrong to think that senior management already know everything. They too can use extra guidance to make the cultural change happen.”

Inspirational leaders

Anette nods in agreement: “We’ll be focusing on inspirational leadership. Just as important as the performance improvements themselves is how they are achieved. We want managers that inspire and motivate, so that our staff will feel empowered and eager to actually drive performance improvement.

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