FinTech, digital innovation, and placing an increased focus on external rigour in the strategic planning process were amongst the themes we picked up on at the recent Association of Financial Mutuals (AFM) annual conference held in Stratford on 16-17th October.

AFM is the trade body that represents 48 mutual and not-for-profit insurers, friendly societies and other financial mutuals across the UK. Mutual orgnaisations generate annual premiums of £19.6 billion in the UK insurance sector, which equates to 30.7 million policyholders / members and an 8.7% share of the total insurance market.

It was the first time we had attended this event, having been invited to deliver a presentation on FinTech and how mutuals can factor it into their strategic planning process.

Over the course of the two day conference, the AFM was seeking to provide its members with understanding and insight of different perspectives from a range of speakers, both within and outside the financial services sector. Interestingly, a recent survey of the chairmen of mutual societies by Independent Audit found 69% felt more focus was required on the impact of digital.

Whitecap was one of several presenters offering a view on how organisations can cope with and embrace changes to consumer behaviour, digital and innovation – a clear indication that the AFM and its members recognise the need to adapt to the technology-led changes that are sweeping through the entire Financial Services industry.

Immediately prior to the Whitecap presentation, Cary Wakefield, former Director of Marketing and Audiences Content at the BBC gave a case study of how the corporation dealt with the closure of BBC3 whilst creating numerous new opportunities to reach its target audience more effectively via other digital channels. At the heart of the case study was a desire to understand what consumers wanted, and design and deliver services to meet their needs.

Our session, which was delivered by Whitecap director Julian Wells, outlined the current FinTech landscape and shared our experience and insights from working in this area. We talked through the distinction between technology, digital and FinTech developments, and explained how existing financial services organisation are tacking the innovation and disruption that FinTech is creating.

One of the key themes of our talk was a discussion around the options available to existing financial services providers when looking at how to engage with FinTechs for front-end and back-end processes. We summarised this as a choice between Build, Buy or Collaborate, and spoke of the increasing trend towards collaboration that has been evident over the last two years. This is quite a different situation to the ‘FinTech vs the Banks’ theme that was prevalent when FinTech first emerged.

In preparation for the conference we had observed a strong culture of annual corporate planning, with many members telling us of their strategy and planning activity. As is the case with many organisations, we found this activity is not always taking into account external factors such as competitors, technology developments, and changes in consumer attitudes and behaviour.

We also heard from EY’s Jason Whyte on the hot topic of automation and roboadvice, while Evening Standard stalwart Anthony Hilton delivered a punchy session during which he gave multiple of examples of digital innovation from the UK and further afield.

If the daytime agenda was thought provoking, the evening entertainment was inspirational. Sir Ranulph Fiennes provided an enthralling after dinner speech during which he took the audience through the story of his extraordinary life and his many achievements in the face of adventurous adversity. A remarkable man and without doubt a highlight of the conference for many.

Annual conferences are often accused of being talking shops that do not lead to action, so it was encouraging to see the AFM’s ‘Accelerate’ programme for emerging leaders given considerable prominence at the event, including the presentation to this year’s graduates at the close of the conference.

During the course of the two days we had several discussions around how aware consumers are of mutuals and their operating model. It was significant that one of the opening presentations of the conference focused on organisational values and employee engagement – it is hard to imagine this being the case at a retail banking conference.

We live in an era where corporates and profits may dominate the news headlines and business activities, so perhaps it’s time to put some effort into a movement to help educate people on the role of mutuals and the excellent service they provide. This is a theme we are interested to explore further.

The challenge for those operating in the mutual sector is one that faces all long-established organisations, which is to identify how they can continue to be relevant to their members.


On 1-2 November Whitecap will be presenting at the BSA’s Local and Regional Building Societies annual conference in Manchester. Click here to find out more about this event.