How collaboration, innovation and transformation can deliver ‘the best of both worlds’

Headshot of Vicky Davies, CEO of Danske Bank UK

How collaboration, innovation and transformation can deliver ‘the best of both worlds’

Vicky Davies, CEO of Danske Bank UK, on the evolving role and responsibilities of a 200-year-old bank

3 minute read

“I don’t see a world where we are only a digital player and we completely cut off the human touch.”

Vicky Davies, CEO of Danske Bank UK, says she has welcomed the rise of digital banks, saying they have forced the whole financial services industry to “raise its game in terms of digitisation and customer engagement.”

But she resolutely believes digital innovations must go hand in hand with human understanding and interaction, particularly when customers are feeling the mounting pressure of a cost of living crisis.

“As a bank with a 200-year heritage I want a ‘best of both worlds’ approach, offering the things we do that digital banks can’t - being people’s local bank, that understands the local community - but offers great tech as well. It’s definitely not either or, but a combination.” 

Davies says many customers are generally happy to use digital banking apps and online services, but occasionally need the reassurance of speaking to somebody in a branch.

“When the chips are down, when you need to speak to somebody about your mortgage, when there’s been a fraud on your account, you need a person you can speak to in your community.”

Striking that balance between helping customers with their immediate - and often urgent - issues while investing in digital transformation is just one example of how Davies says she must constantly balance short-term and long-term priorities.

Such a balancing act may be universal to all business leaders. But there is one way in which Davies still remains far more the exception than the rule among CEOs. She is the first ever female CEO in Danske Bank’s history.

But she believes there are many less obvious ways in which the CEO role is changing.

She believes CEOs today are becoming better listeners, more empathetic and more open to hearing and acting upon the thoughts of people across the organisation.

Davies said her intention upon becoming CEO in 2021 was always to be the opposite of the traditional chief executive stereotype keeping an aloof distance from customers and staff. She talks enthusiastically about the importance of feedback and open lines of communication.

“I passionately believe our people within the business have the answer to almost everything,” says Davies, adding she is committed to giving employees every opportunity to share their ideas.

As a result of such empowerment - and a focus on making its culture “a differentiator” - Danske has been able to retain and develop talent at a time when bringing new people in, with the right skills and capabilities, is increasingly difficult.

The bank’s talent development programmes have resulted in around 20% of Danske’s Northern Ireland workforce being promoted over the past year, she says.

Davies is also committed to getting out and into branches to hear from customers, something she says has helped identify new ways to help them.

“People who come into our branch networks often need extra help,” says Davies.

Collaboration forms a key part of the bank’s response. Danske now works with GamCare to help customers with gambling addiction, Age NI to help the vulnerable elderly, Scamwise to help victims of fraud, and Women’s Aid and the police to help victims of domestic and financial abuse.

Danske is also working with the Energy Savings Trust to help homeowners understand how they can reduce their energy costs and their emissions.

Davies notes all businesses have a responsibility to tackle issues such as climate change. The bank is eight years ahead of its own emissions targets and using renewable energy throughout its branch network. It is also working with customers, through initiatives such as a carbon neutral mortgage which factors in a home’s energy efficiency rating, and with the Energy Savings Trust to help homeowners understand how they can reduce their energy costs and their emissions.

On the business side, Danske helped 55 customers through a Climate Action Programme developed with Business in the Community to help companies understand their environmental impact and implement more sustainable business strategies.

Such an approach highlights the importance of businesses taking universal steps while also thinking about how their specific business can support positive change and provide assistance.

“We are there for the good times, when people want to buy their first home and create jobs. When I travel around Northern Ireland I see businesses we’ve helped grow, homes we’ve helped finance, and that’s hugely motivating. But the other side of the role is being there when the times aren’t so good.”

“A bank is the fuel for the economy. A bank helps people achieve their ambitions. It helps people buy their first home. It helps people invest in their business and create jobs which is good for the local economy,” says Davies, who believes banks are receiving more recognition now for the positive contribution they make. That has been shaped in some ways by the response to the pandemic.

“We provided over half a billion pounds of financing within weeks to get companies through the pandemic,” says Davies, but she is quick to add that is now in the past and there are new priorities for customers that demand the bank’s human touch.

“Our customers say we were there for them during COVID-19 but now I want them to say we were there for them during the cost of living crisis.”

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Marco Amitrano ACA MCMI ChMC

Marco Amitrano ACA MCMI ChMC

Managing Partner & Head of Clients and Markets, PwC United Kingdom

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