July 22, 2016

Michael Cole-Fontayn: On the UK’s Speaking Clock turning 80 and financial services

Michael Cole Fontayn

Michael Cole-Fontayn

Britain’s Speaking Clock, which celebrates its 80th birthday on Sunday, July 24, was a real fascination for me as a child. Who was this person on the other end of the phone who was always available, any time of day, who could tell me the time down to the exact second? Did they ever sleep?

The first telephone speaking clock service was introduced in France, in association with the Paris Observatory, on 14 February 1933, and today there are over 35 speaking clocks around the world.

In the UK at its peak, more than 230 million calls a year were made to the service. And today, even when the time is ubiquitously available through laptops, tablets and smartphones, the service still receives around 12 million calls each year. I thought about why this might be the case and three words came to mind: trust, accuracy and speed. 

This expectation of immediacy and ease of access has seeped into every corner of our lives. Retailers are competing on same-day delivery. Mobile apps enable consumers to schedule a cab or book a table at a restaurant within seconds. Our favourite films and TV shows are available to stream, as we say, ‘on demand.’ And we trust that all these services will work smoothly.

Similar expectations are rapidly permeating throughout financial services too.

The payments industry has seen some extraordinary innovations in recent years and continues to transform; driven by consumer demand and the explosion of fintech start-ups who are harnessing new technologies to challenge and disrupt the traditional financial system. 

We already have mobile banking apps, online retailer apps so you can shop on the move, restaurant apps so you can pay your bill from your table and, of course, ‘contactless payments’ which is now widely available in shops, bars, restaurants and transport.  

It’s not limited to retail banking either. My colleague Jeff Hawkes at a recent transaction banking conference noted conversations were dominated by plans for SEPA Instant Payments; how it will help cross-border euro payments settle in less time than it takes Usain Bolt to run 100 metres.

Elsewhere on the institutional banking side, whilst the pace of change may be slightly slower, the industry is in agreement that banks need to continue to enhance speed and transparency for their institutional clients, replicating what they experience personally on their tablets, smartphones and other devices as individual consumers.

We are in an environment where accurate, trusted and fast information is absolutely required. It is no longer acceptable for customers to wait a long time for their pain points to be solved. As a global investments company, we see transaction settlement, reconciliation and corporate actions – all of which can take time and require manual input – as ripe for innovation and areas where we are leading change.

It’s easy to understand our industry’s obsession with the ‘next big idea’ in banking, but digital transformation and disruption can be as simple as shaving time off processes, removing obstacles and delays, and providing ease of access to data. A couple of seconds faster can be a game changer.

For BNY Mellon, it’s about safeguarding client assets at all times whilst also improving the client experience. To me, that’s the only way we can stay on the forefront of the future of finance and ensure our clients continue to trust us to service and manage their assets. 

The same way the public continues to trust the Speaking Clock to deliver the time.