The financial services sector is experiencing a period of profound change – the combination of digital technology, regulatory reform and heightened customer expectation has shifted the goal posts on what it takes to succeed.
In operation since 2000, Pepper is Australia’s number 1 alternative lender whose mission is to “Help people succeed” by providing a variety of lending solutions including some the banks won’t. “We have built a reputation, particularly in the home loan space for helping families where they don’t tick all the traditional boxes,” says Pepper CIO Jeremy Francis.
While it has carved out a sizeable business and has around 750 employees in Australia and New Zealand, the company is mindful of the pace of change in the sector from a regulatory and technological perspective.
According to Francis, in order to remain nimble and respond to customer needs and changing market conditions, the firm needed to transform its information systems and establish resilient technology foundations allowing it to focus on developing solutions and processes that would support its employees, the third party brokers it works with and meet the wider customer needs.
In order to meet Pepper customer needs, Francis stresses the importance of being able to rely on strong technology foundations. A key driver for the transformation was that Francis wanted his team to be able to focus on enhancing customer experiences and automating the business rather than spending a lot of time on maintaining older technology.
“We’ve done that through early moves into cloud, investments in data and analytics, building strong integration and API frameworks and more recently artificial intelligence” says Francis.
Key to that approach has been Pepper’s investment in the Microsoft ecosystem as a foundational technology platform. “Over the last two years, working with Microsoft partner Harbour IT, Pepper has transitioned a significant portion of its workloads across to Azure, with ongoing work of leveraging further platform capabilities.” says Francis.
Pepper’s approach is to use software as a service platform where appropriate, but also to retain the opportunity to tailor solutions in situations where they deliver a competitive edge.
Francis explains; “We wanted to take back control of our technology environment from a high reliance on third party providers, particularly in the areas whereas a business we want to differentiate using that technology.
“That’s led us to shift towards building our own proprietary applications where it makes sense, run those applications on platforms like Azure and be able to work in an agile way so that we can not only create that differentiation but do it in a really rapid way.”
Key to that has been creating unique “Pepper-styled” solutions that brokers and customers use, with access to these applications streamlined by Azure Active Directory. We want to provide an experience that’s in line with our mission of helping people succeed,” Francis says.
With Pepper Technology professionals freed from managing back end infrastructure, which is now increasingly the province of Harbour IT (part of Canon Business Services) and Microsoft, it has been possible for Francis to direct internal effort to where it has the most business impact and also build the Agile capabilities of his team, which are essential, in order to achieve the rapid response Pepper expects.
The transition to Office 365 and deployment of Teams has also enhanced Pepper employees’ opportunity to communicate and collaborate with one another.
Ensuring customer service employees have access to rich and supportive data and technology is critically important says Francis because “We realise that there’s a direct link between the experience that our employees have and the experience that then flows onto our customers and so we’re always conscious of both.”
Now, with Office 365 and Teams widely deployed; “We’ve got employees who are happier to use the technology that we’re providing them.”
Francis is also focused on exploring how the business can make even more use of data. The very nature of Pepper’s business means that it has long been a data-driven organisation. With new cloud foundations he expects that there will be additional flexibility to access and use data and also scale the technology platforms to keep pace with the company’s growth trajectory.
Francis says that having Harbour IT as a partner helped Pepper engage with Microsoft and understand its technology’s capability.
“The key thing that came out of expanding the Microsoft relationship was the realisation that we had a number of existing technologies that could also be provided by Microsoft. The more that we worked with Microsoft, the more we realised that we could get those same technologies; without having to spend additional money with other organisations. We’ve been able to see a lot of benefits across everything from security to productivity, and capabilities around collaboration and application development”.
“That’s been really useful. But it’s not always a cost play, I think some of the biggest wins have come from the increased interaction and collaboration across the organisation that we’ve had through the move to Office 365 and Teams.
“The speed and quality of the technology that we can now deploy has been pleasing to see.”
Francis and his team have benefitted from access to Microsoft’s “Azure Fridays” where experts share with Pepper IT professionals deeper Azure technology insights that are helping to accelerate innovation across the team.
“Having the team attend Microsoft’s Azure Friday’s are a great way to encourage and support community-based learning within the business. Each team can benefit from what others have tried and generally learn about what new features are coming out.”