Created by the UK Parliament in 2001 to resolve complaints about financial services companies, the Financial Ombudsman’s Service (FOS) has served a growing number of consumers, recently dealing with more than one million people a year. Increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on the FOS, whose services are free to the public, as an increasing workload has increased wait times for complaint resolution.
It is now up to the agency to expedite the resolution of cases and respond to accusations of unfairness and other complaints, while reducing costs amid economic constraints. These goals are at the heart of a 2025 business strategy that puts technology at the heart of the strategy, with CIO Nicola Wadham having a key role to play.
Two years after serving as a CIO on the executive team and reporting directly to the CEO, Wadham says the boardroom has understood the importance of technology and data, which fall under its purview, as well as as infrastructure and cybersecurity. This support, along with changing customer expectations, prompted her to make key structural changes within the group’s IT department.
Rebranding of the IT department
“We made a conscious decision to change the focus and tone of IT,” says Wadham. The IT moniker was dropped in favor of “digital, technology and data services”, and the change also coincided with a new philosophy of working more collaboratively with business departments, rather than just being called upon to complete projects. . “We’re really getting more into a service…around the adoption, collaboration, and operation of our platforms,” she says. “We are becoming less project-focused.”
She explains that the IT department works in tandem with the business departments on common projects, and is now developing a “culture of service” to better support the entire organization. Early examples have included content delivery and IT services teams working together to implement a new intranet site, with IT also collaborating internally to facilitate remote working through the deployment of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure. IT teams, as Wadham describes, had to evolve, while not forgetting the fundamentals of maintaining the organization’s core infrastructure.
“I have restructured, but I don’t like tipping organizations over their setbacks. You go there together, you go slow and you go with purpose. You insert items at a time and just move the tank,” says Wadham, who will also soon launch an AI ethics team. “It requires different skills and different roles in the business,” she says, adding that her teams don’t need to ask what the organization’s requirements are and build systems for it, but rather advise on abilities and what they can work on. move forward together.
Switch to the “preferred cloud” with Microsoft and Workday
Wadham redesigned the IT strategy to be “cloud-preferred,” leveraging cloud service providers Microsoft and Workday.
For front-end services, the agency is looking to launch new digital channels for complaints, while back-office operations have been modernized through Microsoft Dynamics for case management, Azure for enterprise architecture, content and documentation through Office 365, and financial planning and HR. with Workday.
FOS’s preferred cloud-based approach is due to a relatively simple business model, Wadham says, with clients primarily using agency services to file a complaint and find out if their appeal was successful.
The move to more cloud services is about increasing agility and freeing up staff. The organization’s 2025 strategic report highlights that cloud technology could help it “deliver more accessible technology solutions – to improve both our internal processes and the service we provide.”
Closure of on-site data centers
“All [systems] will be in the cloud by November . We are closing our data centers,” Wadham says. “It is our fundamental element. We are also replacing our telephony stack so that it has more natural language processing (NLP) capability as we take a lot of calls. »
Wadham is now focusing on prevention, noting that if the agency focuses on complaints, better prevention measures could reduce unfair business practices and help the FOB develop better relationships with businesses and consumers who use the service. . And it’s here that the CIO is looking at the organization’s use of data, as well as the introduction of smart automation and pattern recognition technologies, in conjunction with an anonymous data science vendor.
Wadham hopes the year-long implementation of Workday, which was done remotely with IBM and consolidated 14 legacy platforms into Workday’s financial management and human capital management, will allow him to spend less time on infrastructure and upgrading servers and more time on connectivity, collaboration, data, and other higher value tasks that align with core organizational goals.
“I now have a powerful back-office system to support not only travel [of the business], and HR and finance activities, … but, of course, our people managers, because we are a people-centric organization,” says Wadham. She describes implementation as liberating data across the organization and giving the group “the confidence to make important business decisions quickly, based on the information and insights we have.”
Fighting for diversity, inclusion and cybersecurity
When it was established 20 years ago, the FOB relied primarily on the phone for complaints, evolving to the web so complainants could go online to file details of malpractice or malpractice issues. to financial injustice.
The continued evolution of technology represents a challenge and an opportunity in equal measure, however, providing FOS with new avenues to connect with users. But it also needs to develop internal skills and avoid digital exclusion. The company’s own research acknowledges that while it develops technologies such as chatbots, virtual assistants and automated systems, some consumers may remain unaware or unable to use new services.
“We must ensure that we remain a modern and accessible organization, especially for those who need us most. That means investing in the channels they can use and providing a seamless experience,” says Wadham.
So what keeps this CIO up at night? “I will obviously always always lead with cyber. … It’s a constant preoccupation with the relentless sophistication and interest in disruptive things,” says Wadham.
“But really right now it’s skills, skills, skills,” she says, emphasizing the importance of managing people remotely, helping them avoid burnout and boosting motivation. employee engagement, but also to attract, retain and develop the right talent. She notes that Oracle skills, in particular, are in high demand.
Supply chain resilience and diversity are also on the watch list, with around a third of Wadham’s team being women and another third coming from ethnic backgrounds. At least 20% of FOB’s top executives identify as black, Asian or other minority ethnicity, while 50% of top executives identify as female, according to the organization’s own figures .
“You walk into the organization and you can see the people working there. We really give voice to diversity and inclusion,” says Wadham. “I think it’s a good safe place to come to work; you won’t be eaten by a huge corporate monster. It’s interesting work,” she says, before adding a wry tone, “and obviously a very inspiring boss to work for.