Never stop improving. Never stop growing.

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Technology counts for nothing in a business if you don’t have the people who know how to make the most of it. Capital One is every bit as much about ideas, imagination and curiosity as it is about tech. It looks for good people; great people even. But a fast-moving business operating in an equally fast-moving sector needs talent that’s ready to grow with it.

Karen Bowes, Capital One’s International Vice President, HR, is very clear on how the business goes about attracting and developing the people the business really needs:

"Attracting the best and brightest talent is essential to any organisation. I think the key difference with us is we focus more on 'fit' and potential. We're just not a tick box or pigeon-holing type of organisation. We can't afford to be.

“We want to develop our people. They have the curiosity and initiative to explore what's possible; what they have within themselves. We're good at guiding careers, spotting talent, nurturing strengths. But we also believe in handing over the reins too. Make of yourself what you will. We may only have you for a short time so we'll make the most of you and you should make the most of us.

What’s immediately obvious is that Capital One never settles for second best. And that doesn’t necessarily translate into the years of experience a candidate brings. Software Engineering Manager, Dave Warren know precisely what he’s looking for:

“I recruit for attitude; a clear interest in technology. Right now, I need to hire six Java engineers. But Java experience won’t be the clincher. If you’re a good engineer and believe in good software engineering and Agile principles– everything else is a tool you can learn. So, wherever possible, I try to be tech agnostic.

“I want to hire problem solvers who want to collaborate with a wider team. To be honest, I’d rather turn away 10 people who are right but just OK than hire one wrong person. Because when you do find that ideal person you’ve been looking for, it reminds you why you set the bar so high. They are out there. We’ve hired a lot of them already.”

These are sentiments echoed by Chief Marketing Officer, Amy Lenander. What she looks for in her people can’t be taught; it’s innate. A diamond in the rough is far better than the finished article as far as she’s concerned:

“We’re looking for really great people and they’re not that easy to find. It’s a big ask to expect people to understand the business and what we do; to have that right analytical approach and to be the right cultural fit – to be collaborative; someone who wants to learn and push things forward. Finding all these things in one package is hard.

“The majority of people I hire are fresh out of uni. They’re really smart. They have the raw materials. We can teach them the specifics of what they need to do their jobs.”

This is clearly a business that thrives on fresh ideas and does everything it can to attract and nurture new talent. The message from Chief Information Officer, Rob Harding, is unequivocal:

“We need people who want to push the boundaries with our products, whether it’s creating new products or improving existing ones. We want people who can grab a new piece of tech and see what it can do for us; people who aren’t afraid to experiment and fail; people who enjoy that test and learn environment.

“Graduates can have a big impact. You can’t say that of many companies. Culturally, we’re very open to listening – whether you’ve just walked through the door or you’ve been here for 16 years.”

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Making money make sense

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Money can be a complex business. No one knows this better than Capital One. One of the UK’s leading credit card providers, it prides itself on making life easier for people – whether they’re customers already or they have the potential to be in the future. It’s about investing time and effort; thinking about people and what they need, rather than focusing on the immediate commercial payback.

Lisa Walker is Assistant General Counsel at Capital One. She heads up its dispute resolution team and provides legal support to her colleagues in the complaints, fraud and risk operation functions. It’s also part of her role to unravel some of the financial jargon that seems to come with the territory in financial services. As she explains, Capital One see it as their duty to protect their customers and explain their rights to them in plain, straightforward language.

“We’re all about transparency and helping customers get the most out of our products and their features.”

It may seem like a small detail but it reflects how Capital One is working to ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’. Being on the side of the consumer is part of a wider commitment to demystify money and help it make sense for everyone.

Stuart Mather is Capital One’s Community Relations Manager. It’s his job to focus on using the resources of the business to support the local community. One initiative he’s particularly proud of is a programme he set up to teach local kids about money.

“Three years ago, I set about creating a financial education programme for the young people of Nottingham. As you might imagine, it’s a pretty dry subject, so I wanted to make it as engaging, interactive, informative and fun as possible. The programme was based on my own experiences with money in my teens and delivered by business volunteers.  

“Today, it’s become the award-winning and PFEG-accredited Cheese Matters Financial Education programme (www.cheesematters.info) and has equipped thousands of local young people with essential finance skills. These are valuable life skills that wouldn’t be covered by the national curriculum.”

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Listening to our customers helps us talk their language

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In November 2015, Catherine Borrie spoke at the MRS Financial Service Research conference. It was a bold and brave new step in her career and provided an interesting insight for the rest of the industry into how Capital One is working to ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’.

“This was my idea. I’ve been along to a few industry conferences now and I’ve always felt that speaking at one would be something I’d love to do. It didn’t, however, make it any less terrifying. There were around 120 delegates in the audience, from both research agencies and financial firms, such as SunLife, Lloyds and MBNA. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) was there too and there were loads of great topics being covered.

“I’d chosen to speak about my absolute favourite topic – our collections & arrears research. The project was completed over eight months ago now but it’s still something that’s hugely topical within the industry, particularly as the FCA elevates in on the issue of vulnerable customers in financial difficulty. Fortunately, I had a great story to tell around our own approach to being customer centric and our engagement with research and insight, of which this project was a great example.

“As a business, ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’ is our core objective. In this instance it means we want to help our customers succeed. If they fall behind with payments, being there to help them is a key part of this approach. So we decided to do some research with customers in Collection to develop a deeper understanding of the impact this was having. We had to overcome some interesting research challenges around sampling and contact as part of the process but, in the end, it was worth all the effort as we discovered some hard-hitting and hugely insightful stuff.

“We got some great videos which we’re sharing with as many people as possible across the business, either through a Customer Film Club or in team meetings. The project also underlined our belief in the power of being close to the consumer. Listening to customers helps us to talk their language. First-hand fieldwork, video, audio and photos are now all the norm for our research.

“The agency we worked with, Ipsos, covered off the methodology we used and how we addressed the research challenges – and I did the rest. We got some very positive feedback too. The research industry is very active on Twitter and through word of mouth, so it was great to see our session talked about and for it to reach a wider audience.

“All in all, it was a fantastic experience; a great developmental step for me, and the perfect opportunity to share our consumer-centric practices with the rest of the industry. Now I just need to get myself on the schedule again next year.”

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Reimagine money. Inspire life.

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The mission statement is a much-maligned phrase. Often couched in the worst management speak ‘corporatese’, they’re often seen as cheap words easily sold or a tick-box exercise that means little beyond the companies who adopt them. So when a financial services company says its goal is to ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’, you could be forgiven for being sceptical.

However, as Karen Bowes, International Vice President, Human Resources, explains, genuine commercial imperatives partly underpin the apparent altruism:

“It makes perfect business sense for us to create products that work for our customers. A business relies on happy customers. But it works from a people perspective too. We have to attract the most intelligent and creative minds if we want to shake things up. We're able to say to these people, you can make a positive difference; you can have a real impact on people's lives; you can work for an organisation that is principled and has integrity. At the same time, you can explore your own potential; you can take control of your career. It's a win-win. Make your journey part of our journey. It's compelling and people are incredibly motivated by it and proud of what they do.”

So there is more to this ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’ thing than meets the eye. In one sense, it appears to be a clever positioning to mark Capital One out from the financial services herd. Give people something they can believe in; offer them the chance to make a difference, and this creates a reason for talent to join. But what does this mean in practice – what’s the substance behind the words? Eleanor Turner, one of Capital One’s graduate Business Systems Analysts, gives us this concrete example:

“One of our most recent projects was called Dynamic Payment Due. The feature was designed to help customers by alerting them when adjustments were needed on their account and telling them exactly what they need to pay to get it back into credit or up to date. In effect, it gives customers an accurate snapshot of their current credit position if they miss a payment or are over their credit limit. It then encourages them to pay off these urgent amounts, which otherwise would accrue fees to them and could be damaging their credit file.

“This is a great example of ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’ in action. It shows our willingness to help customers that are in a bad credit situation to get out of it, and it isn’t available from other banks.”

As it turns out, this is just one of many ways in which Capital One is helping its customers manage their money. Another recent innovation is its Quick Check product. This has been created to tell customers in advance whether their credit card application will be successful, so they avoid any adverse effect to their credit score.

Ultimately, it’s not what a business says it’s going to do, it’s about what it actually does in practice that counts. It seems that Capital One is prepared to put its money where its mouth is.

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The Technology Perspective

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“It’s important to have passion and purpose in our business; to reinvent ourselves; to think about what comes next; to think beyond credit cards.”

Rob Harding has been with Capital One for 16 years. As Chief Information Officer, he focuses on running the tech team in the UK. This means he’s responsible for the end-to-end operation of everything that’s supported by tech – be that information security, data centres or systems.

“We are building a world class technology team. I’m looking for talented people that share one thing in common – they want to use technology to help our customers. When you are looking to change an industry your business needs to be highly adaptable. We have thought carefully about how to build teams from across our business to create fantastic products. We collaborate, we visualise our work and we build great solutions. We pride ourselves on creating an environment where people can come together to do the best work of their careers.

“Very little happens in a financial services company without technology being involved. It drives and enables what we do. This means my team plays a part in the majority of key initiatives. Things are changing fast. The fact that the current team is almost unrecognisable to the one we had in 2013, speaks to the pace and extent of that change.

“In terms of big innovation, we’ve changed the way we’re able to innovate from an underwriting perspective. We’ve radically overhauled our data and analytics environment. Using Big Data means we’re able to compress the time taken to crunch through some of the complex algorithms our data scientists use. What used to take days now takes a matter of hours. We have the ability to ‘boil the ocean’; to chase more hypotheses simultaneously.

“Unlike many financial services companies, we’re on a path to moving all of our production processing into the public cloud. We’re still at the relatively early stages, so it’s exciting and something new the people who come on board can be part of and will benefit from. We’re looking to remove our on-premise data centres. This will create more flexibility and makes it easier for our software engineers to spin up new environments to test things. We’re very much pioneers in our sector. You could say we operate more like a software business than a financial services business. It’s an interesting time for new talent to come on board.”

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The People Strategy Perspective

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“You can make a positive difference; you can have a real impact on people's lives. You can work for an organisation that is principled and has integrity.”

At its heart, Capital One is a Fintech with a purpose. That purpose is ‘Reimagine Money. Inspire Life’. It's what drives the organisation. It's the perfect marriage of finance and technology. But to bring these two things together in a way that makes a difference, in a way that drives genuine change, you have to have the right people. So Capital One has created a people strategy that delivers for the business as a whole, as well as the individuals in it. Karen Bowes is Capital One's International Vice President, HR. She sees people and the way they mesh – and grow – with the business as being fundamental to the achievement of its goal.

"We really are on a journey here. That in itself is an engaging and attractive message to the kind of minds and people we want to hire. We see ourselves as more than a Fintech. Yes, we strive to make the best use of technology to create better, more innovative and useful products for our customers. But, in doing so, we're achieving our core objective: responsible banking that’s built around customers. We're a Fintech with a purpose – and because we have this sense of purpose, it enables us to craft a unique proposition to the people that work here and those that want to work here.

"I think it's fair to say the financial services industry’s reputation has been badly tarnished over the last few years. In many cases, it's forgotten to put its customers first. That is madness. Conversely, we can realistically say to people that they are, or can be, part of a force for good.

“It makes perfect business sense for us to create products that work for our customers. A business relies on happy customers. But it works from a people perspective too. We have to attract the most intelligent and creative minds if we want to shake things up. We're able to say to these people, you can make a positive difference; you can have a real impact on people's lives; you can work for an organisation that is principled and has integrity. At the same time, you can explore your own potential; you can take control of your career. It's a win-win. Make your journey part of our journey. It's compelling and people are incredibly motivated by it and proud of what they do.

"Attracting the best and brightest talent is essential to any organisation. I think the key difference with us is we focus more on 'fit' and potential. We're just not a tick box or pigeon-holing type of organisation. We can't afford to be. We have to look at things more holistically. Unicorns are rare beasts at the best of times; but we don’t expect one person to be able to embody all of the skills that are needed by themselves. We look at what strengths and what experience we have in a team; then we hire to complement these. It's less about what a person has done; it's more about what they're capable of. How inspiring is that?

“We want to develop our people. They have the curiosity and initiative to explore what's possible; what they have within themselves. We're good at guiding careers, spotting talent, nurturing strengths. But we also believe in handing over the reins too. Make of yourself what you will. We may only have you for a short time so we'll make the most of you and you should make the most of us.

"The way we work together is another major point of difference. We don't do silos; we collaborate. You can see it in our office layout. You can see it in our Agile working methodologies. Everyone has something to offer because everyone is different and has their own perspective. Recognising too that people have different ways of working has helped us work together more effectively. The business needs its dreamers every bit as much as its deliverers and disruptors.

"We have some extremely able and experienced people here; people who have held highly influential positions in high-profile tech companies. Recently, we've hired the Head of Engineering from Amazon and Google’s Head of Design has come on board as well. These were big coups for us. It sends a very positive message because when people ask why they chose Capital One, we can say it’s because they believe in what we're doing.

“We're innovators. We can poach from the leading lights of technology. We can because, at every level of the business, we offer challenging work; fulfilling work. Talking about 'levels' even seems wrong. We have a very flat structure. An open door policy enables the free flow of ideas and creates a better, more connected working community.

"People buy into our values very quickly. Why? Because they are living and breathing them every single day. They're not learned by rote; they're absorbed by doing – and that's so much more powerful than a bunch of made up words that mean nothing outside of HR. They have meaning because we have purpose.

“We're not a perfect organisation. We wouldn't claim to be. But we're always evolving because we're always trying to be better – and that gives you a much better reason to join than ‘perfect’."

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