Compliance: why the financial sector should listen to its customers

Posted on Aug 23, 2018


Games & gamification

Comms & campaigns

The financial services industry has paid a heavy price following the global crash of 2008 – and we’re not just talking about financial loss and fines. The banking deregulation that led to some institutions adopting a risky culture has cost the sector dearly in reputation, too.

10 years of hurt

The past decade hasn’t just been about rebuilding business, it’s also been about rebuilding trust. The tightened regulatory framework since 2008 has obliged organisations to invest heavily in compliance. Sometimes, the volume of regulation has felt completely overwhelming. But it’s been worth it, driving the cost of litigation charges in the banking sector down from its 2014 peak of $137 billion to $49 billion in 2016.[1]

Finance sector consultants Oliver Wyman refer to “a new ecosystem” in the way business is now conducted. And that “having a more structured approach to managing culture and conduct has never been more important”. They warn that there’s no room for complacency.[2]

Most organisations agree, however, that compliance remains a key part of the business.  EY’s Global Banking Outlook 2018 survey[3] found that:

  • 89% are prioritising data and cyber security
  • Managing reputational, conduct and culture risks is a priority for 79% of respondents
  • 78% say complying with consumer regulations is a priority
  • Meeting compliance and reporting standards is a priority for 77% 

Customer-led compliance challenges

For L&D, there are two big compliance topics to prioritise if their organisations are to attract customers: ethics and data protection.

Ethics – A report by ethical investment platform, Abundance, found that 65% of people surveyed consider corporate tax avoidance to be unethical. The report added that 70% said they don’t want their money to be invested unethically.[4] So even if a behaviour doesn’t break any laws, it can still put customers off, if it’s regarded as exploiting a loophole. And today’s customers will switch banks if their standards don’t match up.

Data protection - GDPR added another layer of regulation for the industry to comply with. But your customers’ privacy and data are important. By taking care of people’s data, your reputation will be enhanced. A breach, however, and your reputation will crash.  Who wants to do business with an organisation that can’t be bothered to look after their information?

Compliance that’s great for business

In our work with multi-national companies in the financial services sector and beyond, we often see a tension when it comes to compliance training.  Organisations are torn between the urgent need to impart the information and prove they have done so and their aspiration to engage people, so they are motivated to learn and apply the rules in their every day behaviour.  

Sometimes, it seems impossible to balance the two, and often the sheer pressure of the compliance requirement in financial services means engaging people takes a back seat.  Instead, what becomes important is that people have “done the training” not whether they can use their knowledge to protect the business and better serve customers. This explains why feedback about compliance training is often negative with people complaining that it’s too long, too boring, irrelevant to their specific job role and hard to remember.

So how do you create compliance training that meets the priorities of the organisation, keeps the people who are learning happy and motivated and delivers the ethical behaviours that customers expect?  It’s certainly a challenge but worth the effort. 

Here are three key things we always bear in mind when it comes to compliance training:

1. Make it memorable 

If something is highly complex with far-reaching consequences is it inherently dull? Of course not, it’s is the opposite. However, the seriousness of regulation and risk in financial services can be a blocker to creativity.  But what if compliance training was so engaging, people couldn’t get enough of it? It’s not impossible although it does require organisations to change the perception that serious equates to boring.

A great example of this is GDPR Sorted! - the learning game we developed to teach people about the new data protection regulation. You can’t get more serious than that! By leveraging all the reasons why people love to play games, it is possible to turn complex compliance topics into highly creative and engaging digital learning experiences. Games use a variety of mechanics to keep people playing including things like colourful stimuli, sound effects, scoring, levels (and even humour!)  They also enable people to play repeatedly until they master the topic. When you apply game techniques to compliance content it makes it far more memorable and encourages people to take part; they want to reach the end because they want to win.  

When we tracked the playing habits of more than 5,000 players of our GDPR learning game, we found some interesting statistics. 27% of people played the game multiple times even though they only needed to complete it once and 16% played the game in their own time.  We even spotted 51 people who chose to play the game on a Saturday night – now that’s turning compliance training on its head!       

2. Avoid brain dumping 

Turning weighty tomes of regulation into compliance elearning simply doesn’t work. It’s a false economy, as people can’t concentrate for long periods – they’ll forget more than they learn. Organisations are wasting money on compliance training that goes in one ear and out the other.

The art is to focus on the core things that people really need to know. At Sponge, we pay particularly attention to this process whenever we embark on a compliance project. Working with subject matter experts, we drill down into the content to identify what matters most. The result is training that’s easier to digest and engage with.

Microlearning works on the same principle of breaking down content so learning is faster, fun and more engaging.  Shorter, more focused learning also makes sense for the business, enabling people to fit learning more easily within their busy day. They spend less time away from their job, which can be particularly important for customer-facing roles in retail banking.

Financial services companies using the Axonify Microlearning Platform, the same technology we use at Sponge, are seeing a big difference in the effectiveness of their compliance programmes.  This includes 20% knowledge lifts within three months and participation rates of 95%.

3. Build the momentum

Even the best compliance training can’t succeed in isolation; it needs to be part of a wider campaign that motivates people to take part and helps them remember for longer. You can read more about how to create an effective learning campaign in our download on the subject.

We used this approach with insurance company AXA as part of a training initiative to enhance customer conversations at its business insurance contact centre. The campaign runs in three phases: preparation, activation and sustain.  Preparation involves measures to generate interest in the learning and communicate why it's happening and what people will get out of it. Activation is where the main training occurs – in AXA’s case, a week-long blend of bite-size digital learning, group discussion, on the job coaching and a learning game. Sustain is crucial and includes refresher sessions to help people remember and apply the learning.

Using this approach, AXA saw a massive increase in positive customer comments about its business insurance advisors, up by 113% in the period after the learning campaign. 


The financial services industry has recovered after a difficult decade. The task now is to maintain the recovery. Keeping everyone fully engaged in compliance is critical if this is to be achieved in the long-term. Customers want their banks, building societies and insurers to act ethically and obey the rules – the best way to ensure this happens is by creating compliance training that is fit for purpose.

[1] See figure 2:$File/ey-global-banking-outlook-2018.pdf 

Ask an expert

Christina Gutsell, Director of Programmes, Sponge

Christina partners with organisations to drive business performance through the strategic use of creative and engaging digital learning.

She has expertise in financial services, working with multi-national clients in the sector to implement bespoke training solutions.