Interview with Grant Thornton UK LLP

September 20, 2021

Discover how Grant Thornton UK LLP are helping clients to transform their digital strategies and solve key business challenges.

What do you see as the top digital challenges that companies are facing now?

I think there are a number of them. In terms of the three main challenges companies are facing at the moment, the first is really to map out their digital eco system in terms of what they want to do and how they’re going to get there. So, their digital road map and digital ecosystem is a big challenge. I think the second big challenge clients are facing is – what is digital? And how do they make sure that customer service and customer experience is integrated with employee interaction and employee service, so that those are connected. There is a disconnect at times in terms of what can be done for the clients and customers and how does that interrelate to a digital experience for employees so they can service those customers. So, I think we’re seeing that quite a bit. I think in terms of the third biggest challenge we’re seeing with our clients is the rapid evolution and acceleration of digitization through technology and the boarding of technology. So, what is best in class and leading today? Within three months there is something else coming on in terms of leading and across the globe in effect. There’s two parts. This first is – how do clients keep abreast of all the changes and all the acceleration in terms of digitalization with competition but also suppliers?’ The second part is the funnel to be able to decide what is good – in terms of these new technologies. Do they embrace it as being a first-mover or do they wait until its more accomplished? And that’s always a challenge for our clients.

Beyond COVID-19: how important is digital transformation to a firm right now?

We’ve all heard the joke that the, the proponent of digitalization is not the Chief Technology Officer, not the CEO, but it’s COVID. And that’s real for some organisations unfortunately, and I think we’re seeing two different types of organisations. Those that are being digital – or have become more digitally enhanced and engaged as a result of COVID – and whatever they’ve done is a tactical approach to meet the here and now and they seem to want to go back to the non-historical digital appreciation. There are then clients who view this as an opportunity to be able to actually digitally transform their end-to-end. If you look at the former vs the latter, the latter is sustainable with a sustainable operating model and a really clear strategy, but then there’s the investments to back that from the CEO downwards. The former are unfortunately putting in some tactical funding, tactical approaches to, to meet the here and now, but there’s no long standing strategy beyond COVID where they will be digitally transformed because they have not put in the right infrastructure or the right funding in place to be able to do that.

How are Grant Thornton helping clients to solve the challenges? 

Let’s start with two things, first of all, I would like to say we are issue led not solution led. So, we spend a lot of time with our clients to actually understand the root of the issue in terms of digital and data and making sure that the approached we select are in line with what the client wants. We’re not trying to sell a solution or technology as such, but in effect we help our clients in two ways. The first is, we have a really successful digital maturity assessment that we have launched, and that really gives clients the real finger on the pulse of what do they need to do to be enhanced and engaged and as you know we look at those six different components of what makes digital transformation successful. Starting with the customer, which is really important – what does the customer really look at? Moving onto really thinking about the sustainable operating model, looking at data as a key enabler, the culture in terms of a culture that needs to be embracing in terms of organisations, the wider capabilities that needs to be in place, and then finally, the technology that needs to be in place to make things happen. So, we look at those six lenses and twenty-four sub lenses to really undertake a digital maturity assessment to really help our client do two things. One, give them a clear view of where they are in terms of the digital and what that looks like and where they need to go to be able to be more digitally enhanced. The second is to build a business case for those clients who are lagging behind in their industry and in their competitors to show them where they are against competitors and where do they need to get to? We are seeing a lot of take up in the digital maturity assessment proposition. The second way we help our clients is really those point solutions that they’re looking for in terms of digital. Whether it be data, we’re doing a lot of work in terms of data management, data analytics, data science to help, because data is the engine in terms of digitalisation so we’ve been spending a lot of time on that. The second area we are helping our clients with is actually in their implementation through of digital through various mechanisms. The Cloud or automation aspects. The final way we are helping clients is actually through our FinTech hub and our accelerator model, to actually help our clients find the most exciting and innovative technologies out there. The FinTechs that are out there which can solve their problems and we use our Fintech hub to match our clients problems with the solution of those various technology, data, automations firms out there and we’re really seeing that taking there as well in terms of our FinTech hub proposition.

What should firms focus on to make the most of their digital propositions?

Data comes up again and again as the engine and the life blood of any digital. There are a number of problems around data. Organisations that have a legacy, they have issues in terms of the quality of data they hold, the architecture in terms of how they want to use it and their date model so that comes up quite repetitively. The second part in terms of data that comes up quite a lot is really around monetisation of data, how do organisations use and create instead of use cases instead to take actually I’m going to take analytics and data to solve problems for their customers and keep abreast with customer service, revenue generation or in some cases especially in the financial service industry is to actually solve regulatory problems. So data in terms of those two things comes up again and again. The other element that comes up again and again is actually capabilities, in terms of individuals and aspects where clients are actually suffering from a lack of capabilities in terms of Cloud, automation, data science, etc. So having the resources and capabilities to execute these, comes up quite a lot from our clients. So those are the two things resonate with our clients again and again. The last thing to bear in mind is that digital road map and digital strategy – how does one create that? Because as we all know digital is not a do it once and forget about it. As the pace of innovation grows and the problems become a lot more difficult and the end customers are actually looking for (as we call it) the Amazon experience – being able to be fulfilled in real time and have everything sold for them. Organisations are having to accelerate their digital journey as they move along. As they start to solve one element of a customer journey life cycle, it quickly lends itself another one. And being able to be flexible with that I think those are the three things we see time and time again.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to become a better digital leader?

Be humble and – I don’t have all the answers – but I think everything is moving at such an accelerated space, I think being humble and willing to learn about everything going on and take a practical chance to get involved with some of those execution is really important to learn. Be humble, learn, permission to fail is really important because the things we’re trying some of them will succeed, some of them won’t succeed and having the ability and mindset to have that permission to fail culture is important. All of these things wrap up into one thing, if you think you already have all the answers you’re already on a losing base. I definitely don’t, the first place I start at is be humble, be keen to learn about the new innovation that’s coming and embrace and enhance myself in that.

How is Grant Thornton leading the way with digital best practice?

Grant Thornton is a typical professional services firm which has two parts – one very conservative part of it because it has to be conservative in terms of some of the work it does with our clients. In terms of audit work and tax etc, which needs to be very rigorous and robust. And then it has a very innovative side to it which is really trying to be cutting edge and leading as in all organisations. I don’t think Grant Thornton is unique, it’s trying to bring both the doves and the hawks in terms of digital viewing. To make sure we’re minimising any risk in terms of accelerating quickly but at the same time taking the opportunity to innovate, learn and grow quickly and do that in a very safe manner. I think that is what we’re trying to do at Grant Thornton at the moment.

Where do you stand on the future of work?

Some colleagues that have known me from my previous lives will be surprised at the answer because I used to be one of the firm believers that say ‘everybody has to be in the office and it’s an important part of team bonding and working through solutions’ and that’s what I used the believe, if I’m honest. I think my view has changed dramatically as a result of COVID. I think everything we do in an office space environment can be done from working from home or working from anywhere, and I think we trust our people to work from anywhere and get the job done. So I’m of a view that a hybrid model is probably the best way forward and definitely not advocate going back to the 9-5, back in the office because that’s not going to work and I don’t think it’s necessary. I think people are working a lot harder and a lot more productively working wherever they are working, as opposed to having to put up with a commute and going into an office environment. The hybrid model works when people need to work in workshops in face-to-face interaction where that’s important. I think it’s important to give colleagues the opportunity to do so. Then at the other side where people are quite comfortable working from home or working from wherever we should do that. I think one thing we do need to bear in mind is the mental health items that have propagated over the last eighteen months to two years. Whereas people who have families and friends in an environment, the lack of a place to come together for work is less important, where colleagues live alone that is a problem. We need to make sure we’re always mindful that every aspect of this has many facets and we need to think of all of those facets. Mental health, coming in safely, working safely. I think that a hybrid model should work very well in the future.

Niresh Rajah
Managing Director, Head of Data, Regulatory Change/RegTech & Digital Assurance Practice
Grant Thornton UK LLP

Niresh is an executive leader in Financial Services and Consulting with 20 years of experience focused on Data, Digital, Regulation, Automation, Innovation and Transformation. Niresh is Managing Director at Grant Thornton and leads the Data, RegTech & Digital Assurance practice at Grant Thornton, and works with exciting fintech and regtech start-up and scale-ups.

Digital Maturity Assessment

The Digital Maturity Assessment (DMA) enables organisations to diagnose their digital maturity and establish a recommended path towards improvement. It evaluates how well clients have incorporated digital into their operating models, and how effective they are at engaging their customers and executing digital initiatives to drive long term business model sustainability and profitability.

Grant Thornton works with its clients to configure their optimal digital maturity state considering customer drivers, legacy, strategic ambition, industry positioning, competitor positioning and regulator direction.