Chief Executive Paula Sussex led discussions at the CCA Platinum Member visit to Student Loans Company in Darlington on 6 March 2019. The team then presented on the evolving workforce and the move towards blended roles before sharing on some of the day to day challenges around performance, efficiency and quality.
In the past year, SLC processed 1.8 million applications, made over 7 million payments totalling £18.2 billion, handled nearly 6 million telephone calls, and managed over 8 million customers and a loan book totalling £117.8 billion, dwarfing the same statistics from as little as five years ago.
In terms of a future roadmap, SLC aims to be a leaner, more flexible and highly skilled workplace, using resilient, secure and intuitive digital services that will fundamentally transform the customers’ experience.
With the number of customers set to further increase, alongside a growing expectation for an efficient modern digital service, and the need for SLC to adapt quickly and flexibly to the diverging requirements of four Government shareholders, it is clear that there will be some challenges ahead.
The impact of growing volumes
SLC handles huge volumes of incoming mail and telephone calls and it is no longer enough to plan to meet this extraordinary operational challenge each year, when technology can provide infinitely more efficient ways of processing applications, repayments and queries. Better use of technology will not only reduce cost but can also deliver a near seamless customer experience.
There has been historic under-development and under-investment of many legacy systems, often because the organisation has needed to prioritise the delivery of each year’s new policy priorities ahead of upgrading core systems.
Consequently, systems have often evolved in a tactical piecemeal manner, with multiple interdependencies that increasingly complicate the process of developing new products and services.
At the same time the sheer pace of recent technological change means that the Company now needs to put major effort into upgrading its digital services, in order to bring them up to the standard that today’s customers expect.
Creating a strategy for the future
The SLC Executive Leadership Team has developed a new strategy to address these challenges. The strategy aims to put in place a virtuous circle whereby customers benefit (from a simpler, faster application experience), Government and taxpayers benefit (from a more cost-effective service), SLC operates with more resilient and reliable technology platforms, and SLC staff are released from routine and repetitive tasks and able to focus on customers who need more help or have more complex queries.
Delivery of the strategy has been clearly designed within flexible timescales, to allow SLC to plan and work within the necessary constraints of public governance and finance. The four interlinked programmes will be delivered in waves and re-baselined if and when necessary over a three to five year timescale. The strategy is ambitious, and SLC recognises that over the years ahead shareholders may well have competing priorities in terms of policy delivery. It is a multi-year strategy, but is only funded annually, as DfE's current practice is to agree SLC's budget for a single year at a time. For these reasons, each strategy programme has been formulated in “waves” of activity; the pace of change will inevitably depend on the scale of competing demands. Although it is inevitable that the scope and pace of the strategy will change, the underlying themes and principles will remain the same.
The strategy has four core programmes:
THE DIGITAL CUSTOMER PROGRAMME - aims to channel as many of SLC’s interactions online. This will reduce costs through fewer manual transactions, fewer telephone calls and less paper.
THE TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMME - seeks to protect and update the technology platforms that deliver customer service, driving innovation to facilitate faster change with less risk and cost.
THE OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE PROGRAMME - seeks to create a lean framework which drives continuous improvement and implements a new management and leadership development programme to inculcate the desired behaviours, delivering a cultural shift at SLC.
THE REPAYMENTS AND COUNTER FRAUD PROGRAMME - seeks to increase yield by better segmenting the loan book and working with partners to provide more coverage to Trace, Verify and Collect. Fraud identification tools will support earlier identification of fraudulent activity within the application process.