Social status report

Business | Mon 23 Mar | Author – Business & Finance
socially responsible business

Sustainable high performing organisations have a positive impact on all stakeholders, writes Lisa Feely.

Developing a sustainable business starts with the customer, by enhancing their experience, whilst also advancing the economic, environmental and social conditions within the communities they touch.

A sustainable business is one that develops and maintains long-term financial and non-financial value for the benefit of all stakeholders. A sustainable business model is the goal we have set ourselves and towards which we have made significant progress:

  • Reduction in the prices and charges across our product range, and in the level of upfront commission payable to financial brokers.
  • Assistance in upskilling and development of financial brokers and their businesses so they can offer better advice and service to customers.
  • Introduction of tools and information to enable customers to better understand the risk and reward trade-offs for investments.
  • Ongoing service and operations enhancements including improvements in communication and access to information online.
  • Implementation of a fully integrated corporate and social responsibility programme.

The development and implementation of these improvements was enabled and made possible due to the Quality and Excellence programme that has been in place in Friends First since 2002. This focus on quality and excellence has enabled Friends First to transition through various phases in its development, including the challenges presented during the financial crisis. This framework has led us through periods of consolidation, growth and restructuring to currently working towards being a trusted and transparent financial services company.

The Friends First journey started with the Q-Mark in 2002, which allowed us to put an independent framework in place, and the success from this led us to the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM). This standard is about bringing quality and best practice into all aspects of organisational life.

It has allowed us provide an environment where a customer-oriented culture is encouraged.”

The awarding of this standard is independently assessed by the Centre for Competitiveness and the EFQM. This assessment gives us independent feedback on what we do well and what we can improve on. The assessment team are independent experts who have reviewed best practice approaches across many companies, across all industries. Their insight provides unbiased verification and feedback regarding the tasks and approaches at which we are excelling and areas where we can do better. EFQM was created as a holistic model to guide companies on their journey to excellence. The model is continuously refined and improved. There are nine criteria that underpin this approach and attempt to cover all an organisation’s activities. They are separated into ‘enablers’ and ‘results’. The enablers are concerned with how the organisation conducts itself, how it manages its staff and resources, how it plans its strategy and how it reviews and monitors key processes. The organisations results are what it achieves and encompasses the level of satisfaction amongst employees and customers, its impact on the community and key performance indicators.

Shared goals

Quality is at the core of what we do. It gives us a shared purpose and joint common goals enabling us to deliver change. A key component of quality and a way of addressing the challenges of the EFQM, is the Continuous Improvement (CI) culture which has become an integral part of the way we work in Friends First. This, in itself, can lead the way to business excellence.

To achieve this level of excellence has required a comprehensive change programme and the capability to deliver continuous improvement. This has resulted in the development of tools and competencies in the organisation which are focused on the customer (in our case both financial brokers as well as the end customer – their clients) and requires clear informed management as well as systems and processes to deliver change.

Success in this area is largely dependent on the talent, creativity and innovation of our staff. The culture of CI leads to a strong culture of learning and its implementation in Friends First has ensured both inclusiveness and participation.

Our objective is to become a truly socially responsible and sustainable business. We aim to deliver transparent, value for money products and services that our customers need in a timely, efficient and effective manner. To enable us to do this our Quality and Excellence system encompasses all aspects of our business. By using the EFQM model and its independent assessment platform, it has allowed us provide an environment where a customer-oriented culture is encouraged, in which all of us take responsibility for the continuous improvement of our business and our services and the ongoing development of our knowledge and skills to enable us to provide business excellence.