Newbury Building Society

They say that knowledge is power, so how do you ensure that your staff not only retain the knowledge you give them, but also still have space for additional company focuses?

It’s a worry any manager faces, especially when it comes to updating staff on legislation or company development. Can you be sure they are really taking it in?

Newbury Building Society found Elephants don’t forget after an internal review conducted by the employees themselves, criticised the weekly PowerPoint session for not being ‘engaging’ enough. Head of Compliance Nigel Briggs was tasked with finding a solution that both empowered and involved the staff, he explains just why a new concept was needed.

“Newbury Building Society are a traditional building society in the sense that they earn money from their savers and lend to members of the local community, generally to buy houses. With a specialty in shared ownership, the company has been helping people get on the property ladder for 160 years.

But finance is an industry where strict control and measures are used to help prevent crime. And our employees need to be aware of various legal requirements such as data protection and money laundering laws, to keep both the building society and its 60,000 members secure.

To meet the industry standard requirements for people who handle money, authenticity checks, underwriting and various health and safety measures which come from dealing with members of the public, we used to run a weekly round-table training session. But the thoughts were that it wasn’t very interactive and actually the management couldn’t tell who retained the knowledge.”

Newbury Building Society look after 10 branches in south, central England. They maintain a Head Office and various branch employees in different locations making it hard to find time to fit in large scale training exercises. Nigel faced the quandary of making sure his employees were up-to-date with the ever changing legal and financial regulations that may apply to their roles while not taking them away from their day job for too long.

The company decided to set up an experimental learning group from the Newbury Building Society employee base that pushed for a more engaging method of training. Before long, Nigel found himself in charge of implementing a huge bank of knowledge about the company, including the products they have on board and the legalities that staff needed to know. Clever Nelly, an artificial intelligence program, was chosen as the preferred option to ensure that employees fully absorbed the mandatory training that Newbury Building Society had invested in.

Now, every day, employees receive between 2-5 questions individually by email. They answer a set of multiple-choice questions which examines their capability and competence, this then determines the quantum of questions received. On average each member of staff will be sent 3.4 questions per day and will generally take a total elapsed time of 1 minute 47 seconds to answer and check scores. If an employee gets a question wrong, Nelly will display the correct answer and the algorithm will re-calculate to encompass more questions in the same genre/subject matter/category until the person has improved. 

Nigel says,“the user experience is very simple, enjoyable and intuitive but below this sits an incredibly sophisticated self-learning application and work-flow mechanic. Clever Nelly is now embedded into the organisation and people have latched onto it”.

On the gamification aspects of Nelly, Nigel states that by allowing people to produce a score, it “really engenders a sense of competition and camaraderie that has lead to an open discussion about training in the office.”

Moreover Nigel is adamant that “Clever Nelly isn’t enforced; our culture is something that people buy into rather than are forced into. But amongst our staff it certainly seems to have worked.”

Creating a knowledge bank is an integral part of how Nelly works, where staff can be referred to the foundations of a company’s principles, products and services, as well as promoting safety and compliance. Of course this is all done with the help of the people at Elephants don’t forget and can be adapted over time to prepare for new company ventures, legislation changes and much more.

Nigel adds, “Yes there’s the time and energy you need to spend creating or refining a knowledge base. But once you’ve done that it’s simple, to me it’s a better approach that fits more with how we as individuals operate these days in time pressured environments. And in my view it’s well worth investing.”

To find out more about Clever Nelly visit