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Military experience offers a unique perspective on technology

The experience of life amid the pandemic is often referred to in terms of battle or combat.

While it’s fair to say we are enduring the most significant national crisis we have faced since the second world war, can the two be realistically compared?

This week’s guest contribution from our Chief Technology Officer, Richard Gough, brings a personal perspective of both.


Thirty years ago next month, I called time on my time in the Royal Navy.

While waiting to go ashore permanently, I made sure I learned new skills to complement the 16 years I had spent as a warfare specialist, a technology-centred role.

I know I’m not alone in dividing my career between the military and civvy street and much has been written about how it prepares you to deal with anything but, in this challenging era, I believe firmly that this remains the case.

I served in the Falklands War. My ship, HMS Ardent, was hit with multiple bombs and 22 of the 199 crew were killed before she sank. These experiences never leave you.

In the Persian Gulf tanker wars, I was on HMS Boxer, a frigate equipped with “cyber ears” to help us gather and read communications. Technology then, compared to now, would be unrecognisable but the unifying factor is that it still needs someone to make sense of it.

My abiding impression is that computing for warfare and business are now not that different as real-time data is a common factor.

To fully understand customer needs, we need to monitor the markets to ensure our products suit customer needs. In financial services, consumer dynamics are changing.

The internet has revolutionised our sector and, more generally, consumers have adopted new behaviours since smartphones and tablets became our technology mainstay.

As we head to a post-pandemic world, the uncertainty current business models face grows. Should we be using Artificial intelligence to help bring in change faster? Is there a need to provide more on-the-go services, as seen with challenger banks like Starling?

The UK has more than 10 per cent of the global market share in fintech, now worth more than £11 billion a year to the UK economy, placing us in a great position to adapt to new technology better to serve our clients.

While change may be constant, questions swirl around how we, as a global financial community, will respond to and adapt to that change.

COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging on many levels. Once again, I will draw on my military experience to help map a way forward for our new technology platforms.

Thinking back, an excellent example of this would be how the Royal Navy adapted its warfare doctrine from Cold War planning to close inland action during the Falklands. Everyone must adjust their understanding of customer and market data to look at the new challenges ahead.

Punter Southall business professionals are busy sharing their insights and experience, helping each other contain and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our systems and, hopefully, the broader economy as a result.

Pandemic-related measures are likely to accelerate already established trends, such as de-globalisation, process automation and sustainability. We could see the reverse of decades-long patterns, such as international mobility and the population shift from rural to urban areas as remote working becomes more embedded.

I began this post with an anniversary in mind and finish it in the same way. Punter Southall marks its 35th anniversary in two years’ time. Given the challenges we have all gone through over the past decades, it’s exciting to think what we may look like then.

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As we head to a post-pandemic world, the uncertainty current business models face grows.

The view ahead

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Steve Butler, CEO at Punter Southall Aspire reflects on 2020 and looks ahead to what 2021 might have in store.

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After 40 years of experience in the pensions world, I'm sharing my insights.