Belfius teams up with Passwerk
Belfius is a locally-centred banking and insurance group with a number of strong fundamentals:
1) A stable basis as an autonomous banking and insurance group whose shares are not quoted on the stock market;
2) More than 50 years' experience as the local bank and insurer for 4 million private individuals, liberal professions, self-employed people and companies;
3) 150 years' experience as a partner in the public and social sectors.
An important point for Belfius is that it can demonstrate its added value for society. Belfius started a special partnership with Passwerk in mid-September. Since then three members of the Passwerk staff have joined the test teams in Brussels for electronic banking applications. The story of team-play that leads to success! Speaking is Gert Vanhaecht, Head of IT Distribution Channels, CRM & Development Architecture in the ICT management of Belfius Bank.
Striving for quality by deploying the right expertise
Applications for electronic banking are devised in the department where Passwerk is active. "Those applications are used by our customers. So we are aiming for perfect quality. The only way to achieve this is to ensure that the applications are thoroughly tested before being launched," says Gert. The external conditions are becoming ever more extensive and complex. For example, Internet banking is supported on a whole series of different operating systems, browsers, and even then on various versions of them. If we look at mobile banking, the quality of the mobile apps must be guaranteed on a whole series of Apple and Android devices. And in the future the Windows 8 platform will certainly be in the picture. So tests on dozens of smartphones and tablets will have to be repeated, always with the same attention and accuracy. "Given the ever more extensive testing and the specific expertise needed for it, we started looking for a structural solution. We scanned the market, and that's how we came into contact with Passwerk. After a thorough study - during which we went to the Federal Government Department of the Economy, among others - we came to the clear conclusion that collaboration with Passwerk was more than logical," Gert relates.
Special qualities and socially relevant
Belfius confirmed that the expected top service is inherent in the specific talents of people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The people at Passwerk are powerful logical and analytical thinkers. They have an eye for detail and can concentrate intensively even in repetitive work. So an assignment such as software testing is ideally suited to them.
"Testing is an expertise in itself," says Gert. "With their outstanding qualities and knowledge, the people at Passwerk are making great strides in the production of our flagships, Belfius Direct Mobile 2.0 and Belfius Free Time, red-hot applications that are now on display in the online shops of Apple and Google." Belfius noticed from the start that colleagues at Passwerk knew how to use ASD positively. The bank sees it as a real talent that they have, for which those people must be given extra appreciation. Gert makes no bones about it: "Our motivation must be entirely based on our quest for expertise and the aim for quality in our applications. The fact that this can be combined with assuming our social role is a great bonus, and certainly played a major part in the decision-making process."
Guidance is needed
Once the collaboration was confirmed, a preparatory phase began in which the job coaches of Passwerk played a key role. A number of staff members from Gert's department were selected as the primary point of contact for the new staff to start working. Gert: "This added an extra dimension to the job of those staff members. So they were very enthusiastic right from the start about being able to look after the people from Passwerk. They surround them with the attention and care they need, and keep an eye on their stress levels, together with the job coaches. This does those people credit." Thus, Sofie De Raes and Sofie Vekeman were the first to be familiarised with the ASD problem by Femke and Katelijne, who guide and assist the Belfius Passwerk staff. After that, the entire department and a number of other interested people in the bank became involved. During a packed info session, Femke explained what ASD meant exactly, how best to deal with people with ASD, and what the social environment of those people looks like. That session only increased the enthusiasm of the Belfius teams even more. "From little things we can indeed see that these people are, for example, more susceptible to external stimuli than others. Certainly at the beginning we avoided shaking hands, because than can disturb some of them. The Passwerk people have a separate workstation, their desk telephones are disconnected, they can work with a headphone. If there is a fire drill, Hilde Meere, the responsible Team Manager, is warned in advance and she guides the Passwerk guys to the exit beforehand," Gert relates. The Belfius staff also confirm that it is sometimes troublesome to make adjustments to agreements that have already been made. Modifications have to be fitted in correctly and passed on in good time. In concrete terms, that might for example involve priorities that suddenly change or test data that are not available. To avoid surprises, a short harmonisation meeting is held every day. As regards communication, metaphors are best avoided and the Belfius staff have been careful from the start to be very direct, which soon won them trust and confidence as well. Because people with ASD are inclined to take things very literally. The question "Shall we go for a drink?" can, for example, be met with the answer "No, I'm not thirsty..." Gert: "But we are mindful of that. And the job coaches are always on hand if little problems crop up. And in any case, they regularly come along to Brussels for a chat with the "internal coaches" and the Passwerk people themselves. Without this support and internal guidance, the collaboration could never result in success."
The Passwerk people are really appreciated for the work they do by the other staff. They feel that too. Thus the project leaders are already coming to ask whether the Passwerk guys can do their tests. That goes without saying! It also gives an extra dynamic to the workplace. People are confronted with colleagues who are "different" and begin to look at reality in a new way to a certain extent. And they can see that ASD can bring with it a number of decided advantages. The integration of Bert, Kristiaan and, since the beginning of January, Marjan is going very smoothly. Recently, a modest drink was organised to celebrate the success of the launch of the new Belfius Mobile App. Bert was there. During the last train strike, Kristiaan did carpooling with one of the Belfius colleagues. This would never have happened if those people did not feel accepted.
The collaboration is a success
Gert concludes as follows: "The staff of Passwerk are genuinely part of this and tell us that they feel very happy with us. It was clear from the start that collaboration with Passwerk was going to be rewarding. The staff of Passwerk contribute to the positive dynamic in our team and provide top quality." I personally find it delightful that an initiative like this is possible at Belfius - and what's more, that it is carried to the highest level in the firm and actively supported."