Our experience of the “Martin Lewis effect”
03-04-2019

Amir Nooriala, OakNorth’s Chief Operating Officer, explains our experience of the Martin Lewis effect

Don’t ever let anyone try to convince you that the “Martin Lewis effect” isn’t real.

It is.

How do I know this? Because I experienced it for the first time earlier this month as COO of OakNorth, and it has dramatically changed my view.

It all started a few weeks ago when we were contacted by the research team at ITV’s The Martin Lewis Money Show. They wanted to confirm that our market-leading fixed bond rates would still be available when he was due to mention them on the show, which airs every Monday at 8pm.

We knew that other banks had previously struggled to manage the increase in web traffic that is generated following a Martin Lewis mention on his show. Many had seen their websites crash within hours, leading to a social media storm and large numbers of customers upset at being unable to complete their applications.

However, rather than seeing it as a threat, we wanted to see if we could turn it into an opportunity. The show was only going to mention our fixed term deposit products, but as we were running ahead of schedule on the launch of our cash ISA products, we wanted to see if we could leverage the increase in traffic to get some spill-over pledges on those too.

We had an internal meeting, and everyone agreed that this was a great opportunity to see the real-time commercial impact of their work, so we got the code completed, tested our systems, documents and the user journey, and were able to release our ISA product before the TV show aired.

The fact that we’ve built all our technology from scratch and are fully cloud-hosted proved to be invaluable. From the moment Martin mentioned our name, we saw our web traffic begin to spike, hitting a peak of over 50x its usual levels within the first 30 minutes. Having a newly-built banking infrastructure which has the resilience of a cloud-hosted IT platform allowed us to scale horizontally (i.e. handle more volume) at will, and effectively spin up the extra server capacity required to handle the avalanche of web traffic we experienced. The result? In the first hour, we saw millions of pounds pledged. By the end of the following day, it was in the tens of millions. Our website remained live and operational throughout.

So, all this is very positive – but what is the lesson to be learnt here?

Well, other than how beneficial an activity like this can be in motivating your team and enabling them to see what they’re capable of, it’s also about how even if you automate and scale to the highest standard, if the process is manual, you still have manual exceptions to handle.

In the case of ISAs, this translated into how we received ‘transfers in’ of existing ISAs. All banks have the option of automating the ISA process and going through the BACS platform – this is something OakNorth has done. Unfortunately, not all banks have done the same, and as a result, we got a lot of automated ‘transfers in’ and some manual ones too. The manual ones are literally paper forms that are sent. These may have typos, which require calls between both institutions to make corrections, and all of this translates into a poor experience for clients.

Overall, it was a great, albeit challenging experience. We learned a lot from it and know what we’ll do differently in the future. I’m personally incredibly proud of my team for the exceptional effort they put in, and hopefully the thousands of new customers we gained because of it feel the additional interest they’ll be making on their savings was worth the wait.