NS&I chief exec Ian Ackerley on inspiring a stronger savings culture and ERNIE's quantum leap

Written by Civil Service World on 26 December 2019 in Feature

As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories

Premium bonds have come a long way. Photo: PA

What was your highlight of 2019?

The steps that NS&I has taken to inspire a stronger savings culture in the UK have undoubtedly been the highlight of 2019. We have made several enhancements to our iconic Premium Bonds product, including lowering the minimum investment from £100 to £25 in February and opening up the gifting of Premium Bonds to children by aunts, uncles and family friends in August. Over 100,000 customers have invested £25 in Premium Bonds since the minimum investment was reduced and a further 350,000 customers have invested between £26 and £99.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

In March, we completed the latest “regeneration” of ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) to generate the winning numbers for more than three million Premium Bond prizes every month. ERNIE 5 is much faster than ERNIE 4. Using quantum technology, ERNIE 5 takes just 12 minutes to complete the draw, compared with nine hours for ERNIE 4. Quantum technology also provides greater capacity for ERNIE 5 to keep pace with the growth in the number of Premium Bonds held by customers.

"Our preparations are already well developed and we’re ready to make sure that we will hit the ground running on 1 January"

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

The interest rate environment is likely to remain difficult for NS&I, with low interest rates making saving less attractive for customers. We have made good progress this year on enhancing our broader proposition – launching an app, for example – but in 2020 we need to deliver more service improvements, while at the same time continuing to meet our high levels of customer satisfaction. Our preparations are already well developed and we’re ready to make sure that we will hit the ground running on 1 January 2020.

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth…

Getting more Lego (obviously). Plus, every other year we would host a party for our extended family on Christmas Day; and Boxing Day breakfast was always leftovers – which for me meant starting with the desserts!

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