by Chloe Herrick

Q&A: Commonwealth Bank CIO, Michael Harte

Oct 31, 20115 mins

After first joining the Commonwealth Bank back in April 2006 as CIO, Michael Harte, has made some significant changes to the technology behind the bank, implementing an IT strategy focused on the customer and embarking on a core banking modernisation project which kicked off in April 2008.

Harte sat down with CIO Australia to discuss where the project is to date, the issues CIOs are facing and what is involved in a typical day as the CIO at the Commonwealth Bank.

What does an average work day involve?

There is no such thing as an average day for me – nothing is normal! I strive to have very little routine. There is always something new and exciting happening, not to mention the challenges that every new day throws at you. Obviously, there is a lot of operational and management stuff that goes with the job. However, I also like to make sure that I make time for getting out and about, meeting new people and learning new things. I am a big supporter of open systems and open source but I also think one has to always be open to new things and new opportunities. An open mindset is critical if you are going to lead change.

I also travel a lot. This week I had the opportunity to visit with Inala Aboriginal community in Queensland and help launch the iStreet Skills xChange project. I am very passionate about the role that technology can play in helping people’s lives to connect with what matters to them and especially in helping to give young people the opportunity to learn and grow.

What are the major challenges you face in the role of CIO?

Execution, execution, execution. At the Commonwealth Bank, we are clearly focused on delivering the finest financial services and the best customer service and I am proud to say that the bank has recognised the key role that technology plays in delivering the future of financial services. It is one of five strategic pillars. But it is relatively easy to have a strategy – the challenge is always in the implementation. So every day the focus is on execution, increasing our innovation, delivery efficiencies and ensuring that we are truly customer-focussed.

What are some of the recent projects your IT department have been working on?

Our Core Banking Modernisation program continues as we replace our 1960s systems and bring new customer centred architecture for a real time online world of customer experience. We have moved 11 million retail deposit and transaction accounts to our new banking platform in 2010, and now we are focused on moving one million business deposit and transaction accounts across in 2011. Everyone said it couldn’t be done and it would be too risky but we are on track, and four years into the program have great results. On the consumer front, we are constantly improving and innovating with our online and mobile services. Netbank now has more than five million active users and up to 2.5 million daily logins at peak.

What’s next on the IT agenda?

Our work on our big programs such as Core Banking Modernisation continues, but obviously we have a few special things which we are keeping under wraps. You are going to continue to see innovation coming from on mobile, transactional payments, institutional trading and in our data capabilities. In addition, we are really focused on continuous process improvement in our back-end systems which will allow us to give even better service to our customers. For example, we have taken credit card approval applications from two weeks, to two hours and now two seconds.

What are the biggest issues facing CIOs today?

For me, one of the biggest challenges is to get our industry to change its mindset and to move away from old ways of doing things and being much more focused on the outcomes that we deliver to customers rather than being the tech geeks in the backroom who just say no, make things really inconvenient, seem to always be adding to costs and creating rather than solving issues. For me, that means a big focus on people. It is difficult and even impossible to implement change successfully if you don’t focus on people. When you have a clear strategy, driving culture is the key to success. It is one of the things I am most proud of in the bank, is that we have taken the morale and productivity of our IT teams from being very low to making the Commonwealth Bank being seen as one of the best places for an IT professional to work.

What’s your favourite gadget?

Well, right now I am playing with our brand new mobile payments service Kaching which we just launched. Kaching combines peer-to-peer payments via a phone’s contacts and email addresses, and in a world-first we have social payments via a user’s Facebook friends along with NFC contactless technology, making it the most all-inclusive payments app on offer by any banking in Australia. So it is pretty cool. But for me, it is not just about hardware. There are some great new things happening out there that are worth watching. On the software side, I am following – a truly beautiful website with wonderful content. Plus, I like reading about what conferences could look like post TED. For example, TED founder, Saul Wurman, is branching out into something new: see

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