by Divina Paredes

CIO100 2018 #5: Dawie Olivier, Westpac New Zealand

Mar 28, 2018
CareersDigital TransformationInnovation

Westpac CIO Dawie Olivier has been described as a “self-proclaimed culture vulture” and a “real pain”.

These comments, from his CEO David McLean and acting chief digital officer Rhiannon White, respectively are no admonitions.

They reflect instead how Olivier and the technology team at Westpac have played a big role in the bank’s strategy to thrive in the competitive digital era.

McLean says Olivier has transformed Westpac’s technology team “from a traditional, waterfall-style, heavily governed operation to a much more nimble one focused on customer value.

“The team has moved to a new operating model to facilitate the use of Agile and DevOps methods from idea to implementation. This change in delivery has required a change in team mind-set to one that embraces flexibility, exploration and horizontal ways of working,” says McLean.

McLean points out that when Olivier first joined the technology team, the staff engagement score was 53 per cent. In 2016, it went to 64 per cent and to 79 per cent last year – “above the global high performing norm.”

“And this highly engaged team is now delivering more for less. Projects are being delivered; faster, more accurately, more innovatively and cheaper than they ever have before.

“But he doesn’t want to stop there,” says the bank chief executive. “He is now taking his new age thinking beyond technology to the rest of the organisation, as he leads the customer led transformation across the entire bank.”

White, on the other hand, points out Olivier “never conforms to our traditional way of doing things.

“During executive team meetings, he is often the one that will disagree or take an unpopular view. And worst of all, he never wears a suit. Despite these non-conformist, even maverick views, his team seem to love what he is doing.”

An ambitious goal

Olivier explains the business driver for him and his team.

Westpac New Zealand has been one of the largest providers of financial services in the country for over 150 years, he says.

But with ever-increasing commoditisation of financial services and products, through non-traditional players entering the market and fierce competition from their peers, the key ingredient to sustainable strong performance is to stay true to our customers and their needs.

“Our purpose is to help our customers grow financially so we can build a better New Zealand together,” says Olivier.

“We have a set of clear strategies that enable us to deliver our ambitious goal – to win in our chosen markets and deliver the leading customer experience, digitally enabled, everywhere, all the time. Westpac Technology plays an instrumental role in enabling that ambition.”

Olivier says the technology team actively fosters a culture of innovation, recognising innovation as fundamental to enduring success.

“Technology encourages our people’s involvement in hackathons, ideation events and ‘slack’ days to create space for innovation,” he says.

Westpac has led innovation in robotic process automation (RPA) with 37 processes automated and over 40,000 hours saved annually.

“This provides the competitive advantage of quickly and accurately completing customer requests without the constraints of an eight-hour day. The biggest cultural impact to overcome was fear from our people that automation would take their jobs,” says Olivier.

We worked closely with them to ensure the automation of mundane tasks is replaced with value added work. “Being transparent, honest and working with our people has helped them see the benefits of a digital workforce to work with them,” says Olivier.

These benefits have also been recognised externally with Westpac, as the bank was named finalist in the Artificial Intelligence and RPA for Enterprise, International Quality and Productivity Centre awards and recognised by BluePrism CEO as leaders of RPA in Australasia and ahead of the maturity curve.

Westpac has likewise introduced ‘Wes’, its artificial intelligence-powered personal financial assistant. The chatbot allows Westpac to facilitate contextual conversation for customers, on their terms, in their words, 24×7, without needing to go via existing channels.

Wes is one of the first of its kind by a NZ bank and one of only two NZ banking chatbots available to the public, he says. “Wes learns from each customer interaction, becoming smarter every day,” he says.

He says several factors facilitated the creation of the innovative environment that allowed these projects to flourish.

These are the formation of cross functional teams, peer/mob programming, training, forging of strong relationships with pioneering technology companies and dedicated time to experiment with technologies that will continue to enable Westpac innovate and deliver great customer experiences.

Olivier takes time to share Westpac’s experiences on digital transformation to other industry players and government agencies.

“From the outset our transformation has been culture led,” he says on key messages he is sharing to industry colleagues.

“Building on a culture programme launched in 2015, we continue to aspire to build inspired, engaged teams, passionate about the work that they do, collaborating and working cross-functionally to create great customer experiences,” he states.

“We have leaned heavily on the principle of co-creation and crowdsourcing, from our operating model, teaming, tool choices to the way people run their squads and delivery method, some now experimenting with sprintless scrum.

“We have worked hard to co-create a great culture, owned by people who do the work. From a leadership perspective, we see our role as providing the intent, direction and air-cover, and create the right environment for our new way of working to succeed.”

Dawie Olivier of Westpac at the 2016 CIO100 event