by Jennifer O'Brien

CIO50 2017 #18: Jeremy Hubbard, UBank

Nov 21, 2017
Technology Industry

UBank has been on a 12-month journey to transform the business, according to head of digital and technology, Jeremy Hubbard.

“Our vision is to be Australia’s most referred brand, and to achieve this we needed to make changes to our structure and culture,” Hubbard says. “As part of this, my digital and technology team needed to change. Our old ways of working were holding us back and stopping us from delivering customer focused outputs at pace.” Over the last year, his top priority has been to undergo a reorganisation. Essentially, he re-imagined the structure of his team by adopting Agile principles to create four subteams, each dedicated to a fundamental stage in the bank’s customer journey.

“I was inspired by how new, leading technology companies consistently deliver high quality change at speed and looked to replicate this within my team, starting with a re-organisation,” he says.

As such, he implemented four core cross-functional product teams, each dedicated to a fundamental stage in its customer journey – the public team, the origination team, the internet banking team and the customer service team.

“Every team is now empowered with the resources and team members needed to build products for their area. These cross-functional teams contain the all the skill sets required (design/UX, development, testing, business analysis, strategy) to develop new features from idea all the way through to production.”

Once the Agile transformation was well established, he then focused on moving to a DevOps model, enabling the bank to deliver and release technology even more frequently. Already, Hubbard says there’s tangible results from implementing these changes including: increased developer productivity by 200 per cent; reduced delivery cycles from six weeks to two weeks; and more closely connected the cross-functional product teams to the customer outcome, resulting in increased engagement, innovation and collaboration.

Additionally, he says UBank has seen greater transparency across the organisation, which gains buy-in on how updates are prioritised and released to customers.

“While strategically sound, we knew this could cause issues – as change always does – if not managed appropriately. So, I engaged Bulletproof as an external partner to help us navigate the change management process using an agile coaching model.”

Meanwhile, on the DevOps side, he identified three phases – crawl, walk and run – and recognised the bank is currently in the crawl phase.

“The biggest challenge we’re facing is cultural 0 getting ops to let go and allowing the devs to step up. Again, we’ve had to reinforce this as part of the culture and get the team on board with the journey in order to help them feel part of the process and importantly understand how this is positively impacting all of us, and the customer. I now have two solutions running in production using the end-to-end DevOps model, with the team working across the whole value chain – from ideation to operation.”

Demonstrating innovation

As one of Australia’s leading digital-only banks, Hubbard says UBank is committed to disrupting the banking industry to create a simpler, better, smarter customer experience.

A great example of this was launching RoboChat, a chatbot to help customers with the home loan application process. It is considered one of the most successful banking innovations of 2017 – and implemented in an eight-week timeframe. “We started our journey into the artificial intelligence space with a hackathon with our partner, IBM. IBM and its Watson offering was a natural choice, and the concept of a chatbot was one of three ideas we narrowed in on as part of our development. “In six weeks, we developed and launched RoboChat to offer customers real-time answers while filling out our home loan application. One of the barriers to refinancing or beginning the home loan journey is the fear of how long it will take to fill out the application, so RoboChat can help reduce the time needed.” After a question is posed, RoboChat responds within seconds. It also gives customers the option to opt-out and speak to a live advisor if needed. Or, if it can’t answer your question in two attempts, it will transfer you to an advisor. “This innovation is just the first step in UBank’s journey into cognitive banking,” Hubbard says, explaining RoboChat will evolve by understanding the sentiment behind customer conversations; giving customers real-time access in whatever platform they choose, and helping complete the home loan application on behalf of the customer, including using speech-to-text and text-to-speech. “In addition to being a first-of-its-kind in Australia, the way we brought RoboChat to life was unique,” he says. “We taught RoboChat how to speak like a UBanker by using our tone of voice – simply helpful, disarmingly honest and free of bank jargon – to guide all of its responses. We also engaged a conversation flow expert to teach RoboChat to speak in a natural way.” He says the team developed RoboChat with customers in mind.

“It wasn’t to reduce head count or make other structural changes. By automating responses to frequently asked, basic questions, we’re freeing up our advisors to tackle more complex situations with customers

“We made an important strategic decision at the outset to treat RoboChat just like any other advisor. One who needed to be trained and rostered on and off for work and part of our reporting framework. Ensuring we had support from a cross-functional team across marketing, customer service and digital was a hugely critical part of implementing this successfully.”

Demonstrating leadership

Known as an innovative and disruptive thinker, Hubbard is in constant pursuit of what’s next and how to turn best practice into next practice, keeping UBank at the forefront of fintechs not only in Australia but internationally.

“As part of the leadership team, my purpose is to deliver an exceptional digital experience for our customers and to bring a cutting-edge technology lens to challenge our team to go further. This is in service of our broader ambition to disrupt the banking industry,” he says.

“To deliver on this, I gather lessons and inspiration from other innovative companies and share this with our leadership team to paint a picture of what’s possible. For example, I introduced the concept of adopting a “startup” mentality to our team last year, and it’s something we continue to embrace today. In practice, it means we work cross-functionally in a seamless fashion, we make investment decisions as if the money was our own, and we constantly ask what’s next.”

Importantly, he said he’s proud of the cultural transformation he has had at the company.

“My biggest achievement so far is the cultural transformation I led. Ultimately, this centred around helping people achieve their full potential, which in turn helps UBank achieve our vision of becoming Australia’s most referred brand. I am committed to empowering my team through mentoring sessions, one on ones and the process we adopt when it comes to delivery. This investment in my team and its culture has been rewarded with strong outcomes, such as digital team engagement increasing by 86 per cent in my first year.”

Asked his biggest lessons learned, he says it involves the realisation that “you’re never done growing” and that change – and the need to evolve – is the only constant.”

“There are things I do today, like running and implementing an Agile transformation for my team, that I never could have envisioned at the start of my career. And, it’s not something I had a lot of experience in, but I had to immerse myself in the principles and then become an expert to lead my team successfully. This need to continuously learn new skills and adapt to new situations is what makes my job exciting and keeps pushing me to be better.”

Jennifer O’Brien