Over the last four years, the focus for Westpac CIO Dawie Olivier has been to shape the organisation to be more responsive and able to solve problems quickly.
Examples of the success of this journey have been many and frequent, and a good example is embodied in tackling the significant challenge of queues in branches two years ago.
At the time, only around 65 per cent of our customers would be considered “active” in our digital channels, and we have shifted that to around 75 per cent along the way, he says.
Today, he says, 96 per cent of their transactions are through self-serve channels, with a 35 per cent reduction in over-the-counter transactions.
“Long queues in branch and on the phone were leading to significant operational inefficiencies, costs and a terrible customer experience,” says Olivier.
“We knew we needed to migrate the queues to self-serve channels to both improve our cost to serve and our customer experience.”
As CIO, he could see this was both a technology and people challenge.
“Approaching this as either a traditional ‘frontline’ project or a traditional ‘technology’ solution would not deliver the outcome we needed.”
The bank’s journey of new organisational behaviours meant that it was a natural response to form a cross-functional team, partnering the technical teams with a non-technical team composed of experts from across the business, including frontline staff.
Olivier says the conjoined teams were given this challenge: “How would we deliver the best outcome across the whole business – not just the best technology solution or the best frontline solution?”
The team, he says, adopted a hypothesis-driven approach and let the data lead them to understand customers’ behaviour and where they should be focusing their resources.
“They adopted a mantra of ‘innovation without adoption is meaningless’ and looked beyond their individual traditional areas of expertise for solutions,” he says.
“The result was a data-led flow of work which generated both software solutions and no-code solutions in the same team – a radical change for us.”
He says improvements developed by the cross-functional team included ATM features and functionality, digital banking features and different ways of serving customers.
The branch level data was shared weekly across branches so they could track in detail their progress and adjust their behaviour rapidly.
Two critical people-teaching roles were created in branches – digital ambassadors and concierges.
Digital ambassadors teach fellow frontline staff and customers about digital solutions, while the concierges walk the queues in busy branches and help customers self-serve if their query is self-servable.
Olivier says branches with a concierge have higher Voice of Customer scores than those without, while those that have digital ambassadors have higher customer digital adoption than those without.
The shift in approach required them to accept deep structural changes to their key measures and accountabilities.
For the first time, he says there were joint KPIs between retail banking and technology in the areas of transaction migration, call migration and digital adoption.
Olivier, along with the head of retail bank, are jointly accountable for the whole of businesses’ performance in these areas.
The industry has recognised the benefits of the programme.
Westpac New Zealand has been identified by Finalta, a global banking-benchmarking study, as being a world leader in transaction migration, with one of the lowest over-the-counter transaction bases globally.
“This way of thinking challenged the traditional siloed structure and operational processes of the bank, and we are continually evolving to adopt these approaches across the bank.” says Olivier
The new approach also changed the bank structure.
Prior to the programme, Olivier’s division was just technology.
“As we started to see the business, customer and staff benefits, our division expanded to be technology, digital, ventures and strategy,” he says, “and as the bank moves towards a deeply cross-functional enterprise and evolves its operating model, the division is expanding and now encompasses technology, digital, ventures, strategy, product, marketing and data.”
“This is a profound structural change for the bank. It evolved out of our rapid and iterative evolution in the way we work,” he says.
Olivier stresses the importance of providing the backdrop to enable teams to work on innovative projects.
“For me, creating an environment that enables teams to grow in their roles and achieve their goals is about giving people the space and support to take risks, to challenge themselves, to do extraordinary things they didn’t necessarily think they could.”
“To create the right amount of space and safety for teams and individuals to learn from experiments, as leaders we have to be prepared to be the buffer that absorbs organisational pressure when things do go wrong. It isn’t about deflecting consequence, it is about allowing improvement to come from the lessons we learn.”
“You have to be prepared for some experiments to not work out,” he says.
“Experiments are crucial, and they can’t be at the risk of the total organisation. For me, the way to get comfort around that is to be present frequently so people can check in with me when they feel they need to and can showcase frequently. It’s all about being available in person.”
“I work to help the teams be aware of the blast radius if it does go wrong and guide the team to work through that and manage the risk,” he says.
Being there, preferably face to face, with the teams is critical in the constantly evolving environment.
“When we undertake change journeys – in fact for leadership in general – it’s a contact sport. I firmly believe you must be available personally, with your people in a two-way situation, all the time. This creates confidence, trust, and shows we’re all humans.”