by Divina Paredes

CIO100 2018 #3: Aaron Toatelegese, Bank of New Zealand

Mar 28, 2018
Big DataCareersDigital Transformation

Bank of New Zealand has been at the forefront of redefining how banks deliver services. Our technology team delivers many key initiatives as part of this broader transformation programme, says Aaron Toatelegese, chief technology officer at BNZ.

The value delivered through our implementation has included innovative products for our customers, business enablement, greater service availability, and a more mobile workforce – all of which supports our future focus on growth and sustainability, says Toatelegese.

“We’re delivering a far superior outcome for our customers through collaboration across technology, product, digital and analytics and we’re achieving it in an efficient way that positions us to drive more value for our customers.”

The technology team had successfully delivered a multi-cloud strategy, using both public and private cloud services such as the rollout of Microsoft Office 365 and AWS.

We also introduced an internal Enterprise Cloud Services team which has enabled us to focus on building resilience in our technology stack through cloud approach, says Toatelegese.

The team introduced Surface Hubs to all their corporate locations and Skype for Business on the desktops and mobiles. This reduced the need for air travel and increased the collaboration opportunities across the enterprise.

BNZ’s iHub (Information Hub) is seen as a leader in delivering an enterprise data lake to enable advanced analytics across the enterprise including machine learning and cognitive computing. “We have leveraged the data lake to develop message bots and Machine Learning models,” he says.

The team also refreshed the middleware environment, the engine that keeps the internet banking running, without discernible impacts.

“We now have a far more resilient environment to preserve the customer experience we’re creating,” says Toatelegese. “This was a massive effort that was the result of collaboration between our technology and digital teams.”

On the operational side, Toatelegese says the teams have been moving further towards the New Ways of Working model which includes agile approaches, devops, automation and streamlining of workflow to get things done at a faster pace.

“Cross functional teams work together to design the best way to do things – keeping in mind the customer experience and key touchpoints,” he says.

Culturally, it means the teams organised themselves around a clear and common purpose and were empowered to make the most use of their skills and capabilities.

The ‘how’ and ‘what’ the teams deliver is shaped by the focus areas of our technology strategy, says Toatelegese.

He outlines the key components of this strategy:

Customer driven: “We are here for our customers and are driven by a customer need or proposition,” says Toatelegese, “creating the service experience our customers want and expect.”

Digital ecosystems: This is around thinking about the customer journey and understanding what we can do to help them by bringing together information and services to create the right experience,” says Toatelegese, “innovation by leveraging partner skills knowledge and resources.”

Always on: This includes “preserving the customer experience, keeping up with the demand for self-service from our customers, enabling automation and machine learning for provisioning and scaling of infrastructure resources”.

Speed to value: This covers adoption of NWOW (new ways of working), devops and agile practices to move away from business as usual, and shipping change and value to customers quickly.

Enterprise agility: Toatelegese says it is important to enable “a technology environment (people, process and technology) that can move fast, pivot and keep pace with the needs of the customers, and hire for talent and to ensure we have the skills and competencies set up for future demand.”

He says the team continues to experiment with new technologies, all with the goal to deliver an exceptional customer experience and to put control back into the hands of the customer.

For instance, BNZ has delivered innovation in robotic process automation (RPA) by introducing virtual workers to BNZ backend processing.

BNZ is the first bank in NZ to offer both Android Pay and Apple Pay. This gives our customers flexibility in the way they choose to pay, he says.

They developed LOPI, or self service business lending, aimed at the SME sector. This reduced the time taken to approve lending from hours to 4.5 minutes.

Bank of New Zealand is also an early adopter of Intel’s cognitive computing software Saffron.

This propels us to the forefront of leveraging artificial intelligence, says Toatelegese. “It provides us with first-mover advantage over the competition and gives us the opportunity to define the future of associative memory AI in financial services.”

Toatelegese says delivery of these programmes entailed transformation of the technology team.

My leadership team is an extension of me and they complement each other through their diverse skill sets, which has helped with the rollout of our strategy, he says.

“Whilst technology may have once been considered a ‘back office’ function, the contrast between now and then is stark.”

“We’re an investment centre rather than a cost centre, and we’re the spearhead for change and digitisation of a company that has been operating for more than 150 years.”

“This is our moment – no time for stage fright” is our catch cry phrase and something I reminded the team when we started the new financial year. It’s a challenge to the team that ‘You don’t need to see the whole staircase to take the first step’ and ‘You can’t solve all future problems by looking in the rear vision mirror.’

Transformation, innovation, digitisation are the foundations upon which the enterprise is truly enabled and I am clear that this is how we need to approach the challenges we face, he tells the team.

We’re an investment centre rather than a cost centre.

He says the team members work closely with their business counterparts to ensure that they enable the execution of the bank strategy, including the BNZ’s investment committee. The latter is an executive level forum which controls the capital expenditure for the business.

Core to our performance is diversity of thought and I encourage leaders to make space for the different thinking styles of team participants, says Toatelegese.

BNZ has a strong Diversity and Inclusion Council and partners with external programmes around both youth and women in technology.

He cites some of the programmes supported by the technology leadership team.

Kate Kolich, head of enterprise data and information services, is the New Zealand ambassador for the annual Stanford Women in Data Science (WIDS) conference. BNZ co-sponsored the inaugural WIDS conference in New Zealand which was live streamed around the world.

Recently, the team members joined COO-technology Gerard Graham, speak at the NZ Tech Women Diversity Panel discussion.They detailed the number of initiatives supported by BNZ in this area.

He says the bank also holds the annual BYOD (Bring Your Own Daughter) to work days wherein up to 80 BNZ daughters attend technology work experience days in Auckland and Wellington.

Martyn Bayly, the bank’s head of cyber and information security, hosts public talks for small business owners to raise awareness of cybercrime. “This ensures our customers are aware of the dangers of operating in the digital age.”

BNZ Technology participated in the Tupu Toa Internship and Summer of Tech Internship in 2017 and 2018 as a way of supporting the youth talent pipeline. As well, BNZ is principal partner of Tupu Toa which is focused on growing the next generation of Maori and Pasifika business leaders.

“We understand that NZ has a small but highly talented pool of IT professionals. We’re committed to developing that pool knowing that it’s not just good for the industry, but good for us, because we want to attract these people into our workforce,” he says.

BNZ also has an active role in NZTech activities and FinTechNZ as the financial services sector heads into a technology-led era of disruption. BNZ was the Principal sponsor of TechWeek 2017 and is actively involved in supporting TechWomen with Katarina Kolich as a member of the TechWomen executive.

He says the technology team is also focused on being aware of thinking from outside the organisation, and open to sharing their best practices.

“Learning and development is not something that sits outside of our roles. It’s a core part of the role and on the job learning,” says Toatelegese. “The establishment of guilds and bringing world leading thought leaders, practice leaders and experts into our business ensure we provide learning opportunities that help our people grow personally and professionally.”

In the past year, the tech teams have invited or hosted thought leaders and inventors such as Sanjeev Sharma (author of the DevOps Adoption Playbook) and Doug Cutting (inventor of Hadoop).

Toatelegese encourages his team members to share their skills with the community through BNZ’s annual “Closed For Good” where staff spend a day out of the office working in the community.

“Doing all that we can to build a stronger technology industry is very important to myself and the team,” he explains.

“As nonsensical as it might sound, technology is a people business,” says Toatelegese, on why initiatives around leadership and development are as critical as their work on technologies.

“A high performing technology business is the result of high performing people,” he adds.

“If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘Luck is the residue of design’ you’ll understand that high performance is the residue of creating and designing environments where the right people can do their best work.”

Last year, Toatelegese and the technology leadership team held 11 face to face “Bank of Technology’ sessions with their staff. “We want to ensure we could directly tap into the thinking and vibe of our teams,” he says.

Bank of Technology is about co-creating a highly engaged, high performing culture, says Toatelegese. “We need to deliver for our customers but as a leadership team, we also need to deliver for our people so, we asked them, ‘What needs to change?’”

“It is a loaded question but the gold [answers] we received allowed us to really understand how our technology teams were feeling about their place of work, the environment and the tools which enable them to reach their potential and deliver great service for our customers,” he states.

“We had a fantastic turnout at these sessions and we all understand the journey BNZ is on and the importance of our contribution.”

“Just as we run monitoring and health checks across our technology platforms, this listening engagement generated well over 600 new ideas and some engaging conversations about how we can tune our processes, utilise tools, and match the physical environment to our preferred way of working,” he adds.

“This will enable our technology teams to deliver faster than ever and enhance our team culture.

“It’s an ongoing conversation that helps us listen to our people so that they can break the boundaries of traditional banking and revolutionise the way our customers experience banking, and how staff will too.”

He goes back to the Maori proverb:

He aha te mea nui o te ao

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

What is the most important thing in the world?

It is people, it is people, it is people

“As clich? as it sounds, people are your biggest asset, so my role is simply to provide the right leadership, hire the right people, partner with companies that have the kind of culture we strive for, and create an environment that allows them to reach their potential,” he says.

“Listen and remove obstacles!”

“If you’re not hiring people in every role that can do the job better than you can, you’re going to find yourself doing more than one job.

“Instead, hire smart people, stay inquisitive, challenge them, and then get out of the way and let them do what you hired them to do. Create purpose, have vision, know your customers – and believe your people are the number one ingredient for success.”