by Divina Paredes

CIO100 2018 #31-100: Bob Smith, Public Trust

Mar 28, 2018
Big DataCareersCEO

Public Trust has a proud history, strong profile and national footprint in New Zealand, but we needed to make significant structure, culture and technology changes to take advantage of an underserved, expanding and fragmented trustee services market, says its chief executive Bob Smith.

Over the past three years, the organisation has undergone a major transformation to tackle some key business challenges.

These included the need to lift profits for the core business, increase market share and customer satisfaction, and replace 25-year-old systems.

Through our business transformation programme we simplified our business, refocused on trustee services, built a ‘scalable engine’ with a new business structure, and replaced our out-of-date systems with a new technology platform called NavOne (a specialist Microsoft trust package from Touchstone), says Smith.

He says critical to that transformation was the delivery of a platform that would allow them to remove risk by implementing a modern, stable and well supported IT system.

We have to embrace the digital world for the benefit of our customers, and grow revenue from business partnerships by having a modern system that can integrate with other businesses’ IT platforms, he states.

He says since the delivery of the new platform, Public Trust has greatly improved visibility of their information and business processes; improved productivity, and gained better insights into their processes and customer information.

“Most importantly, Public Trust is now positioned to be agile, deliver on our business plan, evolve with technology, and harness new market and revenue opportunities,” he says.

Smith says the implementation of the new core technology platform was the most significant milestone for Public Trust for quite some time.

“We engaged with the business frequently both over the duration of the programme and following its completion,” he says.

“Engaging with our people around technology is an ongoing process for us as we settle into new ways of working, and explore how our new technology will support our passion for delivering great outcomes for customers and drive our growth strategy.”

He says they do this through a variety of ways including learning modules, video, leader-led communications, a nationwide network of ‘super users’ in customer centres, drop-in sessions and forums, intranet and newsletters.

“For the most part we’ve approached this holistically,” he explains. “Our digital strategy is woven into our overall business plan for moving Public Trust forward and we’re quite deliberate in reinforcing how our technology enhancements are helping to build a strong customer culture and deliver our overall vision and purpose.”

Smith says the key innovation for Public Trust last year was the implementation of an IT architecture that will allow them to embrace artificial intelligence and Internet of Things applications with an omnichannel approach.

“The key to achieving this was to have our back office processes based on one centralised system on a Microsoft architecture that will enable us to plug in applications as required,” he says.

“This, in turn, will enable a customer centric approach that allows customers to choose how and when they will want to interact with us.”

For example, a customer could start their estate planning process online and then elect to finish the process by requesting a meeting by Skype, at home or one of their offices.

Lessons in leadership

One of Smith’s previous roles was as CIO at Telecom (now Spark).

During the 1990s, Telecom undertook a complete business performance review called the Futures Task Force. Smith was a member of the task force representing ideas around a Future Operating Model for Telecom.

After the Board of Directors had approved the recommendations of the Task Force, he was appointed CIO (GM business information services) responsible for implementing changes for business process, technology and change management.

Six months into the programme, he realised there were significant gaps in their approach and they asked a specialist consulting group to help them implement a methodology for process design and change management.

As a result, there were delays in the programme and unbudgeted costs. The programme eventually delivered substantial business benefits.

Smith believes this would not have been the case if they had not intervened in the midst of the implementation.

He says this incident provided him three major lessons in leadership:

  • “Always front up to issues regardless of consequences (which I did).”
  • “As a leader, be receptive to a different approach if that’s what’s required (which my leader did).”
  • “Make sure any programme of change is founded on strong business benefits. The programme had very strong benefits, which enabled us to change approach but be still targeted on achieving the benefits.”