CIO50 2018 #9: Jeremy Hubbard, UBank

Customer-led integration is crucial for UBank and the financial services industry because managing money is integral to Australians’ daily lives, says UBank chief information officer, Jeremy Hubbard.

“What we’re aiming to do is leverage technology to make the banking experience simpler, better and smarter,” Hubbard says. “We’re making challenging issues incredibly simple for our customers and technology is our greatest asset.”

Hubbard and his team have completed four innovative projects that have simplified banking services and ensured UBank stays at the forefront of digital banking in an environment where there are an increasing number of non-traditional competitors entering the market, says Hubbard.

UBank Digital translated what it learnt from RoboChat – a chatbot discussed by Hubbard last year which helps customers complete a home loan application – into a solution for UBank’s own advisors.

RoboBrain was developed as an internal tool to consolidate and simplify the knowledge bases and information sources used by the bank’s teams to answer customer questions. It is a ‘hyper-personalised’ cognitive assistant that understand natural language – and is a one-stop, one-screen solution for searching information at UBank, says Hubbard.

“To train RoboBrain, we ingested 950 documents across four sources. Previously, the customer service team searched multiple sources for something as simple as the current interest rate. Today our advisors type in a question on a dedicated RoboBrain web page to get a real time answer,” he says.

“Since going live, it has cut down search time by 33 per cent and answers 70 per cent of questions directly on the first attempt.”

Another innovation, Free2Spend, is an in-app tool that simplifies budgeting and gives users one number, which updates in real time, to manage their finances.

Hubbard says his team was inspired by fitness apps and designed Free2Spend to be different than any other personal financial management tool on the market. While others look at the past and often focus on what went wrong, Free2Spend is future-focused and helps customers change their spending behaviour by focusing on savings goals first.

Lastly, Hubbard tackled the home loan fulfillment process by created the Home Loan Tracker. His team launched the app to give customers and advisors access to an online portal to manage and track home loan applications – from document collection through to settlement.

“We executed a complete upgrade of the web interface, including creating and exposing API services through the core banking and middleware layers; and redesigning and building out a completely new front end for the Home Loan Tracker using the API services,” says Hubbard.

“This included the redesign through UBank’s human-centered design process to ensure customer and advisor needs were met.”

Refined goals ensure success

Hubbard says that for each project, the bank had specific, refined goals. The main objective of RoboChat was to improve the home loan conversation rate with a secondary benefit of creating an AI competency in his digital team.

“Using cutting-edge technologies to deliver better business outcomes is something we’re always looking at and we were keen to learn what results could be achieved using AI,” says Hubbard.

“We consider ourselves a technology company – or a fintech to be specific – so finding new ways to innovate with technology is at the core of what we do every day.”

The key opportunity with RoboBrain was to take an inside-out approach to the benefits of AI and create something for the teams across the bank.

“RoboBrain’s objective was to make it easier for our advisors to get the information they need to service our customers quickly, efficiently and accurately. Before this, our advisors searched multiple information sources and knowledge databases to answer customer enquiries,” says Hubbard.

Hubbard and his team used IBM’s Watson Assistant, Watson Discovery and Watson Knowledge Studio to design and build the user experience and ensure it lived with the bank’s ecosystem. A team of 8 people worked over 12 weeks to design and deliver RoboBrain.

Since launching, RoboBrain has considerably improved UBank’s compliance and quality by giving more consistency to its advisors while reducing the time it takes to responds to customers by up to 50 seconds.

The concept of Free2Spend was developed internally to answer a business challenge: make the bank part of customers’ daily habits. It was also created to increase engagement with millennials and help them make the most of their money, Hubbard says.

“As we began the creation process, we worked with our marketing team to commission research testing one of our hypotheses: people have a present bias as they are focused on immediate gratification rather than long-term goals,” says Hubbard.

The ‘science and spending’ experiment showed participants an image of the future selves – a digitally-manipulated photograph aged 10 to 20 years – and tracked if they responded differently to common financial scenarios.

The research found people were significantly more likely to choose to save money when they became more in touch with their future self.

“In fact, 72 per cent of participants shifted their mindset towards wanting to save versus spend money,” Hubbard says. “These findings helped us develop the Free2Spend experience and re-affirmed our hypothesis that the future-focused component of our app was critical.”

Finally, Hubbard says RoboChat is unique as the only chatbot available to help customers with a home loan application form. More than 31,000 questions have been asked since launch; the tool answers a question correctly on the first attempt over 80 per cent of the time; and the bank reports a 15 per cent increase in conversion rate for customers who engage with the tool.

CIO role getting more important

Many companies are starting to adopt the philosophy UBank has held for the last few years: it’s a technology company first and foremost and banking is its industry.

“The approach not only shapes who we are but also the people we need in our organisation to help us deliver for customers, and the role of CIO is vital in helping innovate and leading in many companies, including UBank,” he says.

“This mindset is also helping the CIO role evolve from being considered a cost centre to being viewed as a profit centre that can be a revenue-driving part of the business. Tying this into the idea that the CIO has both internal and external customers means the CIO can deliver a strong point of view as part of his or her seat at the executive table.

“Just like any role in an organisation, the most important thing to understand is, ‘what’s your company’s vision, mission and purpose and how are you individually contributing?’ Once you understand that, you can also look at how your peers are contributing and hopefully make a solid, collective impact on your company’s future.”

Byron Connolly


Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

Download CIO's Roadmap Report: 5G in the Enterprise