Banking IT's success on customer behaviour

CIOs that don't keep an eye on the basics are not doing their job properly, says Westpac's Clive Whincup

The next paradigm

Given his love of technology and his focus on customer service, it’s not surprising Whincup is keenly interested in how emerging consumer technologies, such as wearable computing, will influence the next generation of customer interaction for the bank.

“The primary difference between wearable and portable is that wearable is never off. It’s almost the equivalent of stream of consciousness; it’s that continuous exposure and connectivity,” Whincup comments.

“That’s why I refer to the digital world as ‘only now’; this will increasingly be the case as people become almost permanently connected to the Internet, receiving and offering information on an ongoing basis.

“What will be fascinating to watch is how customers adopt their behaviour to that kind of exposure. We have certainly seen behavioural shifts very clearly in our data in terms of how they use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. How they use mobile and wearable technology is yet another paradigm shift.”

As an example of the unpredictability of technology trends, Whincup points out Paywave and contactless payment technology, has chalked up a dramatic adoption rate in the last 18 months.

“It’s not always easy to tell when that’s going to happen and when customers will start adopting technology that already exists. The best form of defence is to make sure you’re always on and always watching customers,” he says.

“We are very sensitive to usage of our mobile channels because it’s all about active users for us. It’s almost irrelevant the number of downloads of the app; that’s just one piece of information. The important thing is how frequently and how exactly those channels are being used because that gives us the insight into how customers are thinking and acting.

“If you’re just tracking the number of customers without paying attention to what they do, I’d challenge whether you have a customer-centric approach.”

Addressing the talent shortage

One of Whincup’s key concerns from an ICT industry perspective is the ongoing talent shortage. While committed to recruiting local staff, the lack of skills in Australia has seen Westpac offshore select project and specialist ICT jobs in recent years. The talent problem is everyone’s to own, he says.

“I can never get over the fact that while we increasingly spend time talking about technology and wondering about how marvellous it is and how rapidly it’s changing, we seem to be incapable of attracting people into the industry,” he says. “It’s such a huge paradox, it almost defies explanation.”

Whincup believes more ICT professionals need to be out talking to younger generations about the sector, particularly high school students. “We need to get in there a long time before these young people make careers choices to make sure they’re aware of technology and what a career in the industry is all about,” he claims.

One of the challenges he sees is the quality of the ICT education. “It’s an uphill struggle convincing kids that IT is an exciting career that allows you to travel internationally and so on, when it’s a boring course taught by unqualified or skilled teachers who aren’t that passionate about technology,” Whincup claims.

“I see it from my own kids’ perspective: While they are avid adopters of technology, their view of technology as a profession is that it’s boring.”

There is also a lack of comprehension around the diversity of skills ICT professional need today. Whincup points out Westpac’s competency framework, which is based on the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) model, identifies 90 different families of skills across the range of technology roles at the banking group.

“A lot of those skills are not about the technology; they’re about working in complex problem solving areas, working with large teams, there is a heavy people-orientation to the job as well,” he says.

“These are things not immediately evident outside the profession, but core components to effective working in technology.”

The other challenge is the ubiquitous nature of technology, Whincup says. “If you look at Apple, its entire philosophy over decades of development has been to hide the technology.

It’s not really surprising with the increased consumerisation and closed world of the Apple environment that people are less and less encouraged to be curious when you can’t even take the back off the iPhone,” he claims.

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