An Interview with Adam Bennett

Chief Information Officer, National Australia Bank (NAB)

FST Media: National Australia Bank (NAB) recently joined the Open Data Centre Alliance, a global cloud computing advocacy group. What cloud-based IT initiatives are in the pipeline for the bank in the year ahead? 


FST Media: National Australia Bank (NAB) recently joined the Open Data Centre Alliance, a global cloud computing advocacy group. What cloud-based IT initiatives are in the pipeline for the bank in the year ahead? 


Bennett: There are polarised views on cloud computing: there are those who see it as the new frontier, and those who see it as a new name for an old idea. NAB is the only Australian company to join the Open Data Centre Alliance as a Steering Committee member. We intend to leverage this experience to determine the best way forward for cloud computing, not only for NAB but for the industry as a whole, while being considerate of the obligations we have to our customers and regulators.


FST Media: NAB’s core banking overhaul initiative, Next Generation (NextGen), is underway. How is this progressing; and what are the project’s key business objectives and deliverables?


Bennett: The NextGen program continues to progress very well. NextGen will build a new banking platform that is a significant upgrade of all of our banking, finance and risk systems, processes, tools and distribution channels, and is designed to make it easier for our customers to deal with us and easier for our people to do their jobs. We will then progressively migrate customers to this platform. Release one is complete and included the implementation of UBank – that continues to grow and was awarded Best Online Savings Account 2010 by Money Magazine and recognised for innovation excellence at the 2010 Canstar Cannex Awards. Releases two and three will occur over the next three years.


FST Media: To what extent are you involved in developing the IT roadmap of NAB’s branchless, online term deposit service, UBank? 


Bennett: I was involved in the initial thinking that gave rise to UBank when I was GM Group Development for NAB in 2007.  Now that I am CIO, I ensure that my team continues to play a critical part in maintaining the innovation that is critical to UBank’s continued success.  I am very proud of the fact that UBank has become Australia’s tenth biggest deposit taker in only two years; is at the forefront of innovation across technology, process and social media; and is continuing to set new industry benchmarks.


FST Media: What lessons have been learned from NAB’s late 2010 technology outages; and what strategies have been put forth to improve this part of the business going forward? 


Bennett: We are already in the process of implementing a number of programs that will enable our IT environment to become more simple, flexible and robust.  The NextGen platform will build on this and replace ageing legacy systems and infrastructure and also provide many improvements to our systems. This transformation journey began in 2009 and was a response to the fact that our system - as is typical across our industry – required an upgrade. In some cases these programs will take a few years to complete. In relation to the issue you refer to, we also engaged a number of third party experts to review our environment and we will continue to employ any other necessary improvements and controls that are recommended by them.


FST Media: NAB’s carbon neutrality achievement is supported by green IT initiatives such as technology collaboration and tri-generation data centre plants. How do you instil an acceptance and understanding for sustainable business and IT practices across such a large organisation?


Bennett: NAB committed to being carbon neutral in 2010 and worked very hard to do this. Taking a sustainable approach to managing our business is important not only for the environment, but for the long-term growth and resilience of our business. I think it resonates with our people that saving power and money while doing something to assist the environment has a double dividend. We have been lucky at NAB to have the commitment of senior executives across all of our business units who personally got behind these programs to drive them forward. We have provided our people with opportunities to get involved to reduce their impact on the environment both at work and at home.


I am personally very committed to leveraging my role to make a real and sustainable difference.  I am proud of the fact that one of our most significant energy efficiency investments has been a tri-generation facility for one of our major technology data centres. It saves around 20,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year – this is equivalent to 1,400 households and is an overall reduction in NAB’s carbon footprint of 10%. 


FST Media: NAB has gained significant traction with its mobile channel. What do you see as the next frontier of mobile banking at NAB?


Bennett: Our customers' response to our iPhone and Android apps in direct channels has been fantastic. NAB mobile banking has seen 250% growth in usage over the past six months, making it our fastest growing channel. We expect this evolution to rapidly continue and we will remain at the forefront of this technology.


At NAB we are continuing to experiment across the platforms' capabilities – browser, apps, voice, Near Field Communications (NFC) etc – so that we can find solutions that will provide customers choice about how they want to interact. We are also looking at evolving and improving the mobile version of When 4G mobile networks roll out in Australia new opportunities will be created to interact and communicate with customers. The capability of the devices will also be a big driver of change.


FST Media: What are your top IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?


Bennett: We have very clear priorities in helping NAB get back to number one. As the function that provides technical support across NAB, we are focused on providing service delivery excellence to our colleagues and have developed a number of transformation programs that will simplify, improve and upgrade our processes and systems not just in technology but across all our operations support. We have outsourced the management of our infrastructure to IBM, which now manages our hosting and workplace environments across our NAB, MLC and NAB Wealth, Wholesale, Aviva and Advantage brands.  Our network transformation will modernise our network to support improved capacity, lower costs and provide greater scalability. There is also a large piece of work underway on getting ready for NextGen.


FST Media: What emerging technologies do you feel are changing the face of retail banking?


Bennett: While online and mobile channels will become even more important than they are today, particularly for transactional banking, I believe the impact of changing technologies will be different for each individual. For some, retail outlets will continue to be for more meaningful interactions, such as seeking financial advice. There is undoubtedly an expectation that connectedness, reliability and the ability to integrate information from different sources will become increasingly relevant; and already we are seeing a rise in the use of solutions such as Skype, wireless and social on-line media channels such as Facebook and so on.


FST Media: As CIO, what steps do you take to ensure you consistently reconcile technology investment with NAB’s business priorities?


Bennett: Reconciling NAB’s business priorities with technology investment is always a balancing act that requires a solid understanding of where the business is headed and how best to shape the future systems landscape. I work with various governance forums to ensure that investment in new capabilities such as NextGen is appropriately balanced against investment that is critical for maintaining the stability of our existing systems. We have invested in a number of programs and will also be looking to better leverage the expertise of our investment in supplier partnerships to achieve business priorities.


FST Media: Every IT leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours? 


Bennett: I am pragmatic about whether people are remembered or not over the course of corporate history, however if I am to be remembered, I would like it be as a leader in the general sense. Someone who left the technology function in better shape than when he started – someone who created a  more scaleable, flexible and responsive information systems environment, with people who were engaged and energised to work for NAB because they believed the best days for the organisation lay ahead.