An Interview with Peter Fletcher-Dobson

Position: 
Head of Online Channels, Kiwibank

Pollack: You’ve described the emergence of the ‘prosumer’: a tech-savvy ‘hybrid being that produces as much as it consumes’. How do you see this type of customer transforming the retail banking landscape?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: The latest data from Facebook shows that there are more than two million New Zealand Facebook pages. For a country of 4.4 million that’s pretty massive and I think shows clearly that pretty much all of us online are contributing to the ‘prosumer’ effect.

 

What it also shows is that human beings are now very okay with having online relationships. It is not uncommon to ‘friend’ people online who you have not met in person and interact with them virtually without a problem. It’s an amazing time for the Internet, and for a retail bank in the online space it’s a really exciting mix of opportunity and risk.

 

One particular change we’ll see in the next few years is the evolution of acquisition marketing online from a brochure and applications-site approach to something far more in tune with the online power consumers now have.

 

Most customer research is starting with a search box, and the influence of peer and other recommendations is becoming stronger than traditional marketing and brand messages. Suddenly your brand image can’t be controlled as it once was; the prosumer has turned the Internet into a mirror of your customers’ experiences, and people are making big decisions that impact on your bottom line because of this.

 

Pollack: Kiwibank has a team of ‘tweeters’ and around 2,500 followers on Twitter. What types of Twitter conversations is Kiwibank commonly having with its customers?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: Our conversations on Twitter are largely driven by customers and are therefore mainly around support issues. As with all organisations in social media, this involves customers raising a problem and mostly that being solved via a secure channel.

 

If our service is particularly good we do get a happy customer response thanking us back on Twitter. For customers across all industries it’s a channel where they know they get fast results because it’s so public. And really, that’s great because it’s forcing businesses to up their game around customer services. Twitter is merciless in exposing mediocre or poor service.

 

Interestingly on the back of our Easyswitch campaign it’s also become a handy forum for people joining us to compare and contrast their positive experiences with us and other banks in what you might call their ‘honeymoon’ period. That’s been quite a brand-enhancing opportunity and shows the real benefits a brand can get from social media if you get it right. But social media only works as a reflection of your organisation’s wider customer service experience. You can’t game it.

 

Pollack: The Operation Easyswitch campaign certainly made an impact, with around 30,000 views on YouTube. What do you see as the key factors in successfully creating an online social media community in the financial services sector?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: Yes, Easyswitch has been incredible. The marketing team have had to redraw the metrics each week, which is a nice problem to have, and won a national award for the campaign on the way. Easyswitch was more like a film launch than traditional ad campaign and it was that combination of engaging, entertaining and being innovative and fresh that created an emotional connection.

 

So they are keys to differentiating and creating visibility in social media, which is vital if you want to build a community. But again, as I was saying earlier, you can’t game social media, you can’t dictate the message or how your brand is perceived. And in financial services especially you have to be honest, transparent and straightforward and deliver on your promises. I think it’s a truism that brands which excel in social media are also nailing customer service because it’s like a mirror of your brand.

 

Pollack: Kiwibank customers were targeted in a phishing scam last year. What do you see as the biggest challenges in staying one step ahead of online criminals?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: I think you could rephrase that question more correctly to “bank customers were targeted in phishing scams” and they still are. This is the flipside, the dark underbelly, of the Internet isn’t it? The question of online identity is a challenge to all of us as providers and consumers of financial services on the Internet.

 

Obviously Kiwibank has a keen focus on online security. We’ve got a superb in-house security team and some great partners who manage the risk behind the scenes and are hooked into the latest thinking and technology; our second-level security KeepSafe is across desktop and mobile Internet banking and our online guarantee gives that final peace of mind to our customers.

 

The real key is ensuring our customers are educated about good practices. For example, we’ll never send a log in link in an email, we won’t ask for your password over the phone etc. That’s an ongoing focus for us.

 

Pollack: How do you encourage technological innovation from within the organisation; and how do you determine which ideas will be pursued?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: Kiwibank’s origins lie in innovative banking so encouraging clever thinking or new ideas isn’t too much of an issue; choosing the right idea is key, as you say. At a bankwide level we have a very clear long term strategy and that’s matched by a strong online strategy and these are essential to give a framework for prioritisation.

My team works as a shared service across the bank so we have many internal customers and that generates ‘big rock’ pieces of work in our roadmap. Alongside this we also focus on a dedicated program of channel strategic initiatives that means we can deliver on the big stuff but keep that lean, fast-paced, innovation stream flowing as well.

 

Pollack: To what extent does technological innovation drive the overall business strategy at Kiwibank?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: Technology is vitally important as a supporting plank of a customer-centric strategy. We’ve seen huge take-up of online services, particularly mobile services. New Zealanders are big early adopters of technology; for instance NZ smartphone penetration of 40 per cent is in the top ten globally, and our strategy reflects this. But we focus on the entire customer experience when we design by taking a segmented approach.

 

So it’s always the customer at the centre and we use technology innovation to deliver the best experience. Our Online Relationship Manager service is a real example of that. Customers get an online champion within the bank that is dedicated to meeting their needs and proactively saving them time and money.

 

They take the time to get to know and understand customers to help them achieve short and long-term goals. But contact is as hands on or off as the customer wishes and totally at their convenience. I see this as using technology to create a valuable personal relationship online, which is beneficial for both the customer and the bank. The customer feedback has been great and the business results have been good too.

 

Pollack: What IT trends are you keeping your eye on at the moment?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: Mobilisation, as I’ve said, is obviously only going to get bigger. We’ve seen astronomical growth in usage of our mobile banking and we’re releasing smartphone apps very shortly. We’ve spent time with our customers to find out how they want to use financial services on mobile, and to me what they are clearly saying is that it’s not just about rolling out a small-screen version of desktop Internet banking. I’m really excited about what the team has built as the experience takes mobile banking onto a new level.

 

The indicators are that the era of the desktop is over and tablets are overtaking PC sales. Mobile/contactless payments look like a mass market opportunity if business and technology strategies align. We’re using HTML5 now in various developments and are keenly engaging in the app vs browser conversation.

 

The Cloud is also another area of contention for financial institutions. And last, but certainly not least, online identity, security and the growth of online relationships.

 

Pollack: What has been your biggest challenge during your tenure at Kiwibank?

 

Fletcher-Dobson: I really like something [author and marketing entrepreneur] Seth Godin wrote recently: Achievement is the result of doing something increasingly difficult until you get the result you seek – climbing hills just challenging enough that you can barely make it over.

 

A series of hills becomes a mountain and a series of mountains is a career. I’ve found my tenure at Kiwibank to be just like that – after every challenge there’s a new exciting one that stretches me. So I guess what I’m saying is that I look back in pride at being part of a team that’s conquered a number of pretty awesome peaks, but there’s plenty more ahead!

 

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

 

Fletcher-Dobson: Kiwibank’s ethos is to make New Zealanders better off both individually and at a national level and I work as part of the amazing team doing this. We’re celebrating our 10th birthday this year and though we’ve grown massively over this relatively short period of time we have to punch above our weight at every step.

 

To do that you need to have a tremendous culture that enables great people to do great things. This is the heart and soul of Kiwibank and I just hope I’m always seen as someone who helped to contribute to that culture to deliver on our mission. And I’m massively excited to be part of the next 10 years.