Making virtual a reality for the FSI back office

Remote Work Panel

Leading industry voices Rebecca Lee, GM Retail Operations and Performance, Kiwibank, and Sharron Botica, Chief Customer & Digital Officer, AIA, featured as part of the Future of Work panel discussion at the Future of Financial Services New Zealand 2022, explored changing employee priorities and demands post-lockdown, the increasing Zoom and Teams fatigue challenging today’s workforces, the advent of virtualised office (including dedicated workplace ‘avatars’) for the ‘Roblox’ generation, and the prospect of carving out a new niche for the industry as financial products and services become increasingly embedded in everyday, non-FSI online services.

Moderated by Greg Ward.

Greg Ward (Mod): We know that technology is increasingly and exponentially important to delivering enterprise efficiency.

What are some of the most significant digital transformations you’ve witnessed in your roles that are impacting and introducing new ways of working?

Rebecca Lee (Kiwibank): If I think back across the last 10 or 15 years of my career – and my career hasn’t just been in financial services, it’s been in retail and manufacturing – to the introduction of robotic process automation (RPA), re-platforming, back to the manufacturing days, and voice picking that totally transformed our efficiencies, there’s a lot of that tech that’s still being worked through. And we’re still deploying things like RPA that have long promised an efficiency revolution but have been really hard to extract that value.

For me, what’s interesting when we think about the future and the ways of working, is that we know we’re getting Zoom and Teams fatigue, sitting and looking at the screen all day; we know that’s hard.

And we know our colleagues were telling us that they’re missing out on those corridor conversations that produced those real nuggets of information.


When you look at how future-focused organisations are solving that, there’s a company in Korea that has launched a 30-floor virtual reality office; colleagues are literal avatars are walking through the office between meetings. And, as you’re walking through your virtual corridor and you pass a colleague, your mic and your camera automatically get turned on, so you can have that bump meeting with a colleague. To me, that’s just super interesting and super exciting. And when you think about efficiency, it’s about these things that we’ve lost.

The generation that’s coming through, they all have avatars, they’re all in Roblox, they’re all gamers. This is just native to them.


Our generation might say that it’ll never happen, but people were saying the same thing when the internet was first introduced.


Greg Ward (Mod): That element of being able to connect in so many more real ways is critical. I’m 53. I’m a gamer. I live in Fortnite of all places. And, at the start of Covid, my first thought was, ‘Why aren’t we in Fortnite? We’ve got avatars, we can talk, we can interact, we can move, we can have meetings in a way that took months and months and months for people to even get close to even now. I’m excited by the opportunities.

Sharon, what technologies do you see exponential improving enterprise efficiency?

Sharron Botica (AIA): At AIA, we’re in 18 different markets. And our Korean and our Singapore offices have, in fact, done virtual town halls where our employees create their own avatars. It’s a very real world, and the opportunities in that particular space are quite exciting.

For me, it really comes down to data. We’re an organisation that dates back well over 100 years. Consider that, while we have all of that rich information and data, we often can’t, or couldn’t, find the insight from it; that’s what I’ve seen is moving and changing quite rapidly, now we are a data-driven organisation and very connected by devices as well.

For us, what we do around wellbeing and with AIA Vitality, we connect through these devices to help our customers and reward them through understanding their health in a much deeper way, and doing that in a really positive way.

The other thing we’re doing is working with the Department of Internal Affairs to make sure that there is no family that goes without a life insurance payout.


We’re trying to find the information through [the Department of] Births, Deaths and Marriages to support whānau, so they know insurance will always be paid. From a well-being perspective, use of data and being a data-driven organisation is so key.


Greg Ward (Mod): That’s brilliant, being able to access that information from a government agency to support your customers.

How will technology business and people transform to shape the future of financial services?

Sharron Botica (AIA): We’re part of something special in financial services; consider the data and the information we have covering all of New Zealand and Kiwis starting from a really young age. So, for me, it’s about asking ‘How do we ensure that we are purpose-driven and that we’re making a difference in everything that we do?’. In the insurance world, our reputation isn’t always that good, so how can we turn that around to make a difference in the lives of New Zealanders?

There was a comment on an earlier panel around Open Banking; there’s indeed a lot more partnership happening currently. So, how do we create more of those ecosystems that make it really connected for our customers and consumers? There are lots to still look into in that space, but that is where we’re heading, and it is the positive use of information to make a difference. For financial services, being purpose-led is so critical.

Rebecca Lee (Kiwibank): I couldn’t agree more. The pandemic has meant that, collectively and globally, people have had a lot of time to think.

One of the big things that people have been thinking about during lockdowns is time.


They’re not just thinking about flexibility and ‘How do I want to use my time?’. It’s now: ‘Where do I want to spend my time? What organisations do I want to work in? And what organisations do I want to buy from?’.

From a Kiwibank perspective, as a B Corp, we’re continuously looking at improving how our decisions impact our customers, our colleagues, our whānau, our environment, our suppliers and our communities – and across all those touchpoints. And, for me, Kiwibank really living those B Corp values not just great for us as colleagues but also for our customers.


Greg Ward (Mod):  A future-focused question now. How should the industry be reimagining the role of financial services and the life of today’s digital consumers?

Sharron Botica (AIA): Echoing my last comments, we have a real responsibility: How can we best serve the New Zealand community? How can we make a difference? Start with purpose and let’s make sure that financial services is an industry that Kiwis can feel proud of and that we’re helping them to live better lives.

Rebecca Lee (Kiwibank): Financial services is becoming increasingly commoditised. We’re all platforming; all of our products are going to become vanilla commodities. For me, from a future-focus perspective, how do we use data and the trust that we have with our customers to think about the different kinds of services we’re offering?

At some of the larger financial institutions, particularly, say, in America, you see Goldman Sachs has partnered with AWS to offer, effectively, client servicing by partnering and using their data for their fund manager clients. As a result, customers are having to spend less time doing analysis of data that are already provided for them, and they can focus on trades.

Thinking about how we can use data, how we can use our expertise to provide unique services is going to be the key point of difference for us, because we’re all going to be vanilla in a few years’ time.


So, where are those chocolate chips within the cookies that are going to be within that mix?

This is an edited extract from the Future of Work panel featured at the Future of Financial Services, New Zealand 2022 event.