When it comes to generative AI, ‘we’re not even close!’

Panel NZ Digital Technololgy Leaders

As part of the Technology and Data Panel featured at FST’s Future of Financial Services, New Zealand 2023, panellists opened up about their omnichannel strategies and what defines its success (and, crucially, why it can also expose front-and-centre organisational weaknesses), the opportunities and risks of the emerging Generative AI boom, and what forthcoming Open Banking revolution could bring to NZ’s financial services industry.

Featured on the panel:

  • Bora Arslan, Former Chief Data and Analytics Officer, ASB
  • Jody Bullen, Head of Open Banking, ANZ
  • Alex Smart, Head of Digital, Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI)
  • Adrian Smith, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder, BlinkPay

Moderated by Doug Kamo.

Kamo (Mod): An omnichannel approach has become crucial for meeting customer expectations. How has your organisation successfully implemented an omnichannel strategy that’s resonated with customers?

Smart (SCTI): In our world, omnichannel means knowing what the right experience is at the right time. You want to remove all the technical stuff to make the experience really easy through digital.

Buying a policy is quite easy, and maybe some of your smaller claims are really easy. But when somebody really needs to talk to somebody, you actually need to be available to talk to them.

In our organisation, we don’t see ever getting rid of our contact centres or our claims management teams that actually talk to people.


Our emergency case management teams are really important as well. In fact, we’d like to grow those. But we’d like to focus them on the meaningful points in a customer’s life where they actually need to speak to somebody, and we’d like to grow our digital side for those things that are just annoying and that customers just want to manage easily.

Smith (BlinkPay): When considering omnichannel, one thing we really need to be very mindful of – and I previously worked for a large British bank with an extensive omnichannel capability – is the moment we’re trying to get people to move between those channels. Whether we’re trying to drive that activity or attempting to migrate transactions from expensive offline channels to digital ones or otherwise, we need to be very thoughtful about that moment where we make that handshake between where they’ve come from and where they’re going to. The moment we ask customers to start again, we will get calls, we will get complaints, and we will lose people.

Critically, in this age of instant gratification, people just want to pick up where they left off – think about your Netflix account, about podcasts. That’s the kind of world we live in.

And if we don’t have the ability to do that, we’re presenting to our customers that were not organised internally; it’s actually presenting our internal structure and challenges, whatever they are, outwardly.


That’s the thing we need to be very thoughtful about when we’re doing omnichannel experiences.

Arslan (fmr ASB): An essential part of omnichannel is to make the customer experience as consistent and as smooth as possible with all these different channels. Customers should not feel a completely different experience doing the same thing through an app versus websites or branches.

One really important thing, there are all these different touchpoints, these different ways that we touch our customers – and that’s any way we touch our customers. The totality of that makes it, of course, ‘omnichannel’.

One thing that we don’t do really well is asking questions: What’s the main purpose of this touchpoint? What’s the main interaction that we’re having with customers at this touchpoint? What kind of data will feed into this interaction and how do we inform this interaction? What kind of data do we collect from this interaction? And what happens to that data – where does it flow and where does it go? And, what are the liabilities and opportunities associated with that interaction? So on and so forth. Once you portray this picture, this really informs how we can think through and enrich our strategies, if you will.


Kamo (Mod): How can businesses empower customers to choose the preferred channels for interactions to customise their own omnichannel experience? And what benefits can this customer-centric approach bring in terms of enhancing satisfaction, loyalty and overall business success?

Smith (BlinkPay): Not to rubbish this question, but I wonder, do we empower customers to make channel choices or do they just select channels based on their own experience and their own needs?

The idea of customising omnichannel is interesting, however. When I joined Barclays Bank in 2011, they’d spent an eyewatering sum of money on creating a customisable and personalised online banking homepage. It was all modules; you could drag and drop; it was thought to be so cool, with many in the business thinking, ‘We’re going to drive adoption and engagement through this!’ But when customers tried it, they did it once, and there weren’t as many people as we thought.

Three years later, when we relaunched the online homepage, we built in a more transactional model that did materially better. Our research showed that customers simply wanted to transact: ‘This is my homepage and this is where I come to transact. I don’t want to fanny about doing stuff. I want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Don’t get in the way, please! There was an actual attitudinal thing going on behind the behaviours of the transactional.

So, if you’re going to do omnichannel, make sure you understand the attitudes and the behaviours and the mental models that your customers already have.


However, considering omnichannel today, it’s likely to be more apposite for the current operating environment and something we should all deeply consider.


Kamo (Mod): Moving on to data capabilities. Bora [Arslan], to anchor this question, in what ways is the integration of Generative AI, machine learning and cloud computing technologies, revolutionising data management practices?

Arslan: Generative AI is really a very cool technology, but in terms of what we do today, we’re not even close! There are two aspects to that. Number one is making some sense of our unstructured data – whether it’s emails, customer satisfaction verbatims, or anyway we collect unstructured feedback from customers. Now, that’s easier than the second bit. That is, once we have that knowledge, we need to go back to customers with a reason as to why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we believe this thing that we offer is in the best interest of the customer. These are huge opportunities, but we’re not there yet.

All of that said, I want to underline – and it’s something I’ve highlighted a fair bit – that Generative AI or machine learning is only as good as the way we manage our data.


That means data management is essential and data literacy is essential. And a very important facet of that is data ownership. Businesses should feel the responsibility to keep the integrity of the data; that’s so essential. They should appreciate the value that the data generates for them and should feel the responsibility to maintain that integrity.

Smart (SCTI): I’m not a data expert, but I am really cautious about reducing customers to ones and zeros. Data can tell us a lot about a customer without us having to talk to them – you can definitely see trends, see behaviours, all sorts of things. But nothing beats actually speaking to customers.

We make a lot of assumptions when we deliver digital transformations and experience design. But we really need to go and test that by talking to customers. The more the world moves into a digital data landscape, the more people are craving real people, real stories, real engagement and real empathy.

If we forget that challenge, then we will miss out on some key opportunities with our customers.

Smith (BlinkPay): Data tells us the what but it doesn’t tell us the why. The data is the quant but the qual is having a conversation – Why did you do that thing? Why are you trying to do this weird thing we’ve never seen before? Are you trying to solve this other problem we haven’t actually considered at all? That’s really important.

The other crucial point that Bora made is that, if we’re dealing with that level of data, we always want to turn data into insight, because, gosh, we could drown in lakes of data! But asking my team, ‘What’s this telling me?’, they’d say, ‘I don’t know!’ At one point I had 12 PhDs working on this for me. If we can’t turn that data into insight, then where is its true value?


Kamo (Mod): Moving on to digital ecosystems. Jody, how does the implementation of Open Banking, with its emphasis on Open APIs and data sharing, support the development of a robust and interconnected digital ecosystem within our financial services industry?

Bullen (ANZ): I’m going to start by saying that data sharing, in fact, exists today. Everybody here would have experienced the ‘Can you please send me your statements?’ when applying for a loan, or perhaps when verifying your identity or address.

The concept of consumers getting data out of a banking app or internet banking is not really new in that sense – we’ve all done it. But there are real constraints in this mode. It’s really a one-off; you can’t power ongoing experiences, and consumers don’t want to reload everything. But it’s good for those one-off assessments. Also, if you’re a small business, you get data transferred into your accounting system. And I won’t even get into screen scraping, where customers are sharing banking credentials! But that’s all happening today. This is our reference point.

For me, though, that isn’t Open Banking. Open Banking is really about developing a framework of standardised, safe and secure ways that allow customers to share data in a trusted way within a trusted ecosystem. For instance, your broker could just ask, ‘Hey, what’s your mobile number?’ and you then receive a request in your banking app, you can then safely go in and view that request and make a decision.

A previous presenter talked about the ‘trust pause’; it’s a big thing: ‘Do I want to do this?… Yes, I do’. As a customer, you can approve, you can then view it, and you can stop it. That’s all driven off the customer’s control. I just want a big call out for the industry as well, collectively – and Adrian has been a big part of this.

The industry has spent about 100,000 hours building the framework under which Open Banking could evolve and we’re really interested to see where CDR goes.


What does this all mean? It means that working together is going to be a whole lot easier. We’re talking about being able to do partnering opportunities that would have taken years before – they’d have been highly customised, very specific, high risk, high cost and lots of effort, with potentially weeks or months to be able to start working together. Working together, we can create things that are new and that couldn’t be done on our own. That’s super exciting!

I also just want to quickly touch on an example to bring that to life. It’s one that we’ve worked on with a service called View Bills. We worked with one of our biggest customers, Spark, one of the biggest billers in the country, and looked at what problems can we solve by working together. Ultimately, where we’ve landed is the ability for Spark customers to sign up and get their bill delivered in a trusted, secure environment straight into our banking app; it’s a one-click pay – so, really easy for customers. In terms of preventing scams, this is a trusted provider delivering it into a trusted account: ‘I trust it, it’s in there, I can pay it, I can press it, and I can feel really comfortable’. It’s really good for billers: it gets payments earlier, on time, and it’s a great new service for us to be able to offer our customers to build trust and mitigate risks. But there are lots of other examples.

We’re working together to deliver these transformational new experiences in ways that we couldn’t have done before – that, for me, is what Open Banking is all about

Arslan (fmr ASB): If I can add my two cents there. We should not really see Open Banking as something that we need to comply with, because we’re asked to do it. We should see it as an opportunity. We heard from Nano, their innovation in doing a home loan approval in eight minutes. That’s beautiful. That’s what Open Banking can enable, things like straight-through loan approval.


Kamo (Mod): This actually covers much of my next question. That is, what are the significant opportunities of the convergence of Open Banking and digital ecosystems and the financial services industry? Could you give us a few more examples of those?

Bullen (ANZ): There are lots of examples and it’s probably fair to say that, when we think about a Consumer Data Right where you can pull data from many different sources, different sectors, the use cases are quite endless – and ones we can’t even imagine right now!

Overseas, we can look at things like improving customers’ financial well-being, and there’s a lot of work around that. That can be everything from seeing a complete view of your finances in one place, in, say, your banking app; it might be because you’re working with an adviser to get better advice; it might be because we want to provide better suitability or affordability.

Remember, Open Banking is not just about data sharing, it’s also about payments and the movement of money. You can start to think about, for instance, helping customers avoid fees, or interest optimisation and helping customers save. We have third parties that can do round-up based on the transactions they’ve done, or particular categories that they’ve actually shopped on.

With onboarding, it’s looking at automating the lending process, but it could also improve the sign-up process for a utility – for instance, you won’t need to put your details in because ANZ has already verified that for you; you can just carry on and sign up for the service.

And then, of course, there’s payments. This could include things like paying your bills, but also invoices, subscriptions, peer-to-peer – a whole range of options.

There are lots of use cases. But we should really be challenging ourselves to deliver the transformational stuff. A lot of Open Banking innovations that have happened overseas exist already in some form. Where are those transformational use cases? It’d be awesome to see those right here in New Zealand!

This is an edited extract from the Technology and Data Leaders’ Panel featured at the Future of Financial Services, New Zealand 2023 conference.