An interview with Clare Tam

Clare Tam

Clare Tam will be a featured guest panellist at the Future of Banking and Financial Services conference, Melbourne, on 1 June, 2016.

By Hope William-Smith


FST Media: What are your priorities for the next 6 months? 

Tam: In the last financial year VicSuper successfully implemented a new integrated core administration platform that provides a consolidated view of member data and an improved member/employer experience. We are now utilising the most contemporary, best-practice system in the industry. This was an important step in our digital evolution and sets a strong foundation for our future.

We intend to keep innovating by taking advantage of these open systems with a focus in the shorter term on improving this platform to support straight through processing, automatic reconciliation and efficient investment of contributions, as well as providing robust reporting functionality and a single-client view of member data.

In the next few months we are also exploring further utilisation of algorithmic services to increase engagement with our members. In addition, we are increasing our efforts in understanding of our members through data analytics / big data and carefully managing data security and privacy implications.

FST Media: What skills or advice would you give aspiring technology chiefs for future success?

Tam: In the current financial services space there is scope for looking at advanced machine learning as well as autonomous agents with algorithmic decision playing a significant role in businesses of the future. We really acknowledge that in this space, there will be long term evolution and it’s going to be a continuous process over the next 5-10 years, or even longer. VicSuper is very interested in investing in this evolving area.

FST Media: What is the most significant challenge facing your industry in the year ahead?

Tam: The most practical and immediate challenge in recent months is the uncertain legislative environment which has implications on how we develop new products and advice systems, and how our IT is going to evolve to deal with any changes that occur.

The second major challenge is digital disruption. While we have new technologies coming on board, we need to think how we can quickly utilise the technology to maximise any opportunity it presents.

Lastly, education and engagement for women around superannuation is really important. This is a focus for us as an organisation and for our members, as we have quite a strong population of females in our membership base. This focus is important because females are generally under-contributing to fund their retirement because professionally they often have career breaks and the gender pay gap is a factor, so for us making super real for them and relevant is so important. At VicSuper, employing women in technology roles is also a priority. Whilst I’ve been quite fortunate, most of the technical people in my team are males so most importantly for us we’re hoping to recruit more females into IT roles, so we get greater diversity. We are utilising new recruitment techniques where we remove the candidates name from CVs to remove any unconscious gender bias that may exist.

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?

Tam: If you look at our journey, we have recently been quite innovative in our product development with our work with Challenger in the retirement income space as well as us embarking on various strategic partnerships.

As an organisation we have started to introduce more innovation through formal innovation frameworks such as the ‘Human Centred Design’ methodology. This encourages and fosters a culture of innovation to challenge the status quo, test ideas and concepts to create new processes, products, services, or systems for our members. We have multidiscipline groups of employees that we form into teams, to encourage a culture of innovation focusing on a problem we to looking to solve for our members, and it is this that really drives us.

We have also adopted innovation as one of our new Employee Values. It is highlighted in the Balanced score card for the business as well as included in staff KPIs.

FST Media: Where do you look for emerging technology trends?

Tam: We do a lot of work with research groups in the IT space as well as in the business space. Being involved in conferences like FST means we get to meet other people in our discipline. In addition to finding out the current trends and building relationships, we also get to meet people who are really thinking outside the square and share industry papers and articles.

We also form quite strong business partnerships with various technology partners to try to see how we can work together to create a concept and get to the market faster.

It is however important in this space to decipher and pick up what is relevant and will add real value to our members and not to get distracted by all sorts of ideas!

FST Media: What are the key lessons learnt from the most recent major technology overhaul at VicSuper?

Tam: Our core system change journey as we move from bespoke systems has really unearthed a number of learnings.

The key lesson has been how important it is to have business partners and top quality vendors. Working collaboratively with your vendor to exploit technology is extremely important. Our partnerships have allowed us to extract the best out of the systems and customise what we buy for our particular needs. However, you need to ensure you are not simply customising and replicating what you had before as a result of failing to think outside the square. You need to appreciate that software built to service a large number of users will very likely require you to change some practices to meet the requirements of the software

Another key learning from the recent overhaul was to empower our people to let them be innovative throughout the process. This gives them the opportunity to not just implement the technology to replicate what we were doing. It rather gives them a chance to really blend innovation into what we’re doing, and to see it as an opportunity to do things differently where it makes sense.

FST Media: What are the key challenges and learning of VicSuper’s digital evolution so far?

Tam: As a medium sized firm our key challenge is how to take advantage of new cloud based technologies while balancing the opportunity with associated risk. There are some innovative cloud solution providers in the market but there are also some small vendors that may disappear in twelve months, so it’s difficult because we need continuity of service. Our challenge is to weigh up cost and opportunity of the new technology available and at the same time, look at the exposure of service continuity, data, security and a series of other things when we use a cloud services. Currently it’s time consuming so it’s something we need to work through.

As the rhythm of business moves faster, integration of systems is key as real time solutions are extremely important. Once again it’s looking at the trade-off between the cost and the key benefits. 

FST Media: How does VicSuper respond to digital and fintech disruption in a rapidly evolving technology landscape?

Tam: There are a few areas where we spend quite a bit of time thinking about this as a business. We are trying to leverage all this new open technology we have adopted to speed up processing and automation and at the same time we are looking at other new complementary platforms. We are monitoring all manner of different technologies to see where we can deliver real value to our members.

VicSuper has many members that rely on payments from their superannuation. In the past the industry was known for delaying payments to hold onto money. We are now looking at how to provide members almost immediate access to funds by leveraging new open technology. Blockchain is one such platform that is currently in play for payments and there are a few others we are monitoring.

We are also monitoring closely Fintech aggregators that aim to assist members in managing their investments. There are obviously pros and cons of this technology and we are still observing if there is real value to members once the market matures.

In the insurance space we continue to see digital disruption., We have excellent underwriters who we work with to try to make things as real time for our members as possible and have recently rolled out Insurance Online. We need to understand where the role of technology meets our policies and our process and understanding our membership.

FST Media: What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Tam: My family and in particular my dad from my earliest memory always told me that you have to believe in yourself and follow your passion. It’s quite interesting newer generations do not have an issue with following their passions – they are more confident! In my case my passion for technology-empowered business strategy and embracing disruption has been central throughout my career in identifying growth opportunities. So really I think the best career advice was thanks to my dad!

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy that they wish to be remembered for.  What is yours? 

Tam: During a period of great uncertainty due to technological change & disruption, like right now, as a leader it’s imperative to have a vision. The vision must entail how to take advantage of the change to bring about business value in other words to be a leader. Then you need to share that vision and manage it upwards.

You then need to consider how to inspire all staff to come on a journey, grab their opportunities and get excited, rather than feeling that it’s all too hard. As a leader while you may not have it totally right, in the finer detail, directionally you are confident where you are going and can always make strategic modifications to reach your goal. Accordingly it’s crucial to have a common shared vision; it’s not just your vision, it’s the vision of your whole organisation and of people below you. That’s the exciting bit that makes me want to come to work!

Clare Tam will be a featured guest panellist at the Future of Banking and Financial Services conference, Melbourne, on 1 June, 2016. To learn more about the conference agenda or keynote speakers at the event, click here.