An Interview with David Bullock


Bank of New Zealand’s Director of Product and Technology speaks with FST Media about how banks can harness the power of social media to engage with a growing Gen Y customer base.

FST Media: What are your key priorities for Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) in the next 12 to 18 months?

Bullock: BNZ’s strategy is all about enabling people to be good with money. My team is bringing that proposition to life by focusing on three clear priorities. Firstly, we are investing in our people. In order produce great work, you need great people. However, it is equally important to empower those individuals and ensure they have the right opportunities to do great things. My leadership team and I care passionately about removing all of the barriers f our people, in order to create an environment where they can do the best work of their careers. Secondly, we are engaging in simplification. We are serious about making it easier both for customers to bank with BNZ, and for our staff to do their jobs effectively. Our simplification agenda manifests itself across many areas; from creating more self-serve and straight-through solutions for our customers, to Agile development and development operations practices, which improve the, style and speed in which we deliver change into the organisation. Thirdly, we are looking closely at having a significantly positive impact on our customers. We have embedded a relentless focus within our teams to ensure our primary goal is to release work that has positive customer impact. This means a strong focus on user experience and design, so we can ensure that we are creating services that add real value to our customers.

FST Media: What technology or innovation is the “holy grail” that is yet to be delivered in financial services? 

Bullock: If there really is a ‘holy grail’ in financial services, then we need to think about it in terms of customer outcomes, rather than a particular technology. Creating genuine customer value comes down to developing remarkable services and experiences. To deliver that, we have invested heavily in building a world-class design team. They are not traditional bankers, but they share our passion for making banking better for customers, and they are fully empowered to drive the future direction of our digital channels. 

I believe that the experiences we create at BNZ reflect a level of craft, compassion and care for the customer that you would not normally associate with a bank. 

FST Media: How can BNZ enhance its product and customer solutions functions to improve its overall customer journey?

Bullock: Traditionally, banks have been centred on products. At BNZ we have moved away from the traditional understanding of bank products as solely accounts or loans. Instead we think about how and where we create value for our customers, which can lead us forward. 

Our banking platform “You Money” is a perfect example. Instead of “shoehorning” an existing product into online banking, we started with the online experience we wanted to create and we reverse-engineered every part of the product and the platform to deliver that. We accepted no compromise, and by partnering with our customers, created a service and platform that is the best online banking product in the market.

FST Media: How are mobile platforms and digital technologies transforming banking to drive greater efficiency?

Bullock: If you ever get a chance to talk to someone in the BNZ digital team, you will not hear any stories about how the apps they are building are making banking more efficient, but I have no doubt they will be happy to show how their work is making banking simpler and easier for our customers.
That is because at BNZ we do not invest in digital or build our mobile app because it is more efficient. We do it because our customers have told us they want more flexibility and simplicity in the way they manage their money, and we want to help them do just that.

Historically, digital banking has been taking low-value transactions out of the store and making them available online. While that has created greater efficiency for the banks, the relationship being developed with customers is increasingly transactional, which has commoditised banking services. As a result, customer engagement is at a risk of declining. The fact is that the business case to create something that adds real value to our customers often does not add up in terms of simple ROI. Perhaps one way to address this is to de-scope the ‘nice-to-have’ features or cut corners on the usability. You do not pay attention to the micro interactions because individually they do not add up. However, these are the things that matter most because combined they turn an average service into one that customers will value and love, which leads to engagement and loyalty in the long-term.

FST Media: How can banks harness the power of social media to engage with a growing Gen Y customer base?

Bullock: We are finding that nearly all of our customers, Gen Y or otherwise, are involved in social media in some way. BNZ is active on seven or eight social platforms, but engaging fully with social media is more than having a Facebook page.  Last year, we launched BNZ Community, our own peer-to-peer online community which was a first for the sector in New Zealand. It has been popular with 75,000 users registered in the first six months. 

Social media is another way of speaking with and listening to our customers.  It allows us to be part of more conversations and, importantly, listening to the issues and concerns our customers raise. These conversations are transforming businesses, customers and the relationship between the two. We can and do learn a great deal from those conversations and this changing dynamic. We have the ability to involve customers in the development of new services, we can react and iterate faster, we can provide products and services based on current insights, and we can let people, — staff and customers — help shape what we “look like” as a service.

FST Media: How should banks respond to the threat of digital disruptors like Alibaba and Google and their use of big data?

Bullock: It has become fashionable to talk about the potential threats that digital disruptors could be to banks, but I think all industries are in similar situations. The real risk for any organisation looking to the future, is failing to improve or adapt or continue to provide customers with value.

I do not subscribe to the view that people will not need or use banks in the future. What I do believe is that in the digital world, the organisations that will ultimately be successful are the ones that are easiest to do business with. 

For the past 150 years we have seen an economic model where demand has been driven by price. While price still matters, increasingly it is convenience that is driving value in the digital world.  At BNZ we are not only building great solutions for our customers, we are also constantly working out how to make those services as accessible as possible.

FST Media: What is the most overstated technology today?

Bullock: It seems like there is a huge amount of hype across the entire Fintech sector right now. Omni Channel, SoLoMo, Gamification, The Internet of Things, BlockChain and the Uberisation of every industry going.

It has been said many times but it is true, that in the short term we tend to overestimate the impact of technology, but underestimate it in the long term. For me all technology is a journey. So it is not so much about whether something is ‘overstated’ or not. Instead it really depends on where you are on its lifecycle. 

Big Data seems like an area which is still very much in its infancy, and there is a long way to go before we realise the full impact on our daily lives. However, when you consider the sheer volume and types of data we are now collecting, and then combine that with improved processing power and machine learning, I think we will start to see a totally different world. From there I expect to see a whole range of solutions emerge that simply are not on the radar right now. 

FST Media: What are your thoughts on the evolving nature of the CIO role in banking and to what extent has technology shaped their career trajectory? 

Bullock: It does not matter who you are, the CIO or designer; a banker in one of our stores or an agent in the call centre. Technology is shaping everyone’s career. At some point in the future, if you cannot use a computer or you cannot program even just a little, it is going to be like saying today that you cannot write your name. Effectively you will be opting out of a large part of the workforce. 

However, while technology is becoming a core skill for everyone, technology as a discipline is more and more a people business. The job of the CIO continues to be about building great teams, empowering your people and staying focused on creating remarkable solutions for customers. That is precisely why people are the first and most important part of our technology strategy at BNZ.

FST Media: How do you define success?

Bullock: This is a great question and something we think and talk about deeply at BNZ. What you are effectively trying to work out is what is important and how you measure the impact of the work that teams produce.
At BNZ, we have decided to focus on just one key metric: customer advocacy, and we are religiously using Net Promoter Score to measure it. Sure, we still get all the other reports, because there are plenty of other things that are still important, but this is the one we are going to chase, because we are confident that if we can get advocacy right, all the other key metrics will follow.

That said, there is one other KPI that we ask our teams to track and it is my definition of success as a leader. We ask everyone in the BNZ team:  “Are you proud of what you’ve built?” because while you can use statistics to paint any picture you want, you cannot lie to yourself. So, if you have employed the right people and your people are proud of what they have achieved, then the chances are, it is going to be very successful. 

FST Media: What is the role of technology in your everyday life?

Bullock: There is no doubt that almost every day technology continues to play a more important role in my own life. The smartphone has had a huge impact on me and my family. Having a powerful computer in my pocket at all times, to search the web, pay for things, take photos. It is also telling me where true north is, which is really useful for my current house-hunt!  I am also a little embarrassed to say that it also keeps my children entertained at times. 

The mobility and possibilities that the smartphone has created to date have been transformational, and I think we are really only scratching the surface of what these devices can be used for, as greater progress is made in the areas of machine learning and cognitive computing, as two examples.

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Bullock: Creating an environment where our staff is able to do their best work and not be constrained by how a traditional bank should “act and behave” is really important to me. 
I also believe we have a huge opportunity to provide customers with banking that not only meets their needs, but also truly impacts their lives in a positive way and helps them be better with their money. That really excites me.

This interview first appeared in FST Media’s annual magazine The Who’s Who of Financial Services Asia Pacific which launched at the Technology & Innovation – the Future of Banking & Financial Services conference in Melbourne on 3rd June, 2015.