An Interview with Maria Ternezis


FST Media: What are your IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Ternezis: Our IT priorities are all focused on meeting our customer’s changing needs. Our customers want to bank however and whenever they like and we need to keep innovating to ensure we are always delivering the best possible services to meet their needs.

In addition, over the next 18 months, we are also driving a Simplification and Operational Excellence agenda across our Technology Business. This focuses on three key areas – our people and partners, our processes and controls and our technology landscape, which are all areas that ultimately enable the way we deliver the best possible service to our customers.

FST Media: What technology or innovation will be a game-changer for the financial services industry in the year ahead?

Ternezis: It is not so much a question of what technology or innovation will be the game changer but rather a question of who will be most effective at responding to the many ways customers choose to interact with financial services.

The customer engagement model has switched 180 degrees from ‘Push’ to’ Pull’, whereas once banks would push new ways of banking out to our customers. For example, with the introduction of ATMs, our customers are now driving changes in the way we do things through their changing habits and their need to interact with us how and when they want. We need to be ‘on’ 24 x 7, have omnichannel offerings, and be fast to market whilst always being disciplined and secure in the way we run and change our business.

FST Media: How is Westpac disrupting itself to achieve innovation?

Ternezis: Let’s look at this question more broadly. If you look at the sectors that are struggling to keep up with new technologies or other innovations in their field and where there is most disruption for new startups, there is a common theme – and it is that these sectors and businesses do not put their customers changing needs at the heart of their business.

Westpac has a customer-first delivery model. We are driven by our customer’s changing needs so disrupting the way we work is a business-as-usual state. Specifically, disrupting how we work, where we work from and how we partner both internally and externally, ensures that we come up with the most efficient, effective and proactive ways of doing things. The language at Westpac has moved – you hear about the workforce of the future, Worksmart, The Hive, The Garage, hot houses, cross-functional delivery centres, crowdsourcing, resource cloud, and hackathons on a daily basis – these are all ways of working without boundaries to produce innovative solutions to known and unknown customer issues and demands.

FST Media: How important is it for Westpac to invest in tech start-ups? And how will you measure the success of these investments in the business?

Ternezis:  At the World Economic Forum earlier this year, Westpac was formally ranked number one in the 2014 ‘Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World’. Partnering with Tech start-ups is an extension of our sustainability agenda. It is our commitment to provide up-and-coming stand-alone talent with a chance to convert ideas into realities. It is also part of Westpac’s new way of working that I mentioned earlier. We want to source the best talent in a broader manner and our recently announced partnership with Blue Chilli for our inaugural Innovation Challenge is an example of a ‘win/win’ scenario that plays to everyone’s strengths.

FST Media: How is Westpac’s online transformation progressing?

Ternezis: This has been a foundational transformation that is delivering best-in-class customer-centric solutions in online banking. We now have 2.7 million consumer customers regularly using Westpac Live. The next stage is to move our business and premium customers onto Westpac Live and we expect to complete this by early next year. So far, feedback from customers, the market and our staff has been extremely positive.

FST Media: How do you think Australian banks, and Westpac, are placed to keep up with the rapid move from business-centric to customer-centric?

Ternezis: Australian banks are best placed to be innovative; in fact in many ways much more so than our international counterparts. We have the four major banks sharing customers across a smaller market whereas many international banks are competing against many for a bigger market. Also, the innovations I noted in Asia whilst based in Singapore seemed to be more around intelligent ATMs and Branch modernisation because that was the way customers were choosing to interact with their banks. Ultimately this reinforces the fact that customer service innovations will drive our point of difference to the other major banks and globally and we need to be delivering the best possible service solutions for our customers.

We also need to be our own disrupters if we are going to thrive in this new environment. For example, Westpac recently launched ‘Emergency Cash’, a service where customers who have lost their wallet or left it at home, can phone our call centres, get a special PIN and withdraw cash from their own accounts from an ATM without a card. The response from our customers has been really positive because we were responding directly to a customer need. And the innovation doesn’t stop there. Last Month, Westpac released a new ‘Get Cash’ app, which builds on our original idea of ‘Emergency Cash’ and completely removes the need for an ATM card altogether. Our customers can now log on to mobile banking and with a few taps receive a text with a special PIN to enter into the ATM to withdraw cash. As you can see, we are constantly looking for ways to disrupt ourselves and to keep delivering better services for our customers to keep up with their changing needs.

FST Media: Has consumer adoption of tap-and-go and NFC technology been successful? And how will Westpac continue to build on this?

Ternezis: Absolutely. Contactless debit cards have been embraced by Australians with 60 per cent of all scheme debit card transactions in Australia now made using contactless technology. Westpac’s Chief Product Officer, David Lindberg, estimated in April this year that around three million Australians will be making just under $3 billion worth of transactions via contactless payments on mobile devices in 2015.

Westpac has rolled out contactless payment functionality on the Samsung GALAXY S4 and S5 handsets. We have also released a small business payment solution, Mobile PayWay, to allow them to accept customer payments on the go. We will continue to innovate in this area to meet our customer’s changing needs.

FSR Media: What role will biometrics play in the future of Westpac’s products and services? And how will you address security concerns?

Ternezis:  As far as we know, Westpac Group was the first bank in the world to utilise new technology that allows customers to securely log on to mobile banking on their iPhone 5S or 6 by using the fingerprint sensor, known as Touch ID.

St George, Bank of Melbourne and BankSA have recently launched Touch ID log-on for their mobile banking customers, and St.George and Bank SA will shortly be updating their mobile banking apps to have the same service.

This new technology adds further security and convenience for the increasing number of our customers banking on their smartphones. It is another example of our customers’ changing needs driving change in our banking services. We are excited to be at the forefront of innovation, providing quicker and easier ways for our customers to check their balances, transfer funds, and complete other transactions.

We are working to extend the fingerprint login for mobile banking capability to the Android-based Samsung Galaxy S5 in the coming months.

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

Ternezis: Shaking our thinking is key to achieving a culture of innovation. The Technology team at Westpac is working toward our vision ‘B.E.S.T’ – Be an Entrepreneurial Simplified Technology. This is a mindset shift. Just like entrepreneurs, we want to take risks without making risks and remove barriers to delivery including the traditional hierarchical divides.

Ultimately this mindset ensures that agile becomes not just a delivery methodology but a way of doing business. That mindset will drive innovation. So too will our move to agile working – soon staff across the company will be working in a new environment that allows them to choose where they work from, who they sit next to, who they connect to and how they deliver. Giving people flexibility at work will create more opportunities for innovative thinking.

My advice is you need to be your own disrupter and constantly think of ways to simplify and have innovative solutions – that’s when you get the best outcomes for your customers and your business.

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

Ternezis:  Everyone has a part to play in making a difference. Regardless of your role, background, education, or circumstances there are no barriers other than the ones we build ourselves. It is up to us as individuals, teams, leaders and people to have the courage to come to work every day and make that difference. I would like my legacy to be that I have taken people on this journey and walked the talk along the way.