An Interview with Sandeep Baruah


Pollack: What are your top business priorities for over the next 12 to 18 months?


Baruah: As custodians of the online channel my team has three major business priorities: operations, strategy and innovation. From an operational perspective our key focus is to keep improving and Internet banking, so that our customers can do more online, more easily with the convenience and safety of secure 24/7 access.


To achieve this we continue to improve the overall customer experience as well as our content, tools, functionality and customer self-service capabilities. Recent improvements we’ve made have focused on improving the tools that provide instant advice and help our customers self service.


For example the Web chat capabilities for NAB Online Assistant (NOLA), our 24/7 automated chat tool, have been expanded to provide customers with advice on even more topics. We recently also launched online product reviews, encouraging customers to share their views on NAB credit cards and in turn helping others decide if our products are right for them.


This is the next step in our social commerce approach, and also helps us improve our relationship with customers by allowing us to listen to feedback, provide relevant help and advice, and improve our products and services.


From an innovation perspective, we consider the digital channel as an opportunity to complement existing channels but also as a key differentiator. We recognise that there is scope in the digital space for a lot of innovation. Identifying, selecting and implementing these opportunities are a key focus for us over the next 12 to 18 months.


Pollack: NAB’s ‘Break Up’ was one of the banking industry’s most successful advertising campaigns in recent times. What role did the online component play in the execution of the campaign?


Baruah: Three years ago NAB embarked on a business strategy that centred on the philosophy of Fair Value. Since then we have committed to the long-term strategy of differentiating ourselves through this philosophy.Consumers are more empowered than ever before, so we understand just how important it is for us to engage with our customers in an authentic way. Digital and online channels are a great way to facilitate conversation.


The Break Up campaign provided a unique opportunity for us to have an open dialogue with our customers. Going right back to the start, you will recall that the whole campaign started with a Tweet. At the time we also created a micro site specifically for the Break Up campaign showcasing our key messages and videos. Our print and other media cross promoted this site so we saw a huge amount of people visiting the pages.


Digital also played a big role in new customers coming to the bank thanks to the campaign. Since its launch we’ve had over 650,000 people join NAB and many of these customers did their research and also applied for products and services online.


We’ve continued to promote competition and fair value in the industry and our latest campaign has gone a step further in listening to our customers, opening the first dedicated Switch Helpline in Australia – 13SWITCH. We know that many customers find switching banks difficult, so we are supporting them through this page and with our dedicated helpline.


Pollack: What do you see as the essential elements of creating a successful online community in the retail banking space?


Baruah: Defining a clear common purpose that the community coalesces around is an essential starting point. This begins with asking the question ‘what is the purpose of this community, why does it exist?’ and identifying the needs of that particular community.


Fostering participation is also important to get some momentum and any community needs constant nurturing before organic growth sets in. Online communication is all about authentic and open dialogue, and this is something we certainly encourage with our customers across all channels.


As a next step, face to face meetings either in a social or business setting can further strengthen the bonds of an online community. We’ve experimented with Google+ hangouts and are looking at other ways to broaden our online scope to facilitate a face to face dialogue.


Finally, we’re also looking at ways in which we can connect the members of our online community with each other as an evolution of the channel. We see our eventual role as facilitating connections beyond our own engagement with customers.


Pollack: How has the growth of online engagement and social media transformed the relationship between marketing and technology at NAB?


Baruah: The social media team at NAB is a cross-functional one, including representatives from the direct banking business, marketing, corporate affairs and customer service. As such we aim to bring cross-functional teams closer, working collaboratively to deliver the best customer experience.


These teams have always worked together closely. I guess you could say that online engagement and social media has got the teams working even closer together.


Pollack: With most regular retail banking functions now able to be performed via mobile apps, what do you see as the next significant step in the evolution of mobile banking?


Baruah: We really see the mobile wallet as the next significant step, as customers look to their mobile phones to provide even more functionality.


We’re also noticing more choice of devices with new tablets and Android devices becoming available in the market all the time. We’ve led the way in the industry by making our Internet banking app available on all smartphone’s and tablets, and this will become even more important as users look beyond the current offerings.


Pollack: With Google recently launching its own wallet app, and other tech giants poised to make retail finance plays, how do you see these entrants transforming the marketplace?


Baruah: As mentioned previously, we see the mobile wallet as the next big step. We’re actively working towards a future where our customers will be able to use their mobile phone as a wallet, believing it will be a crucial enabler to meet consumers’ evolving demand for greater convenience, security and choice.


We’re also working on how to provide the means for businesses whether small, medium or large to get into the digital payments space by enabling collections, invoicing, and payments.


An industry-standard mobile wallet solution is required, rather than a splintered approach. So we’re closely monitoring developments in the industry and speaking with potential partners in telecommunications and also with the various payment schemes to explore opportunities.


We believe real advancements in this area will occur when the technology allows existing propositions to be met, or new ones created, in a more efficient, economically viable and scaleable manner.


Pollack: NAB was one of the first Australian banks to trial Near-Field-Communication (NFC) technology. Where is the bank currently situated with its NFC program and how can negative public perception about the technology’s security be overcome?


Baruah: In 2008, we pioneered the first ever NFC trial in Australia in partnership with Telstra and Visa. We are continuing to make great strides in improving our ability to meet consumers’ growing preference for transacting on this channel.

In terms of security, it’s important to stress that we haven’t seen any links between this new technology and fraud activity.


We understand that security of money is extremely important, we have in place an industry-leading card monitoring system that can detect and decline fraud within seconds. Our customers are also protected by the NAB Defence Security promise. In the unlikely event of fraud our customers can be sure that NAB will reimburse 100 per cent of any amount fraudulently removed from their account.


Pollack: What customer channels are proving to be the most effective for NAB and which channels are growing the fastest?


Baruah: Customers want choice about how they bank: face-to-face, digital, in store, over-the-phone, or through brokers or online aggregators. NAB has a full service, multi channel value proposition and each channel is effective in its own way. There is no doubt that online engagement, social media and social commerce increases the velocity of doing business. We’re certainly seeing that our digital channels are growing very rapidly in terms of usage, activity and sales.


Within the digital channels we are noticing a big uptake of our mobile offerings, with nearly 30 per cent of Internet banking sessions now occurring on mobile.


Pollack: What skills do you value most highly when recruiting executives into your team?


Baruah: This depends on the role and the particular skill sets we need to complement that of others in the team. What I look for is a combination of skills and character traits that would help the person and the team achieve success in the role.


Leadership, communication, strong interpersonal and influencing skills are always valuable allied with an ability to innovate and take risks. From a character traits perspective a positive attitude, resilience and being a good team player is pretty important as well.


Pollack: Every business leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?


Baruah: I think for me Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it up best: ‘To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children… to leave the world a better place… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.’