An interview with Simon Clarke


Suncorp’s Head of Digital Banking and Physical Interactions speaks with FST Media about how the bank is progressing with its optimised core banking platform.

FST Media: What is next for Suncorp in the coming 12 to 18 months?

Clarke: Our core banking overhaul is in full motion and we are hitting the final leg of that overhaul in the next 12 months. Our big focus in that project is to consider how we can best design and operate our digital banking platforms. We want to utilise what is coming out from our development teams, in terms of the ‘best in class’ innovations and outside of that, we have a considerable amount of work that has been planned ahead for our mobile app. This includes personalisation, push alerts and some functionality around managing customer cards, both debit and credit cards.

We pride ourselves in putting together our skills and road maps, across all of our digital channels, and then we actually survey our listening base. We put surveys in our online banking platform, our mobile app platform, and we say to our customers, “Here are some features we think you would like, what would you like to see come first or what do you like the most?” 

We call that ‘features scoring’, so predominantly a majority of our roadmap, in terms of features and sequencing, is handled by our customers. We are quite proud of the fact that we try and have our customer base involved as much as we can in terms of how we craft our roadmap and then how we actually design the inner details of those experiences.

FST Media: How is Suncorp progressing with its construction of an optimised core banking platform by 2017?

Clarke: That is really the culmination of our new core banking platform in line with Oracle and it will provide us with state-of-the-art functionality to become a new bank in due course. It gives us a brand new core banking system that has been built by a very large team here over the last few years and we are already starting to see the benefits of that in terms of our initial products going live in the personal living space.

We have home lending rolled out and we are already reaping the benefits of our new CRM so it really gives us the ability to have a real time core banking platform with flexibility at its core. This allows teams such as ours to look at our customers and the insights and understand what are the features and functionalities they want. We can then build experiences with our core banking system. For example, on functionality and most digital features, it can take months to construct because there is very heavy complex integration to your legacy core systems but with our new core systems it is very API driven. For our digital team, they can easily build a functionality and easily integrate that into our core systems through the live API. This rapidly accelerates our speed in the market and it takes away all the frustrations of complex integration, we can simply focus purely on building things for customers that they want and not worry about those complexities and lags of development when it comes to design.

FST Media: What is the holy grail that is yet to be delivered in financial services?

Clarke: In the Australian market, the two areas I see of interest are the utilisation of data and personal financial management (PFM). With data, like most banks Suncorp has a ridiculous array of data and now we find most of us are talking about small data. There is a greater amount of expectation now and the likes of the American tech giants have really paved the way for personalisation. It is all about how you actually utilise the data customers have given you and then return it back to them in a personalised and relevant form. We are very much now in the space where customers are happy to give us certain attributes of data but if you do not actually utilise that and return information that is relevant to them – such as what they like to buy online or what types of services, hobbies and financial goals they may have – it makes the entire banking experience irrelevant.

Moving into personalisation, the ability to mimic that experience in a branch where you have a face-to-face interaction with a person who knows you by name, knows what your financial goals are, is difficult. Today, branch members can assist you to either optimise your current suite of products and services to get the most out of them and then understand, based on your changes in your lifestyle, what may suit you going forward and I think we have all struggled to really do the digital version of that. I think that is an area where, with the culmination of data personalisation and innovative software, the banks who can nail that are going to be in a very good spot.

Personal financial management is another key area of interest. We have a PFM app in our desktop on the My Banking offering and banks have traditionally dabbled in the desktop space. 

We know banking applications are one of the most engaging apps that people use because they obviously want to be aware and know what is happening with their money. The ability to manage your everyday banking and overlay that with unique data and personalisation is key so it can give you spend insights and ways to save money by changing habits. It is all about applying a human interaction in a digital space and I think that perfect triangle of managing your money day-to-day, getting that personal financial management experience in place, and merging that with the world of contactless payments will certainly reap the rewards for most banks. For me, those are the two big opportunities that we see and we are certainly looking at blending a myriad of user experience, omni-channel strategy and technical software delivery. A key consideration for us is how we can bring together all those attributes to achieve that end state which is what we believe customers are looking for: to replicate that human experience in a bank branch in online channels.

FST Media: With respect to career progression, what is the best advice that you have ever received?

Clarke: I have been working in digital now for quite a few years and I think we are certainly well accustomed to change management from the time you put a roadmap together. If you have a passion for working in digital, keeping an open mind and absorbing as much industry content as you can is key. There is a world of knowledge out there – whether it be your own employer or what is happening in the Australian landscape or it could be the culmination of having an open mind. 

Having a passion to try new things and understanding what makes our customers tick is certainly crucial and important too, if you can grasp what the customers of today or tomorrow want. Digital’s a place where you can make a lot of mistakes or you can reap massive reward and opportunity so I think that is certainly the best advice I have had in the world where we take the challenges around evolving regulation and change management, and then bringing those lead principles and overlaying them into a banking environment. That is certainly a great combination to have and I think that demonstrates the success here of the team of merging those skill sets together to effectively manage the things that we all have to do as bankers, but certainly provide those lean and agile principles to build user experiences at speed and at quality.

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

Clarke: Putting yourself into the mindset of wanting to try new things is vital. With the advent of so much change, innovation and technology, you need to be willing to have a go at what is out there and understand what are the customer challenges, what are the customer problems, as well as understanding how you can solve those in a nimble fashion. We need to try to learn how to evoke those passions in a banking and increasingly digital world where those challenges are evident, as this is something that will be very well warranted as our customers’ demands increase.