Interview with Tim Cullen, Head of Direct Channels, National Australia Bank


Sharwood: The NAB recently introduced SMS banking, why did you choose SMS over other mobile technologies?


Cullen: Our approach for mobile banking at the NAB was to develop an overarching strategy with a clear roadmap. The first step in this roadmap was to introduce a solution that was totally ubiquitous, namely it would be available to all users irrespective of their handset or technical capability. We chose the SMS Banking option because it provides a simple and consistent user interface for our customers that they are already familiar with. In addition, our customers already use a SMS Security solution within Internet Banking that provides a second level of authentication for higher risk transactions. The opportunity exists for additional SMS alerting services such as account balances and credit card payments that can be responded to by the user within the same SMS user interface. This decision was taken following an assessment of the three main mobile banking options available – Browser, Java and SMS. The Browser based solution was discounted due to the wide range of handsets and inability to guarantee a consistent user experience. The installation of a “Java” based application was also discounted primarily due to feedback from our focus groups indicating that the self install requirement would be a major technical obstacle for a large proportion of users. Secondly, we have seen a growing trend of corporates such as ourselves “locking down” their employee handsets and removing the ability for users to install “Java” applications.


Sharwood: The NAB website has a very unusual social and graphical interface, can you explain the thinking behind it?


Cullen: At the NAB, we are continually looking for ways to provide our customers with the right financial advice, based on their particular life stage or life event needs. We think we have developed an online tool that is quite unique within the financial services industry called NAB life: to NAB Life is a totally personalised customer driven rather than product driven experience. Customers segment themselves via their stage of life, income level and age, and can then explore specific life events and receive valuable non-biased advice as well as links to relevant NAB products and services. NAB life is a great user experience for our customers to connect with us online, incorporating a highly visual interface including audio and video. Customers can then take that relationship to the next step through our online, voice or branch channels. The reality is that it is too hard to describe this unique online experience in words – just visit and make your own assessment.


Sharwood: NAB recently trialed live chat through its website. How did that go and what did you learn?


Cullen: The NAB has run a “Click to Chat” and “Click to Call Back” service on the Home Loan and Credit Card areas of our web site for the last six months. The first observation was that “Chat” volumes were significantly greater than “Call Back”. This is probably explained by customers not wanting to change channels and have that totally anonymous experience. We also received a greater response when proactively asking customers if they wanted some assistance when on a particular web page for an extended period. We received overwhelming positive feedback from those customers who used our “Chat” service. Numerous “chats” lasted more than 60 minutes as customers explored our website or launched an application form online and then returned to ask a range of questions. We are actively working to assess the value provided by these chat sessions as many questions are either service related or the customer may end up fulfilling their needs through another channel such as our branch. We are exploring some innovative automation opportunities to make the service a more efficient and richer user experience.


Sharwood: How do you see Web 2.0 technologies impacting on the way banks present and deliver their product offerings?


Cullen: Web 2.0 will provide our customers with the opportunity to contribute a wider range of information, while giving more control in personalising their online experience. 

It will provide opportunities to have deeper advice based interactions with our customer online at times they dictate, resulting in more relevant product offerings that meet their needs.. The NAB Life experience described previously is a good illustration of how we will change the way we interact with our customers.


Sharwood: With new technologies come new risks for fraud. How does the NAB tackle that challenge?


Cullen: Our products and offerings which display the NAB Defence certification have been through rigorous security testing and assessment by our experts. NAB conducts strategic intelligence gathering and analysis to determine emerging threats and our readiness for such threats if and when they are realised. In addition, new technology such as SMS security and sophisticated monitoring techniques are allowing us to continually improve our fraud prevention and detection. Finally, there is close cooperation between financial institution fraud & security groups to facilitate knowledge sharing and advance all our capabilities to reduce the risks of fraud.


Sharwood: Many banks complain they no longer have the “wallet share” of past years. Is that a problem the NAB has and, if so, how do you go about building wallet share?


Cullen: We focus very much on ensuring the customer will have the optimum user experience and closely monitor the customer satisfaction levels – which are over 90 percent for our Online channel. Our research and that of industry analysts continually highlights a direct correlation between these satisfaction levels and our customers’ likelihood to purchase additional products and services. We are continually looking at ways to make it easier for our customers to request services, for example by using the information we already have and pre-filing an online application or service request.


Sharwood: How does the NAB assess security across the channels you employ to interact with customers?


Cullen: NAB constantly monitors for fraudulent activity across its customer channels and analyses daily, weekly and monthly statistics which determine our performance and areas of focus that will drive both tactical and strategic security initiatives. Effective security management is always a matter of balancing risk, convenience and useability for our customers. At the NAB we do this by offering customers both added security and convenience via SMS Security which allows customers to securely access additional functionality and conduct higher risk transactions.

NAB measures its success in protecting customers against security threats by its fraud figures, customer uptake of our second factor offerings and its position amongst the industry as a leader in this space.


Sharwood: Financial institutions are increasingly marketing customer service as a differentiator. What does the presence of that kind of message tell you about the importance of service in today’s banking environment.


Cullen: The needs and demands of our customers for fast reliable service are greater than ever. We continue to provide greater choices for our customers to interact with us across our different channels