CBA trialling rural teleconferencing

Summary:Commonwealth Bank customers might soon be able to have a FaceTime conversation with their bank manager, according to chief information officer, Michael Harte, with trials already underway in rural areas to connect staff to customers on farms.

update Commonwealth Bank customers might soon be able to have a FaceTime conversation with their bank manager, according to chief information officer, Michael Harte, with trials already underway in rural areas to connect staff to customers on farms.

Michael Harte

Michael Harte
(Credit: Luke Hopewell/ZDNet Australia)

"I don't see why you can't have a FaceTime conversation with your bank manager. It's going to cut down a lot of the expense, it's going to cut down a lot of the inconvenience [of going into a bank branch]," Harte told ZDNet Australia at the Australian Information Industry Association's banking forum this afternoon.

Harte said that the bank is currently trialling videoconferencing facilities between bank staff and customers in rural areas to break down the tyranny of distance for customers.

"We're doing the videoconferencing in rural areas, so we're allowing for the phones and devices to be distributed throughout our rural banking base, because they're the most remote and they find it ... convenient.

"They've got very specific financial needs so they have to have that intimacy and get specialist advice, and have packages tailored specifically for their farms. Those trials are going really well," Harte remarked.

The CIO added that customers wouldn't have to wait too long before they see it rolled out across other branches.

"Anything that's going to be rich and convenient like that, that's going to be well priced, we'll take. I don't think it's too far away to expect that you can start seeing face-to-face through devices to your bank managers."

Harte addressed a packed room at the Shangri La Hotel about the Commonwealth's push towards better relationship management over the customer's life with the bank.

He said that the Commonwealth Bank builds a profile of information in order to calculate the value of that customer to the bank and to identify better ways to serve them. Harte added that it was absolutely paramount that the bank keep that information as safe as a doctor would keep a patient's medical history.

The more information the bank has on the customer, the better it can serve and price products for them, but the CIO told ZDNet Australia that it would only gather information that its customers gave it, and would never stoop to buying information collected by web giants like Facebook and Google. Harte added that he thinks such practices are wrong.

"I don't think [selling personal information] is right. I think it's disrespectful.

"The information we have is personal to the entity and the individual model. The only reason we keep that [information] is to enrich the experience. We know increasingly and with greater accuracy how people live their lives, what their goals are and how they want to enjoy their lifestyle."

Harte also mentioned that the Commonwealth Bank is consistently trying to improve the customer experience, and added that every staff member feels a deep sense of embarrassment every time the bank suffers a "severity one" level outage, like the incident recently that saw EFTPOS and ATM services unavailable for several hours.

The bank aims to provide critical service to customers with 99.999 per cent availability, meaning customers should only expect to encounter 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. Harte said that when a severity one outage does occur, the bank strives to be as communicative as possible with customers and bring services back online as soon as possible to preserve the all-important customer relationship.

Updated at 9.04am, 9 March 2012: Commonwealth Bank later corrected Harte's earlier statements, saying that its availability for critical services was 99.999 per cent and the expected downtime per year was 5.26 minutes.

Topics: Apple, Banking, iPad, iPhone, Networking


A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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