NAB seeks 600 tech specialists as it gets serious about new digital business model

The bank will immediately hire 600 technology specialists spanning software engineering, data, architecture, and cybersecurity as it plunges into its customer-focused digital transformation.

After announcing during its 2017 financial results last week that it would be reducing its workforce by around 4,000 people, the National Australia Bank (NAB) is getting serious about its digital transformation, revealing to ZDNet it will be immediately hiring 600 technology specialists spanning software engineering, data, architecture, and cybersecurity.

The recruitment drive is part of NAB's plan to reshape its workforce and create up to 2,000 new jobs by 2020, as it attempts to reach its plan of upping its Customer Journeys teams from seven to 20 by this time.

"We know this is an ambitious target and acknowledge the war for talent is intense, but these are the essential skills and roles we need in order to deliver our plan," chief technology and operations officer Patrick Wright said.

"We're looking at the skills needed inside and outside our business to make sure that we can run our systems and service our customers as best as possible."

To kick start the recruitment drive, NAB has announced the appointment of Yuri Misnik as the bank's first executive general manager of Business Enabling Technology, and Kyle McNamara in the newly created position as the executive general manager leading the organisation's program management office.

Speaking with ZDNet ahead of the announcement, Anne Bennett, NAB's executive general manager of business transformation, detailed the transformed approach NAB has to delivering services and retaining customers, as well as why the bank is seeking new talent.

Just last year, the bank's CEO Andrew Thorburn was talking about staying competitive in a world where fintech firms and other finance-focused startups were threatening the banking landscape.

However, Bennett explained that pressure is now coming from everywhere, and noted today's customers no longer just compare NAB to other banks or finance providers.

"They compare us to other experiences across the digital world," she said.

"If you asked someone 10 years ago if they'd get into a car, that wasn't a taxi, with a stranger, who would take them from one side of the city to the other, all via a few clicks on a smartphone -- what do you think their response would have been?"

Now, such experiences are more than commonplace.

"Banks aren't being disrupted by fintech technology, they're being disrupted by customer expectations," she said.

To make sure NAB stays relevant, it has changed the way its services are delivered from within, launching its Customer Journeys concept to bring a more "agile", "lean", and "innovative" approach to service delivery, taking a leaf out of the books of the tech giants.

"One of the things that's really important about Customer Journeys is the speed of execution, so getting change into the hands of our customers as quickly as we possibly can," Bennett explained.

"The reason we're talking about journeys is that we're thinking about things through the eyes of the customer -- their property ownership dream, their goal of starting a business, or their plans to save for retirement. Framing things in that way means we build experiences that they actually want."

Bennett said the bank's Customer Journeys teams each put different -- and differentiated -- experiences into the hand of customers every 90 days.

"Customer experience is the 'new' asset banks are competing for," she said. "One of our pleasantly unfair advantages, especially over fintechs, we already own space on that first screen of most of our existing customers' phones."

When NAB revealed last week that 6,000 roles from its organisation will be impacted as the bank "further automates and simplifies" its business, the details were basic. But as many have been predicting for years, the workforce as it is currently known is undergoing a dramatic shift.

Locally, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) estimated back in 2015 that more than 5 million jobs -- almost 40 percent of Australian jobs that existed at the time -- had a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the following 10 to 15 years, citing technological advancements as the reason.

"The world is changing and we know our customers are too, and NAB is moving as quickly as we can to stay ahead of the game," Bennett added. "That means a number of current roles won't be with our organisation over the next three years."

Friday's announcement that NAB is immediately hiring 600 people to fill the roles banks haven't traditionally recruited for in the past is the first giant step towards building its customer-centric nirvana.

"We genuinely see customer experience as what will differentiate us into the future," she explained.

"We need to make NAB simpler and faster, and to do this we have torn up the rule book on the way we have traditionally done things -- we have recognised that our workforce needs to adapt and evolve with the necessary skills and experience that the digital age needs."

When NAB launched internet banking in 1999, a mere two staff focused on cybersecurity. It now has more than 200 -- but Bennett said there's room for more.

It's a similar story in 2007 when the bank had one employee looking at user experience design for nab.com.au, versus the 100 it now has.

"This will see NAB have a flatter structure which drives creativity, fosters innovative thought, and ensures quicker decision-making," Bennett said. "By tearing up that other rule book, we've been able to look at key banking experiences in a new and different way, with our very own blank canvas."

The recruitment drive comes after NAB announced it was upping its investment by AU$1.5 billion to see a total of AU$4.5 billion pumped into the bank over the next three years -- with much of that funding directed to technology and digital priorities.

According to Wright, the multibillion-dollar investment will help change the way NAB provisions technology services, which he touted as "critical to delivering more effectively to balance innovation with resilience, and speed with security."

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