Banks must speak on unbankable overhauls

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group CEO Phil Chronican this week again had to explain his bank's stance on core banking modernisation.

commentary Australia and New Zealand Banking Group CEO Phil Chronican this week again had to explain his bank's stance on core banking modernisation.

Chronican reiterated the bank's long-held position in an interview with the Australian Financial Review yesterday that it doesn't need to overhaul its core banking technology.

It's a song that ANZ has been singing for some time, despite the best efforts of journalists and vendors to prod the bank into some form of massive technology investment. The bank is much more focused on investing in its Asian expansion than tinkering under the hood with risky IT overhauls that could give it engine trouble.

"Core system replacements are very high risk and very hard projects, which is why most banks put them off for as long as possible … building applications outside of the core systems means you can effectively put off core system replacements for a very long time," Chronican told the Review.

There's a reason the bank is so defensive about its decision. Over the past several years, Commonwealth Bank chief information officer Michael Harte and chief executive Ralph Norris, have been talking up the bank's $730 million Accenture and SAP-backed core overhaul. Terms like "real-time banking" and "speed to market" have been running rife. So naturally the other banks are feeling a bit under pressure to follow the Commonwealth Bank's lead.

It's a topic that also came up at the recent wide-ranging briefing held by Westpac tech chief Bob McKinnon, held days after the bank delayed its own core overhaul. McKinnon was at pains to defuse the Commonwealth's hype, pointing out that Westpac subsidiary St George already had real-time banking, and there was much that could be done without it anyway.

Personally, I think the argument in favour of banks upgrading their core systems has not yet been made persuasively enough in Australia.

The Commonwealth Bank has been on a high-spending tech roadmap for the past decade — first with the CommSee project, and now with its core overhaul. But then, it needed to; it probably had the most archaic systems of any bank to start with. And why should all of the other banks play follow the leader if there are bigger problems that need to be solved?

I'd like to see the other major banks talk a bit more in public about this. It's fair enough for the Commonwealth Bank to hype up its core overhaul constantly: when you've spent a pretty penny, you need to show something for it. But that doesn't mean the other banks need to constantly sign up to the public narrative the Commonwealth is creating for them — "core overhaul or not" is a false dichotomy and even the Commonwealth Bank knows it.


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