NAB sinks more funding into innovation through NAB Labs

The bank plans to add 35 more full-time staff to its innovation lab as it looks to experiment with 'emerging' technologies such as the blockchain and machine learning.

The National Australia Bank (NAB) has revealed that it will be doubling the investment in its innovation hub NAB Labs, adding more funding and staff as the bank looks to redefine the customer journey through the use of technology.

As part of that investment, NAB chief operating officer Antony Cahill told ZDNet that an additional 35 full-time staff will join NAB Labs, boosting the total to 85, in addition to the handful of the bank's staff that spend time within Labs to build out their ideas.

"For every one person we have in Labs, we tend to have one or two staff from other parts of the company come in to experiment," he explained.

Cahill founded NAB Labs just under three years ago. He said the motivation behind the innovation hub came from taking a step back to see what exactly customers wanted from their bank, but also trying to gain an understanding of where the financial services industry as a whole was heading.

He said NAB wanted to challenge some of the core beliefs the bank had at the time, and essentially disrupt itself before another player had the opportunity to.

"[It's about] putting some of our biggest and brightest in an environment where they can actually just step back and have time to think, experiment, and try different things -- really allow them to work through development and new approaches," he said.

"For us, it's this idea of unleashing this new energy across the company."

NAB Labs gives the bank the opportunity to play with some emerging technologies while also driving innovation within the company.

"We're now deploying artificial intelligence across various parts of our website, so natural language," Cahill explained. "AI is being deployed now for instant chat and we're starting to see those algorithms continually learning and they'll get richer and richer and we can then look to deploy them across the system.

"What you're starting to see is the true emergence of the system having the insights, understanding the customer needs, probably before they've even figured it out themselves, and then proactively recommending a product or service to a customer."

NAB is in the process of reshaping its business, announcing during its 2017 financial results last month that it would be reducing its workforce by around 4,000 people. It shortly revealed it would be immediately hiring 600 technology specialists spanning software engineering, data, architecture, and cybersecurity, of which 35 will be recruited into NAB Labs.

As Australia is facing a skills shortage where technology-based roles are concerned, NAB is aligning itself with the fintech and greater startup scene in the country through NAB Labs to help it attract the right kind of talent.

"We need data scientists, we need UI experts, we need experts who run customer journeys ... software engineers," Cahill explained. "All of those skills are required and we believe that by having the Labs environment, being out there with NAB Ventures and investing in fintechs, having good and vibrant relationships with the technology and innovation communities in Australia means that our brand is a brand that the best and brightest will continue to come and work for.

"We don't just want people with those skills, we want the best people with those skills."

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