Westpac accelerates 'service revolution' with AU$4m tech hub

Westpac Group has launched The Hive, an innovation hub that will bring together internal and external people from the company to collaborate and experiment on new technologies.

Westpac Group has launched itself into the "service revolution" phase of its strategy, where it claims to make its customers the centre of all of its business decisions.

To mark the beginning of this phase, the company has opened The Hive, an 800-square-metre innovation hub based in the Sydney suburb of Kogarah, which the bank claims took just 90 days to set up and cost about AU$4 million.

The centre is expected to see six to 10 teams of internal and external people, including partners and educational institutions, at any one time collaborating and experimenting on new ideas using sanitised sample data provided by Westpac, prototyping tools such as 3D printers, and wireless-enabled demilitarised zone environments.

According to Les Vance, Westpac Group general manager of core transformation, the hub will be a test bed to allow for on-site and off-site collocation collaboration on new technologies.

"It is available to the whole group. What we will find, and we strongly expect, is we will break out of just physical location collaboration as part of it," he said.

"For example, our BT business is in our panorama program — which is around the transformation for our wealth business — there, we've been looking in the last six months doing agile development and delivery with teams that are physically separate, some in Sydney, some in Perth, and some offshore."

Other parts of The Hive and the Westpac Group's innovation business strategy includes investing in Reinventure, a venture-capital group that supports technology startups, and investing in The Garage, a specialist team that will work to fast track innovation of new customer products.

Westpac Group chief operating officer John Arthur said the hub is a consequence of the company needing to change with customer demands.

"There is no doubt the world is going through amazing change, and there is no doubt too that our customer has already changed," he said.

"There is a consequence of that we need, as an organisation, to equip our people with the tools so they can not only respond to that customer change, but create a new customer experience consistent with what our customers are expecting of us."

But the push for innovation is not only coming from the bottom, but also from the very top, with Westpac Group CEO Gail Kelly saying that "innovation is in our DNA".

"We're going through a revolution. This is a step up in innovation. This is a step up of new energy that is being deployed around innovation, and The Hive is in the heart of that," she said. "We're stepping up this energy, this focus, and push around leadership innovation. The timing is perfect, because the world is moving so jolly fast."

In addition, Westpac has announced that it will soon remove the hassle associated with its cardless ATM withdrawals with a new feature that it will introduce on its mobile banking app, called "Get Cash". Previously, customers had to dial Westpac's call centre to obtain a unique six-digit code to make a cardless withdrawal, but the Get Cash feature will eliminate that process, and the unique code will be available to customers via their mobile app. Get Cash is currently in pilot phase, but it will be made available to customers on September 23.

Westpac Group will also be implementing biometrics across all the banking applications of its brand. Customers will be able to log in to their mobile banking apps through Thumb ID using their fingerprint-scanning technology built into Apple's iPhone 5s. The feature will go live when Apple launches iOS 8 on September 17.

St George has announced the availability of its mobile banking application for the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch, after it was initially made available in April on the Sony SmartWatch 2 . St George plans to roll out the smartwatch banking app on the Pebble watch later this year, and said it will investigate opportunities to collaborate with Apple's new smartwatch.

"Australia leads the US and other countries in mobile contactless payments technology, and we hope this announcement allows Apple users to join this trend," said David Lindberg, Westpac Group chief product officer.

"This type of mobile payment experience exists in Australia through multiple banks, and Westpac customers are today making tap and pay payments through the Westpac mobile banking application on Samsung's flagship smartphones.

"At this stage, the Apple solution is US-only, and we look forward to working with Apple to open up the solution to our mobile banking application in the same way they have opened up the Touch ID fingerprint security in iOS 8."