​Why NAB won't be upgrading its core banking platform any time soon

The bank's CTOO told ZDNet it's far more beneficial to innovate around the customer than make its staff focus on an old system that still works fine.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The first credit card was created by the company now known as Bank of America 53 years ago; the methods used to calculate interest are unchanged in 53 years, and according to Patrick Wright, chief technology and operations officer at the National Australia Bank (NAB), they're unlikely to change for another 53 years.

According to Wright, it doesn't make sense for a bank that's trying to stay ahead of the digital disruption curve to focus on something that isn't customer-facing, and does the job, despite it being half a century old.

"If I have a core system that works, that calculates interest and does good record keeping for my customers, and I can create APIs around it, why would I spend the time, effort, and money changing it?" Wright told ZDNet.

"I'm going to choose to innovate around my customer rather than become an internally focused company -- it's far better for me and it's better for my people, as they want to innovate around the customer, they don't want to go work on a backend system that's 53 years old.

"Honestly, it's not going to move the needle, what's going to move the needle is creating customer value propositions that are compelling and different and interesting, not changing how interest is calculated on a credit card."

Read also: NAB sinks more funding into innovation through NAB Labs

Wright joined NAB in February last year, leaving his tenure as global chief Operations & Technology at Barclays in the United States.

Speaking with ZDNet during the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Sydney Summit, he touched on the monolithic processes in place at the bank, revealing NAB wants to be "agile, customer-facing, and customer first", but said a transformation needs to occur before that can happen.

"The centre post to our strategy is actually being unable to predict the future and to position our company to be one that can respond to whatever the future brings," he said.

"In banking, there's massive innovation going on around the edge right now in the world of fintech -- massive -- and 20,000 fintech startups in the last decade, most of them are just a flash in the pan, they come, they go, but some are sticking and some will continue to grip and over time while they're dancing around the core today, they're going to slowly chase into the core.

"So we know that's going to happen, we have to be able to position ourselves to compete with them and the only way you can do it is to be able to operate at their speed, at their rate of innovation, have the same degree and capability of talent."

In delivering its 2017 financial results in November, NAB announced it was planning on cutting a total of 4,000 jobs from its workforce. 6,000 roles were impacted as the bank "further automates and simplifies" its business and 2,000 new jobs were created as a result of the restructure.

A week later, the bank unveiled its plans to begin immediately hiring more staff, telling ZDNet it would be seeking 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.

NAB revealed last week it had been heavily focused on its technology capability of late, scooping up executive talent from major technology firms and international banks.

"There's been many times where I've tried to hire an incredible engineer and they've looked at me and said 'I'm going to Google to change the world, no thanks, why would I want to work for a bank?'" Wright told ZDNet.

"I think as banks we have a real brand issue we have to face into and if we want to attract the people who are going to build the company of the future, we have to change our brand, we have to change our method of operating, we've got to empower people in a way that a Google would but a traditional bank would not."

Wright last month announced the launch of the NAB Cloud Guild, an internal program that offers up AWS skills training.

The training program will be available to more than 2,000 of NAB's staff. Graduates will have access to become certified AWS Cloud practitioners and have the ability to continue training to become an associate developer, an associate systems operator, or an associate architect.

Funded by NAB and run by AWS, the three-to-five day cloud training will focus on the areas of architecture, security, developers, operations, and big data, and will be tailored to different competency levels.

"We actually believe we have a deeper responsibility to the community and it isn't just about lifting our own skills, this is about lifting Australia," Wright told ZDNet. "As people leave the company, and maybe go to the blue bank ... don't we have a responsibility to equip them for the future rather than condemn them to where they are?"


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