​CBA chief talks up innovation amid AU$628m in IT expenses

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia group chief executive officer Ian Narev is talking up the bank's digital prowess after it saw AU$628 million in IT service expenses in the first half of the 2015 financial year.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) saw AU$628 million in information technology service expenses in the first half of the 2015 financial year, according to its latest financial report.

The half-year period's IT spend came in below the AU$659 million it spent in the prior six-month period, and well under the corresponding six-month period the previous year, which saw AU$678 million in IT service expenses. This represents a 7 percent year-on-year drop in IT service spend for the period.

The company said that this fall in expenses was largely driven by the impact of software write-offs on the prior comparative period.

Capitalised software came in at AU$-1.98 billion as of December 2014 -- this included computer software costs of AU$3.11 billion -- while the bank saw AU$143 million in amortisation of software assets, and AU$10 million in software write-offs for the period.

However, CBA group chief executive officer Ian Narev used the half-yearly results as an opportunity to talk up the company's technology and digital innovation.

"The strength of our business enables us to invest for the long term," said Narev in a statement (PDF) to shareholders. "In this period, we invested in innovation within the business, with highlights including the establishment of a Group Innovation Lab, digital property settlement (PEXA), and the 'Temporary Lock' functionality.

"We also bought new capability, through the acquisition of TYME, a South African-based global leader in designing, building, and operating digital banking systems. TYME gives us new opportunities in our emerging markets footprint, as well as providing capability to enhance innovation in our core markets," he said. "In terms of the group specifically, we will continue to invest in our current strategy."

CBA claims to be the first bank to perform property purchase settlement on the PEXA platform, digitising settlement processes for "improved customer experience".

The company said that it is seeing a 75 percent uptake of e-docs for new home loan customers where offered, while 10 percent of personal transaction accounts are now opened through digital channels.

Internet transaction volumes have been rising steadily over the past decade, with the first half of FY15 seeing the company record 260 million transactions over the internet.

By contrast, CBA saw just 36 million physical branch transactions for the six-month period, but experienced a continued increase in EFTPOS transactions to 765 million, and 139 million ATM transactions.

On the whole, internet transactions now make up 50 percent of the bank's total transaction dollar value, followed by branch transactions, at 36 percent.

Meanwhile, the bank is seeing plenty of traction for its CommBank smartphone app, with around 3 million unique users, 15 million logins per week, and AU$2.5 billion in transactions per week.

CBA introduced the temporary lock/unlock credit card functionality in October 2014, and has since seen more than 50,000 cards enabled with the new service, resulting in a "significant reduction" in replacement card issuance.

The company's service, allowing customers to instantly cancel and replace a lost, stolen, or damaged card, also introduced in October last year, has seen more than 18,000 requests since its release.

CBA said it saw more than AU$48 million in transactions processed via its Tap & Pay phone app system, comprised of over 2.3 million transactions.

The company claims 5.3 million active online customers, with customer satisfaction standing at 92.5 percent for its website, and 92.6 percent for its apps.

CBA said that it now has video conferencing facilities in all of its branches, with the exception of a "very small number of CBA branches" and Bankwest branches, with tablets and software for "branch concierges to enhance" customer flow.

While the company reported an increase in system changes to 3,852 per month, it recorded just 16 "high-impact system incidents" in the first half. Last year, it recorded 44 of these, and in 2007, it topped 400 incidents. In April last year, the bank suffered a large technical outage that impacted a number of its services, including ATMs, EFTPOS, and internet banking.

CBA's subsidiary in New Zealand, ASB, launched the country's first public banking API technology, with mobile app registration up by 65 percent. New Zealand's industry-wide mobile wallet trial is under way, with ASB and Bank of New Zealand cards.

In May 2014, CBA's former chief information officer Michael Harte called it quits after eight years of overseeing the company's technology overhaul, and in June, the bank named David Whiteing as its new CIO.

CBA's revenue from ordinary activities for the six-month period came to AU$22.8 billion, a boost of 3 percent compared to the same period the previous year, while its statutory net profits (NPAT) from ordinary activities after tax increased by 8 percent to AU$4.5 billion.

ASB's reported statutory NPAT for the first half came to AU$444 million, representing a 7 percent increase on the same period the previous year.

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