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CBA shows off high-tech bank: photos

The Commonwealth Bank yesterday opened its new flagship branch in the heart of Brisbane. Drenched with smart systems and Apple iDevices, the branch represents a significant investment in the Commonwealth Bank's new digital strategy.
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By Luke Hopewell on
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The Commonwealth Bank sign ushers us towards the branch at 240 Queen Street, Brisbane. The high-tech branch has been in construction for approximately seven months, and according to CBA has cost more than any branch renovation so far.

The Commonwealth Bank is set to open many more branches in Queensland after identifying it as a "growth state" despite the recent natural disasters. Ross McEwan, group executive of Retail Banking Services, said that each new branch would include lots of technology, but not as much as the Queen Street Branch as it was a pilot idea.

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A fleet of iMacs sits waiting to help customers with their online banking needs.

McEwan said that as customers enter the branch, they are greeted by a concierge who can direct their inquiry. "We want to make it so that customers don't just walk in and go straight into a queue [when] we can use other means to help them faster," he said.

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The teller desk is secreted at the back of the branch in aid of McEwan's mission to serve customers differently. Tellers move from behind their desks to greet the next customer in line, with no security glass between them and the rest of the bank.

The teller desk is located adjacent to the business banking desk, which also gives customers access to a coin counting machine, coin changing machine and cheque deposit machine.

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A large foreign exchange desk sits on the left hand side of the branch, with-up-to-the-minute currency information displayed for customers. Here, they can change currency and inquire about the Commonwealth's new traveller EFTPOS cards — the bank's replacement for traveller's cheques.

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Brisbane branch staff help customers open accounts, check balances, transfer funds and pay bills online at the iMac terminals. McEwan said that that the technology push is all about teaching customers how to use the new online options available from CBA in order to get faster results. On any given day, 50-plus staff are on-hand to help out.

Adam Bennett, chief information officer of Retail and Business Banking, told journalists yesterday that Netbank customers will be able to change their card personal identification number (PIN) online in the near future.

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Customers waiting for an appointment are kept entertained by the branch's fleet of iPad units loaded with Commonwealth Bank apps. McEwan said that he was fascinated by how readily customers took to the technology. "They picked it up and started using it almost instantly," he said.

McEwan told ZDNet Australia that despite the imminent release of the iPad 2, the Brisbane branch would not immediately be upgrading its existing iPad 1 units to the new model.

"It's not about having the absolute latest in technology," McEwan said, "it's about having the best technology to serve your customers." He said that as the equipment aged, it was likely to be replaced by newer models.

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Despite the swathes of Apple gear all over the bank, Brisbane branch manager Fleur Foster here demonstrates that PCs are also present, showing off the Asus touchscreen PCs scattered around the bank floor for the purpose of general information inquiries. These terminals include information on bank products, in-branch seminars and events as well as foreign exchange calculations. They also give customers the ability to book and review appointments with branch staff.

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Head of direct banking, Drew Unsworth, demonstrates CBA's new iPad app in the branch's personal banking section. Set for release in May, the new app is built on HTML5 and "streamlines customer banking," Unsworth said. It also consolidates menus that were previously separate. He added that the new iPad app comes with the ability to cache a customer's unique Netbank log on ID, something he said would speed up access to the app and have no impact on the security of a customer's bank details.

Unsworth also demonstrated My NetBank Labs which lets customers beta test new Netbank products before they go live. Customers are targeted in groups of 10,000, with only around 10 per cent taking up the new products.

Unsworth demonstrated on his own account how My NetBank Labs features are presented to customers as they log-on to Netbank, saying that customers can provide feedback directly to the bank during the beta in order to help refine the products.

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A closer look at the new CBA iPad app.

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Inside the branch's marble-lined premium banking chambers, Commonwealth Bank developers show off the latest developments for the bank's property guide app. The app now includes the ability to see the estimated price of houses on the market based on previous sales data and the sale data of other properties in the area.

In terms of application downloads, Commonwealth Bank's Netbank app has seen approximately 900,000 downloads since its release, with the Property Guide app processing 1.9 million augmented-reality property searches for users.

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Downstairs in the business banking area, the Commonwealth Bank has installed a deposit machine that also accepts cheques. The machine reads each cheque individually and scans it for security purposes, rejecting cheques that don't meet the stringent security requirements. A teller is always on-hand to render assistance if the automated deposit goes pear-shaped.

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The high-tech Brisbane branch even comes equipped with a coffee shop and barista, offering free drinks to those with an appointment booked. Sadly, no Technolattes were available.

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The coffee shop is naturally equipped with the Commonwealth Bank's contactless card technology. Even if it wasn't, it's not like ATMs are far away.

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The bank's personal finance and lending area, complete with private meeting rooms for appointments and meetings.

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The dais and plaque for last night's opening ceremony of the Brisbane branch.

Luke Hopewell travelled to Brisbane as a guest of the Commonwealth Bank.

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