What Bankwest has done to build better CX

Bankwest customer experience chief shares the cultural, customer and brand thinking behind its Bank Less philosophy

Bankwest's Andrew Chanmugam speaking at CMO Momentum Melbourne 2019
Bankwest's Andrew Chanmugam speaking at CMO Momentum Melbourne 2019

The key role of marketers is to not only keep up with changing consumer expectations, but bring that external view into their organisation in order to help both grow and retain relevance, Bankwest’s executive GM of customer experience says.

Speaking at the inaugural CMO Momentum event in Melbourne, Andrew Chanmugam said the banking group is employing a combination of transformative cultural change, digital innovation, customer insight and big brand narrative to maintain customer excellence. All while riding the negative waves of Australia’s Royal Commission into the banking and financial services sector.

Chanmugam said it was clear to him upon joining Bankwest that the group needed to tap consumer insights to clarify its position and identity in market. This is what led to the launch nearly a year ago of the ‘Bank less’ program of work, focused around the idea of cutting back the amount of ‘bank speak’ in consumers’ lives.  

Bankwest is fully owned by the Commonwealth Bank, and represents a $1.7 billion business based out of Western Australia. It has 1.5 million customers - half in WA, and half across the rest of the country - and 3500 staff.

“There’s a legacy and history of innovation as a challenger business, but we’d really got stuck,” Chanmugam told attendees. “The consumer insight was if we’re going to say we’re going to do something, do it and live up to those ideals. But don’t try and do something else. We were almost trying to be the orange version of brand yellow and that’s where we were placed.”  

That said, the Royal Commission had seen industry reputation plummet. It was equally clear consumers wanted banks to play a smaller role in their lives. Hence the ‘Bank less’ prerogative.

“The important thing was to face into the challenge the industry had. And that was the opportunity to stand for something in the industry when standing for something has become really important,” Chanmugam said.   

Agile transformation

Underneath the brand promise, Bankwest has been undergoing a company-wide transformation to Agile. Chanmugam described it as a desire to disrupt from within, instead of face disruption thanks to the influx of technology, new market forces and upstart digital players.

Chanmugam said Bankwest took 1000 staff across business and IT, and mobilised them into cross-functional, multi-disciplinary squads, aligned to customer tribes. This has led to significant lift in terms of the velocity of change, as well efficiency improvements, he said. Notably, time to change has halved.

“What that means is we have more capacity, which then allowed us to focus on the things that would support our brand message and reasons to believe,” Chanmugam explained. “With cross-functional, multi-disciplinary teams, you can move much faster in a traditional procurement and development cycle. All the right people are there and are empowered to make decisions, so the pace is there for rapid change.”

Of course, Agile is a way of working and tool to help you achieve a wider business strategy. Overlaying this is Bankwest’s customer insight, data-driven model.

“In terms of achieving brand ambition, everything our squads do is aligned to delivering on that customer vision,” Chanmugam continued. “When you have an IT, business and marketing person all embedded together – and these are teams of 10 people, with all the capability and creativity to do a task including approvals – they’re going to go at it.”

As examples of how Bankwest is achieving more rapid innovation via digitisation, Chanmugam firstly highlighted its in-app messaging tools, allowing customers to interact with the bank 24/7 via mobile devices.

“We saw a 25 per cent of total volumes running through the platform, and customer satisfaction is 90 per cent,” he said. “Customers are happy, efficiency is high – we can take multiple interactions at the same time – and it’s unlocking team capacity to do other things.”  

Another innovation has been digital signatures across home loans, allowing Bankwest to go from a typical home loan settlement period of 14 days to four days.

“State-based legislation requires paper still, but as that evolves over time it’ll get sharper and sharper,” Chanmugam said. “It’s great for customers, particularly if you’re bidding in an auction and have a tight settlement date and want the paperwork done... This allows us to support customers better in that process. And it provides a strong audit trail and is secure.”  

A third innovation is the Halo Ring, Australia’s first payment ring, supported by MasterCard. Chanmugam cited it as a sign of where payments are going thanks to wearable technology and the Internet of Things.

Cultural connection

Supporting this level of change at Bankwest is a legacy of positive culture and engagement.

“The hardest thing is why change now. That’s the reason why it’s hard to enact cultural change,” Chanmugam commented. “Because we had a culture quite adaptive to change, we haven’t met as much resistance. Then it was also about really talking through the importance of digital, which ties into our challenger position as a brand. Ensuring that narrative is clear and being communicated is key.”

Chanmugam also noted employee experience is customer experience. “It’s vital to have employees living and feeling that brand,” he said.

“I also think as a collective of people, from different backgrounds, gender, ethnicity and so on, the life experiences we pull together to harness that brand power helps us solve for customers and make it easier for them. Having a collective sense of the Australian community, particularly when we’re building products and services to meet that need, is important.”

In terms of marketing’s role in this mix, Chanmugam stressed the criticality of being customer custodian and conduit within a business.

“Marketers need to build those bridges internally so they can take that external perspective and bring it back into the organisation,” he said. “The danger in marketing, if I go back 10 years or so in my career, is we can be a silo in and of itself.

“No one wakes up in the morning going I want to work in a silo or be political today. We want connection. But by default, organisational structures have made this kind of silo happen.”  

In response, Chanmugam advised marketers struggling to win over the c-suite or executive colleagues to bridge the communications and language gap.

“I tend to find people stay away from marketing if they feel they don’t understand it,” he said. “Making marketing simple, and explaining it so someone can support you to achieve your goals while you’re supporting them to achieve theirs, is really important.

“Talking the language of customer makes it both easier and harder to do this: Easier in that it helps align cross-functional teams; harder in that people struggle to change. So I see our role internally as being brand custodians, taking everyone on the journey and building those relationships.”  

On a personal level, Chanmugam also advised other marketers to be open to what’s out there, embrace big goals and push themselves.

“The danger is to settle – life is too short to settle,” he added. “Each one of us has an opportunity to have a unique journey and own our own career. Being open to possibility is important to us. And hard work trumps talent.”  

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