26 50

CMO50 2020 #26-50: Suzana Ristevski

  • Name Suzana Ristevski
  • Title Executive, group marketing
  • Company National Australia Bank
  • Commenced role July 2018 (joined Jan 2017)
  • Reporting Line Executive, personal banking
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 250 staff
  • Industry Sector Financial services
  • 2016 ranking 26-50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Data-driven decision making is growing apace across National Australia Bank’s marketing and product teams. But it’s by also gathering and providing context that the financial services provider will truly lift its customer game, says CMO, Suzana Ristevski.

    “Data and insights play a large part in understanding business challenges and customer needs and wants. But actively listening and observing customers and colleagues gives you a broader view of what is going on,” she comments. “My team have often heard me say context adds 100 points of IQ. Context creates much better decision making.”

    In complement, Ristevski says being open-minded and focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t, is instrumental.

    “Innovation centres on solving customer problems, not how much budget or resources you have,” she continues, pointing to Eric Reis’s The Lean Start Up as a further guide. “I love the way he approaches innovation: Be clear on what you are trying to solve for, hypothesise, start small, learn to pivot, and know it’s OK to fail, but fail fast.”  

    Innovative marketing

    Such thinking led NAB’s marketing team to act promptly when it uncovered customer letters causing significant numbers of customer complaints for NAB. These system-generated letters were historically written for legal/compliance purposes and were unclear, complex and arguably even intimidating for some customers.

    “We had not planned to ‘fix’ these letters - there was no prior visibility, no business case, no funding and no resources allocated to this, but we knew it was the right thing to do for our customers,” Ristevski says. “So we just started. We rediverted a couple of our team, started rewriting the letters causing the most complaints and kept going.”  

    Reviewing the 19 most common complaint causing letters saw NAB’s marketing team not only reduced complaints by 20 per cent, but simultaneously improve the experience for 1.7 million customers.

    “We then developed communication standards and governance framework for across the whole organisation, so any new letters were written in a customer-friendly way,” Ristevski says. “This all got the attention of the executive team, who have now endorsed and will fund a centralise consent, universal inbox and centralised publishing and distribution platform.”  

    The lesson Ristevski takes from the exercise is being effective can be looking at things differently. “The innovation here came not by setting up a whole big project, building out a business case, or investing in technology, but by just starting from the perspective of the customer,” she says.  

    Business smarts

    There’s a similar mentality being applied by Ristevski and her team as NAB embarks on a new enterprise strategy and cultural transformation driven by a multi-year technology overhaul. There are significant cost savings, operational efficiencies and revenue opportunities attached to this change, but Ristevski says moving people across to the new environment has been hard.

    “The technology and enterprise analytics team are responsible for laying the foundational core data and tech ecosystem. It’s then up to the rest of the business to drive use cases in the new cloud environment. But it’s perceived to be more complex, slower and more expensive than building on legacy systems,” she explains.  

    In response, Ristevski has personally taken on the push to unlock NAB’s investment and accelerate its technology transformation. Marketing was the first team, for instance, to develop and execute an advanced analytics revenue case in the cloud environment.

    “We self-funded, trading off campaign budgets to land data, upskilled our team to curate, conform and use data to build models, and orchestrated those models,” Ristevski says. “We proved we could drive revenue in our own marketing user cases.”

    In just two user cases, the team generated $5 million in revenue. Following this, marketing worked together with enterprise analytics and the consumer business to fund an additional squad to execute on consumer revenue user cases. This collaboration has delivered revenue for the consumer business quickly, and pushed NAB further on the roadmap to its target state architecture.

    “We are using this as an example of how this can be done by the whole, showing other parts of the organisation the model for how we use the new technology,” Ristevski says. “We know that if we can ‘lift’ the whole organisation, we will get to the holy grail of personalised communications a lot quicker.”

    Data-driven approach

    A data-driven, personalised approach, meanwhile, can be seen in how NAB is leverage more than 1000 data points to improve the performance of its home lending machine learning models. This has informed an omni-channel and more targeted home lending program. New models introduced emails and banker toolkits to support lead programs, and included banker call-back as a call to action in emails. Ristevski and her team also reviewed the communication strategy, including creative and insights for bankers, to maximise the opportunity. 

    Results included 16,000 appointments and $1.3 billion in won opportunities. On average, NAB also reduced the number of calls bankers needed to make from 32 calls for every one opportunity to 10. The best performing retention model requires only two calls to one opportunity.  

    “Not only did we optimise the home lending program, we did this on future-state technology platforms,” Ristevski says. For example, 200 Tables were migrated, as was capability for in-app messaging from a proof of concept, on-premise pilot to target state on the cloud environment.  

    While teams have always been data-led, modelling techniques and the tech platforms, user and customer thinking was foreign to them, Ristevski continues. She encouraged them to couple expertise with ‘context’ by sitting with the bankers, finding out what’s working, what’s not working, and coming back with improvements.  

    “It’s not just what we put out to bankers, we looked at the impact on our whole communication strategy,” she says. “One data point we discovered was even though bankers were calling 90 per cent of the customers, we could only contact 50 per cent. Off the back of this, we introduced digital channel messaging and emails with good copy and creative, which led them back to bankers.  

    “For me, this is not only a really good example of data and technology, but both being supported by art.”  

    Customer-led approach  

    There’s also the fact customers are working diverse hours and days to factor in. Add in the COVID-19 lockdown from March, and having an ability to connect with the right banking resource digitally became critical.

    In response, marketing worked with distribution teams at NAB and CRM vendors to build a new tool to better support customers when they want to book a time to speak with one of NAB’s lending experts. The appointment booking tool allows the bank to connect customers with a lending expert either at their local branch, nationally via Zoom, over the phone, or who can come to their home using real-time calendar data.

    “We started from the point of view of looking at what’s convenient to customers and a preferable channel to meet to then find and match a banker with the suitable skills from across our large distribution network to support,” Ristevski says. “This functionality leverages a concierge service to support customers through this process and later this year, we will enable functionality to be directly accessible to our customers through our website and targeted one-to-one contact programs.”

    This initiative was sitting in NAB’s backlog but marketing fast-tracked it during this time. Marketing undertook full back-end orchestration, connecting all data pieces together to ensure customers were fed through the right tech stacks. In three months, more than over 12,000 booking appointments were made. And bankers love it, says Ristevski.

    Commercial acumen  

    As well as playing a key role bring revenue in, NAB’s marketers are playing a significant role driving cost out, all while keeping a firm eye on improving customer experiences. One recent example is COVID-19 support callback forms.

    With more calls in a week than it had been getting in a year during the height of lockdown, customers could end up dropping off and calling again, creating further bottlenecks. Creating a customer assistance directory and call back form enabled customers to avoid waiting on hold, and allowed branch managers to continue to serve customers if their branch was closed. The directory also interjected self-service information to walk customers through how to solve their needs automatically when applicable.

    Since inception, 164,000 customers have used the directory, 60,000 have registered a call back and 104,000 are estimated to have met their need using self-service. “That’s 104,000 calls we pushed through our digital channels instead of servicing via our contact centre,” Ristevski says.  


    The forms are just one example of how NAB’s marketing team has worked to navigate challenges thrown up in this unprecedented environment. In addition to COVID-19, NAB’s significant business transformation includes moving from a centralised to decentralised marketing function, created further more to jump over.  

    “Marketing had to effectively rewrite the 2H of our marketing plan at the beginning of the second half,” Ristevski says. “We had to move fast, and because of a simultaneous recruitment freeze, and actively encouraging marketing secondments to support the frontline, we had circa 25 per cent less people to do it.”  

    The first step was translating the enterprise strategy into simple terms: Support the frontline team, support and retain existing customers, think balance sheet first, revenue second. Ristevski then provided clear guiding principles to the marketing team, including stopping all marketing activity driving new demand and tilt all activity towards retaining and supporting existing customers.

    Collectively, leadership reorganised teams and the budget to the new objectives, taking advantage of agile practices embedded over the last two years. Importantly, teams were empowered with budget to do this.

    “Team quality, volume and velocity of output was outstanding. They were able to react quickly to the unfolding situation, allocate resourcing and budget at short notice, and execute in record time,” Ristevski says. For example, a new contact lead for passbook holders who needed help to bank on line was created in three days.

    Among MFI customers, NAB was the most successful at raising awareness of relief measures, according to DBM Australia’s COVID Crisis survey (March - June 2020). At the same time, NAB also moved to number one Strategic NPS, which Ristevski largely attributes to reputation lift, in turn largely influenced by marcomms.

    “Marketing engagement score at the end of April 2020 increased by a whopping 20 per cent,” she concludes. “It was an incredible experience and one that will go down as one of the hardest but most rewarding times in my career.”    

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