Westpac's new CTO looks beyond mobile banking

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Westpac's new CTO looks beyond mobile banking
Westpac CTO David Walker at TECHx19 in Sydney (Credit: Westpac)

Touts preference for in-sourced “engineering-inspired” culture.

Westpac’s new chief technology officer David Walker has named conversational banking interfaces and internal culture as two areas of initial focus.

Walker’s comments are drawn from a “fireside chat” at an internal Westpac technology conference called ‘TECHx19’ held last month, part of which was published to the Westpac Wire late Wednesday. They are his first public remarks since joining the bank in August.

Walker is paraphrased as predicting that smartphones could be displaced as consumers’ main hardware device of choice in the next decade - and that cloud, biometrics and AI combined will drive consumers from screens to conversational interfaces.

“We still need to be worried about mobile apps because that’s today, we still need to be good at that,” Walker said. 

“But I used to talk about being mobile first, conversational next, so invest in conversation to the point where we’re getting ready.” 

Westpac is already working in the conversational space, unveiling a chatbot called Red that is underpinned by IBM Watson technology in May this year.

It is also working with Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa on different voice-based banking applications, and has also run recent experiments of conversational AI for internally-focused use cases.

Cultural change

Walker also used TECHx19 to outline a case for cultural change within Westpac.

In particular, he is quoted as saying that “banks needed to shift to engineering-inspired cultures throughout”.

This affects his view on internal staffing, with Westpac Wire noting that during Walker’s time at Singapore’s DBS, “ they retained talent well as the ratio of inhouse employees to outsourced in his area flipped to around 80 percent from 20 percent.”

Fellow ‘Big Four’ bank NAB is currently trying to undo a decade of IT outsourcing by hiring in new teams to run its operations. ANZ Banking Group is also heavily investing in its internal capability, implementing agile ways of working at scale.

Walker said the “key to driving change in large organisations like banks was understanding why it was needed and ‘actually feeling the need to act’.”

He said transformation at former employer DBS had been “hard work” but necessary as the institution set itself a challenge “to reimagine banking”.

“We had to think about this as transforming end-to-end,” Walker said.

“It wasn’t just about tech, it was about how we organise ourselves, how we move from projects to product focus, doing agile properly, automating everything and how we design systems.”

At TECHx19, Walker hosted a session with AWS’ Asia Pacific managing director Ed Lenta, with a heavy focus on culture.

Westpac is far from alone - even among Big Four banks - in hoping that some of AWS’ culture will rub off on its own internal operations.

Westpac seemed particularly interested in innovation and ‘builder’ culture. The latter was heavily on show at AWS’ recent community day in Melbourne, where tech workers from the likes of ANZ and IAG demonstrated experimental systems developed in their own time at home using AWS cloud services.

The clear message at community day was that leaders in the cloud space were investing their time in extra-curricular activities, which resulted in transferable skills for use on corporate projects.

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