Everyday Australians fed-up with navigating the federal government’s notoriously clunky online front end for social services are turning to bank services to help them navigate the bureaucracy amid the COVID-19 economic crisis, with the CBA recording a massive surge in usage.
Quarterly results for Australia’s largest retail institution reveal that CBA’s ‘Benefits finder’ software, that runs across the CommBank app and NetBank, chalked-up a whopping 150,000 claims pushed through to government agencies between 15th March and 6th May, almost 3000 per day.
Launched with some fanfare in December 2018, CBA’s Benefits finder automatically assesses a customer’s eligibility for a range of government benefits — including JobKeeper, rent assistance and utilities rebates — and then automatically guides them through the application process.
At the time it was launched, some rival banks privately joked that CBA had built a white elephant that would only cater to the least profitable customers and would never really help the bank make money.
There was also the small matter of government budgets potentially needing to be adjusted as more people successfully claimed benefits rather that giving up because government processes were to hard.
A year and a half down the track, the launch of Benefits finder now looks like a fortuitous master stroke as CBA customers dreading the thought of dealing with Centrelink swarmed to the service as the economy went into crisis mode and the stigma of unemployment evaporated overnight.
The CBA’s modern, real time systems have also provided a window into what the economy is doing with immediately visible card spending data now forming a kind of heads-up display for the government’s treasury wonks holding Australia’s firehose of cash.
Matt Comyn, CBA’s digitally bred chief executive, talked up how the bank’s technology had delivered in a time of crisis.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have provided support to approximately 100,000 businesses and one million personal customers. This includes the deferral of repayments on approximately 240,000 home, business and consumer loans, lower interest rates for borrowers, increased interest rates for depositors, and waived fees and charges,” Comyn said
“We’ve been able to do this quickly, thanks to our investments in digital banking and technology and the support of tens of thousands of people in our branches and Australia-based contact centres.”
Quickly, as Government Services minister Stuart Robert learned the hard way, is a critical point in terms of customer service delivery during a crisis, especially after the myGov fiasco left thousands queuing on the street.
The question many will now be asking is whether the government can free-up and augment other services via bank front ends, with the automation of simple tax returns and income monitoring and reporting the obvious candidates.
The national lockdown also provided CBA’s systems with plenty of point work with the bank saying it streamlined digital process for loan deferrals, hardship requests and JobKeeper funding.
The bank also spat out 250 million “personalised in-app messages regarding COVID-19 support” while the COVID-19 support page chalked-up 4 million visits, with the bank citing 10.2 million “peak daily logins” to its CommBank app and Netbank.
With many payment terminals now behind locked doors, digital wallet transactions also soared hitting $1 billion in March, up 17 percent compared to February this year.