The rise of digital, mobile and social media have put customers at the centre of the banking experience, and organisations must align technology innovation with their real-time needs in order to remain relevant, Westpac's group CIO claims.

Speaking at a Trans-Tasman Business Circle event in Sydney on 3 September, Clive Whincup claimed it is now critical to conduct tailored, one-to-one relationships with customers. To do this, businesses need to simplify and unify their technology approach so they can interact with customers whenever and however they choose to engage, even as device and connection choices proliferate.

Mobility a godsend and a nightmare

"It is foolish and perhaps a little arrogant to believe technology alone can be a strategy to truly solve customers' needs," he told attendees. "The customers we serve -- their ambitions, their plans, their way of life -- must come first."

Whincup said Westpac is meeting this challenge by reorienting its products and services to focus on an individual's financial outcomes at various stages of their lifecycle.

"Each life stage is an opportunity to deepen customer relationships and embed that feeling of working together in the customer's interest," he commented. "With that in mind, we are moving towards a service-based approach. That's easier to say than do for a company of Westpac's size and scope, and we know investing in technology is essential."

Westpac originally embarked on a $2bn transformation in 2008 to upgrade its technology, infrastructure and operations, outlining 15 strategic investment priorities. Whincup used his presentation to signal Westpac's shift into the next phase of its technology transformation strategy, and announced the launch of a new online banking experience aimed at making it easier for customers to do business with the banking group.

The financial services group is also migrating disparate brand platforms internally onto unified technology to better streamline customer interaction.

Other planned improvements include a next-generation wealth program aimed at addressing Australia's growing superannuation needs, estimated to be worth $7 trillion by 2033. Westpac is also putting greater focus on its Asian operations and is upgrading regional infrastructure, particularly in payments and trade, to enhance customer relationships, Whincup said.

Q&A with Westpac Group CIO, Clive Whincup

As examples of meeting emerging customer demands to date, Whincup flagged a native iPad application and Windows 8 application based on the metro interface, trials of embedded NFC phone capabilities for contactless payments, and what he claimed was the first mobile solution for small to medium businesses two years ago.

Westpac has more than 3.6 million active online and mobile customers across the group, processing approximately $280 billion worth of transactions a month.

Placing the control in consumer's hands were two events of "seismic discontinuity" that have transformed how technology is used in the banking sector over the past 20 year, Whincup explained.

The first was the transformation of technology from a back-end tool that automated and improved the accuracy, speed and availability of information, to something that has changed the nature of the bank's relationships with customers. The rise of contact centres and self-service banking, followed by the Internet, were catalysts for this change.

The second seismic disruption being experienced today is the convergence of mobility, digitisation and social media. "This convergence has radically shifted the balance of power, placing the customer in control," Whincup said. "Continuous, ubiquitous connectivity is changing the way customers think and act."

The explosion of data triggered by this always-on connectivity is also a challenge and opportunity for organisations, because they need to be able to analyse this data in real-time in order to remain competitive, Whincup said.

"If you can't follow the customer in the present, responding to their needs minute by minute, we risk obsolescence," he claimed.

"We couldn't predict the revolutionary changes brought about by the Internet or digitisation. One thing that's unlikely to change is the power of the customer."