In November 2017, Malcolm Turnbull stood on a podium in front of the country and announced the establishment of a Banking Royal Commission.
While the decision was met with protest from the banking institutions, the findings of the Royal Commission would prove how necessary it would be.
Over the following year, revelations of the culture of greed that existed within Australia’s large financial institutions would be plastered on the front page of every newspaper and the banks would suffer a major blow to their reputation.
The banks would be criticised for acts such as not acting in the best interests of customers as well as turning a blind eye to misconduct.
Two and a half years on from its establishment, and the big banks are still working to regain the trust of their customers through implementing the 76 recommendations that commissioner Kenneth Hayne made.
From creating new services to developing innovative tech strategies, there are many changes that have been seen within the banks that reflect a more customer-centric culture.
But have these changes been successful? And how are the banks planning to utilise these recommendations during the period of coronavirus-driven economic uncertainty?
From staff members breaching anti-hawking laws, to privacy beaches and failing to refund fees for victims of fraud – the list was long when it came to the criticism that CBA faced.
While CBA was considered to be at the forefront of the Royal Commission’s firing line, their strategies following the recommendations has been beneficial.
CBA CEO Matt Comyn announced this year that he would be investing $1 billion in a digital and technological transformation that would promote the growth of the bank.
Part of this transformation will involve the unveiling of X15 ventures in partnership with Microsoft and KPMG.
Through X15 ventures, there will be 25 customer – focused businesses that will be created over the next five years.
“We will create an environment for new businesses to flourish, we’ll empower Australia’s innovators and bring new solutions market designed to empower customers,” said X15 Head Toby Norton Smith to CBA.
X15 Ventures has launched initiatives such as the app ‘Vonto’ which is targeted at helping small businesses thrive.
Small businesses will be able to use the app to gain personalised insights and ideas that will assist their growth.
This comes at a time where a recent ABS survey revealed that almost half of Australian Businesses are facing adverse impacts due to coronavirus.
It is hoped that initiatives such as Vonto will be able to come into use when trying to mitigate the effects these ‘adverse impacts’ will have on small businesses.
While NAB had to fork out 1.1 million dollars to reimburse customers who suffered losses at the hands of their misconduct, they haven’t been shy when it comes to spending money on their digital transformation.
In 2017, NAB announced that it would launch a $4.5 million tech overhaul as part of a three-year transformation plan to enhance compliance and their services.
Part of this plan involved making 6000 workers redundant, and instead creating 2000 new roles with the aim of simplifying the banks structure and having mechanisms that would deal with customers in a more direct manner.
NAB’s switch to digital was done with the aim of increasing productivity and creating a system that was more robust and reliable.
Some of the changes that NAB saw included migrating IT applications to more reliable cloud programs and developing the bank’s in-app customer experience.
As well as this, NAB launched a ‘Customer Support Hub’ which would be aimed to assist and protect vulnerable customers such as the elderly.
Part of this digital transformation would also involve the creation of a ‘virtual assistant’ that customers can go to for any queries.
During the period of August 2018 to November 2019, this Virtual Assistant has responded to more than 460,000 customer queries.
NAB’s increased investment in technology has seen the number of “Critical” priority technology-based incidents fall to zero.
Having digital mechanisms to assist customers has also left NAB well equipped for the coronavirus environment.
Currently, NAB has seen a number of branch closures due to the need to adopt social distancing measures.
The loss of-to-face customer service will mean that the digital customer channels that they have created will come into use.
This will mean that it is likely that the quality of their customer service will not be compromised in this time of adversity.
A recent AUSTRAC scandal saw Westpac accused of 23 million money laundering, counterterrorism and finance laws – revealing that Westpac still has room for improvement.
The criticisms were reminiscent of the Royal Commission, where they had been criticised for misconduct in various sectors.
Hayne shunned Westpac for actions such as accepting false information from mortgage brokers and setting up accounts without the permission of customers to reach performance targets.
Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer said in a statement in March 2019 that their main focus would now be increasing customer benefits while remaining cautious about changes that could negatively impact the flow of credit.
The changes Westpac has made has reflected this, through the Priority Assist number to protect vulnerable customers and the development of their complaint mechanism.
The recent scandals that they have been involved in has also sparked a company-wide awareness campaign to educate employees on the logging of complaints.
In addition to the customer-based changes, Westpac has implemented changes in relation to their dealings with mortgage brokers.
One key recommendation from the Royal Commission was to revise broker renumeration, with Hayne encouraging lenders to get rid of trail commissions.
A trail commission is a payment that is made by a lender to a broker over the life a client’s loan, and is typically calculated based off the balance of the loan.
‘The Sedgwick review,’ which was run by public services commissioner Stephen Sedgwick, looked further into the way banks were paying third parties such as brokers for selling their products.
Westpac has changed it’s commission structure based on the recommendations made in the Royal Commission and the Sedgwick review.
The recommendations have been implemented by Westpac with the objective of removing the chance of a conflict of interest occurring between the interests of the broker and the customer.
Changes such as this are proving crucial at a time where the turbulent economy has meant that many homeowners are likely to be refinancing.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that mortgage applications in early March this year were 152% higher than the number of mortgage applications in the same time 2019.
This figure is likely to change following the RBA’s announcement last week that the cash rate had now dropped to a record low 0.25%.
With the number of mortgage applications expected to rise, changes such as ensuring customers can trust their brokers is as important as ever.
Following the Royal Commission, it was estimated that there were 3.4 ANZ bank accounts required fixing as of December 2019, with remediation costs reducing their statutory profit to a 7% decrease of $6 billion.
ANZ has focused on reimbursing their customers while developing their technology so that they can provide more efficient services.
“we’ve invested more staff and better technology so that we can get money back to customers faster,” said ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot to parliament in March 2019.
As part of this digital transformation, ANZ launched a new self-service platform, which was used by 60,000 of their customers.
The platform was created with the aim of streamlining their experience through allowing them access to their accounts, payments and foreign exchange in a single place.
ANZ has also made changes to their technological processes when it comes to reviewing and analysing customer information.
This has been achieved through the use of machine learning and automation, which has meant that ANZ has seen an 80% reduction in review processes.
ANZ has also launched a new technology and innovation arm called ANZi.
Through creating a new business lab, creating partnerships and growing ANZi Ventures, it is hoped that this initiative can enhance customer experiences.
This corporate venture capital arm has been investing in emerging growth companies that will have strategic value to customers of ANZ.
“If we can work with them to deliver a superior experience to our customers or we can use their technology to improve our current practices and services,” said Daniel Wypler, the investment director for ANZi Ventures, to ANZ.
The digital transformations that have been seen across the big banks, such as ANZ, show that the banks have come a long way since the Royal Commission was established in 2017.
ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot is hoping that the economic challenges presented by the current coronavirus pandemic will be able to provide these banks with a chance to regain the trust of their customers that had been damaged.
Words by Vidya Kathirgamalingam
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