The digitization of financial services is speeding up around the world. In Australia, four in five consumers prefer to conduct financial activities using their digital devices, according to the Australian Banking Association.
National Australia Bank (NAB), one of Australia’s largest financial institutions, is racing to keep up with this trend, investing heavily in digital initiatives across the company. It’s implemented a dual strategy focused on digitizing the employee experience and the customer experience.
“We put our customers and colleagues in an equal position at the top of our organization,” explains Susan Ferrier, NAB’s group executive for people and culture.
At the end of 2019, NAB committed to upgrade its human resources (HR) infrastructure. The goal was to make working for the bank feel as intuitive, frictionless, and enjoyable as a customer would feel interacting with it over a smartphone.
Ferrier understands better than most HR executives the importance of taking a digital-first approach to people management. Having supplemented her HR career with a stint leading an online video startup, Ferrier appreciates the way digital tools can empower connectivity and knowledge sharing.
“One of the first things I did [after arriving at NAB] was a ‘study tour,’ leading my team and colleagues in IT to identify world-class HR tech,” she says. “The aim was to jointly build a plan for how we would need to transform HR technology at NAB.”
Ferrier decided ServiceNow HR Service Delivery would form the foundation of the HR department’s next chapter. She describes this as an intuitive choice, springing from both her use of ServiceNow during her time as global head of HR at KPMG and NAB New Zealand’s successful use of ServiceNow since 2019.
The solution proved vital during the pandemic. It provided a seamless, one-stop platform for NAB colleagues to access crucial information—such as answers to how to manage remote teams and questions about quarantining and submitting vaccination records.
“Without ServiceNow, it would have been ‘all hands to the pump’ to manage that influx of support that was required for the business,” Ferrier says. “We would not have been able to keep up with other strategic plans.”
Those plans included ambitious initiatives to orient NAB and its roughly 35,000 employees toward a “high-performance winning culture,” Ferrier says. This encompassed:
Setting up a regular staff feedback program to replace a once-yearly employee sentiment survey (which can now be conducted quarterly and even daily, if needed)
Establishing a formal leadership training program
Implementing professional accreditations for all staff throughout the bank
Simplifying and standardizing areas such as remuneration and career advancement
Connecting all these initiatives is a centralized destination called Colleague Connect, which was implemented in just 14 weeks. Essentially, it’s a platform built on the Now Platform that helps NAB deliver a unified employee experience under the bank's brand.
The overarching goal of Colleague Connect is to turn the HR function into a more efficient, nimble, easily accessible, and user-friendly part of the company than it was before, Ferrier says.
The main feature is a portal that provides automated answers to employees who need information, such as how to apply for annual leave. These answers are largely delivered via a chatbot that’s available 24 hours a day. The HR department’s roughly 500-member staff can also use Colleague Connect to push out communications and alerts.
Ferrier says Colleague Connect has turned what was once a cumbersome, inconsistent, and costly HR communications and support system of manual email and limited 9-to-5 call center operations into an always-on, light-touch process.
“In the past, we wouldn’t even ask colleagues to do things like confirm they’ve read updated codes of conduct, because we wouldn’t be able to handle the deluge of email,” she says. “Now, it all takes place on Colleague Connect, so people can confirm they’ve received and read those kinds of documents with the click of a button.”
Colleague Connect also includes a library of HR insights. These are compiled by a subset of Ferrier’s team that regularly interacts with people in other parts of the business to better understand their roles. The team routinely updates this wiki-style database, incorporating feedback that anyone in the company can submit about any article.
Since launching in June, the chatbot has been used by more than 5,000 NAB employees. It averages around 3,000 interactions per month, with a growth rate of about 30% per month. The library garnered a 49% increase in average monthly views between FY21 and FY22.
These improvements have been cost-efficient: Over the course of Ferrier’s tenure thus far, she’s managed to reduce costs by 12% to 15%.
India-Rose Carroll, a consultant for Connect Services who’s worked with NAB for six years, says Colleague Connect took her by surprise. “When we heard about [Colleague Connect], I was imagining a case management system,” she says. After the platform’s implementation, Carroll realized it offered more than that.
Operating under one system gives employees greater oversight of their cases. With Colleague Connect, “we can manage our cases much more efficiently,” she says.
“Because other teams are also on the portal, it makes communicating and sharing information much simpler. In the past, on the other hand, it felt more like every team was operating under their own system.”
Colleague Connect has lightened the burden of everyday tasks such as handling employee queries and processing documents. “Instead of needing to repeat ourselves across several similar inquiries, we can just point people to the knowledge library,” Carroll says. “Instead of needing a ‘wet’ signature on a form, everything happens digitally in the platform.”
Rolling out an upgrade as significant as Colleague Connect has not been without hurdles. These fall into four categories, according to Ferrier:
Helping the HR team understand the value of an entirely new way of working
Maintaining a sufficient level of support from IT, which has to deal with myriad other tasks throughout the company
Making sure design decisions are always forward-looking rather than regressive
Securing a top-tier pool of technology talent, which isn’t always in abundant supply in Australia
None of these challenges has impeded Ferrier’s motivation to consolidate the gains her team has already seen and press ahead with further reforms to the bank’s HR function.
Ferrier is looking to boost the Colleague Connect bot’s artificial intelligent chat functions. She wants to use machine learning to make it more predictive of a given worker’s needs, rather than simply waiting in the background for a query to come in.
From a broader perspective, Ferrier is working to implement a new Workday platform that will consolidate all people data throughout the bank—everything from pay to personal factors. Replacing the legacy platform will help her team keep demographics and other factors up to date, accessible, centralized, and organized.
The ultimate end goal is to seamlessly integrate ServiceNow and Workday to provide a personalized and unified, end-to-end employee experience. The benefits include a streamlined, more productive HR function and an entire workforce that has more time to deliver success to the business rather than stumbling over HR tripwires.
Instead of wasting time navigating different portals, employees can rely on the integrated ServiceNow solution to inject any required task directly and seamlessly into their flow of work.
According to Ferrier, “There’s a time dividend put back in the hands of our bankers, so they can spend more time with their customers and less time sitting on the phone to my team.”
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