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Amid a war for talent, NAB invests in employee experience to stay on top


Growth rate per month in using chatbot


NAB colleagues have interacted with the chatbot since launch


Weeks to fully implement the new Colleague Connect platform

The digitization of financial services is speeding up around the world. Australia is no exception: it is seeing staggering growth in financial activity, particularly payments, occurring over digital channels. According to the Australian Banking Association, more than four in five Australians say they prefer to conduct a range of financial activity via their digital devices.

NAB, one of Australia’s largest financial institutions, is racing to keep up with this trend, investing heavily in digital initiatives across the company. Its activities can be summed up under a “Twin Peaks” strategy focused on both customers and colleagues. When it introduced a new CEO at the end of 2019, it committed to upgrading its human resources (HR) infrastructure so that the experience of working for the bank would feel as intuitive, frictionless and enjoyable as a customer would feel interacting with it  over a smartphone. As Susan Ferrier, NAB’s Group Executive for People and Culture, characterizes it, “we put our customers and colleagues in an equal position at the top of our organization.” This is hardly an abstract concern: labor shortages are causing major headaches among employers on the continent, making talent attraction and retention all the more vital.

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 well before the world would grow addicted to YouTube, she appreciated the way digital tools could empower connectivity and knowledge-sharing. She would go on to hone these skills as global head of HR for KPMG before joining NAB nearly three years ago, as it was preparing to overhaul its HR systems.

“One of the first things I did [after arriving] 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 that ServiceNow HR Service Delivery would form the foundation of the HR department’s next chapter. Ferrier describes this as an intuitive choice, springing from both her use of ServiceNow during her time at KPMG as well as NAB New Zealand’s successful use of ServiceNow since 2019.

The solutions proved vital during the covid-19 pandemic that would sweep the world in the coming months and years, providing a seamless, one-stop platform for NAB colleagues who needed to access crucial information—everything from how to manage remote teams to answers to questions around 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.”

From cumbersome to effortless
Those plans included an ambitious set of initiatives to orient NAB and its roughly 35,000 employees toward a “high performance winning culture”, in Ferrier’s words. 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; and simplifying and standardizing areas like remuneration and career advancement.

Cutting across all these aims is a centralized destination called Colleague Connect—essentially, a ServiceNow platform that helps NAB deliver a unified colleague experience, under the bank's brand. Ferrier describes the overarching goal of Colleague Connect—which was implemented in just 14 weeks—as turning the HR function into a far more efficient, nimble, easily accessible and user-friendly part of the company than it was previously. Its main feature is a portal that provides automated answers to colleagues who need information—both urgent and unexpected, such as the covid-related queries described above, as well as more mundane things like how to apply for annual leave—largely via a chatbot they can interact with 24 hours a day. The HR department’s 500-odd staff can also use Colleague Connect to push out pings and alerts to staff.

Ferrier says that Colleague Connect has turned what was once a cumbersome, inconsistent and costly HR communications and support system of manual email and limited “nine-to-five” call center operations into an always-on, light-touch process. “In the past we wouldn’t even ask colleagues to do things like ask to 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, compiled by a subset of Ferrier’s team that regularly interfaces with people in other parts of the business to better understand their roles. The team regularly updates this wiki-style database, incorporating feedback that anyone in the company can submit in relation to any article.

Both the chatbot and library have proven popular, as users found them helpful in providing accurate and timely information. Since launching in June, the bot has been used by more than 5,000 NAB colleagues. It is averaging around 3,000 interactions per month, with a growth rate of about 30% per month. The library, meanwhile, witnessed a 49% increase in average monthly views between FY21 and FY22. These upticks have been cost-efficient: over the course of Ferrier’s tenure, she has thus far managed to cut costs by 12-15%.

India-Rose Carroll, a Consultant for Connect Services, who has been with NAB for six years, says that Colleague Connect took her by surprise. “When we heard about [Colleague Connect], I was imagining a case management system,” she says. But after its implementation, Carroll realized it offered more than that. Operating under one system enabled employees to have a greater overview of their cases. With Colleague Connect, “we can manage our cases much more efficiently. Because other teams are also on the portal, it makes communicating and sharing information much simpler,” Carroll adds. “In the past, on the other hand, it felt like more like every team was operating under their own system.”

Crucially, Colleague Connect has lightened the burden of everyday tasks like 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.

NAB logo
National Australia Bank
National Australia Bank
Melbourne, Australia
Financial Services

Without ServiceNow, it would have been ‘all hands to the pump’ to manage that influx of support that was required for the business. We would not have been able to keep up with other strategic plans.

Susan Ferrier

Group Executive for People and Culture

Next steps in the journey
Rolling out an upgrade as significant as Colleague Connect has not been without hurdles. Ferrier describes these as falling into four categories: helping the HR team understand the value of an entirely new way of working; maintaining a sufficient level of support from IT, who has to deal with myriad other tasks throughout the company; making sure that design decisions are always forward-looking, rather than regressive; and securing a top-tier pool of technology talent, which is not always in abundant supply in Australia.

None of these challenges have slowed her motivation to both consolidate the gains her team has already seen, as well as press ahead with further reforms to the bank’s HR function. At a granular level, she is looking to boost the Colleague Connect bot’s artificial intelligent chat functions, using 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, she 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 her team works with today. This 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 employees a personalized and unified “end to end colleague experience”. The benefits to these advances emerge not only in a streamlined, more productive HR function but an entire workforce that has more time to devote to delivering 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.

“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,” Ferrier says. “There’s a modern, consumer-grade experience. There’s a level of reliability and sophistication to the information they get from us. All this is helping us produce better leaders throughout the organization.”


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