Digital Disruption’s Like “Changing Planes Mid-Air”: ANZ Chief

Digital Disruption’s Like “Changing Planes Mid-Air”: ANZ Chief editor and B&T’s man for all things tech, Andrew Birmingham, has a chat with ANZ’s COO Alistair Currie on how one of Australia’s biggest companies is handling its digital conversion…

Digital transformation means rethinking not only how you prioritise programs but also the way you plan and fund them, says ANZ’s chief operating officer Alistair Currie.

ANZ first started its transformation program in earnest in 2009, as part of its mobile initiative. Seven years on, a lot of things have changed about the way the bank thinks about technology.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the scale of the challenge — except perhaps that the stakes are even higher. ANZ spends $A1.2 billion a year on its technology programs, and with the advent of fast growth fintechs and the increasing incursions by global dotcoms, that spend has taken on an even greater significance.

Currie said “We are not a digital native firm — we are an established complex business with complex established systems and processes. We have all kinds of infrastructure in the fullest sense from people to technology. It’s a big business with big momentum.

“In order to compete, and for long-term survival, and to maintain a competitive edge against new entrants as well as current, we have to change.”

To that end, ANZ understands that to truly transform its business and to be a digital business at its heart, system processes, capabilities and operating models all have to change, he said. It is a challenge he describes as “… flying a 747 and turning it into a brand new A380 in mid air.”


We asked Currie to describe how the bank sets its priorities and how it plans and executes programs in a world where agility has become key and where the old days of finance boiling the ocean over a business plan can no longer be sustained.

“Four or five years ago we would have started with ‘where is the biggest business case’. That would have been seen as the rational view. If I put a dollar in, can I get three dollars out, and how long will that take. It’s a very CFO view of their world.”

Alistair Currie, ANZ COO. Image source : ANZ
Alistair Currie, ANZ COO. Image source : ANZ

These days he says that, while the bank has maintained a strict financial discipline, the first question asked now is more likely to be “Where is the biggest customer pain?” or “Where are the competition delving most into the areas which are under threat.”

“So prioritisation today is about the most important customer journeys which coincidently is a close proxy to where we think we can have the most value impact.”

Currie said it is very important to be deliberate about what he describes as “biting off small chunks”.

“We have to execute quickly. And we can’t pause the business for three years while we do a two billion re-platforming. We have to make the progress in pieces where we can make capability improvements and deliver the customers will notice and that deliver value.”

He said whereas in the past the bank might have planned for a $100 million, two-year project, these days it would be more likely to pick off smaller pieces and deliver the value much more quickly. This also allows for the introduction of many more proof points of success. “You don’t have to go too far down the line. If something isn’t working you can stop it early without rocking the boat.”

The focus on value and proof is important for keeping financial managers and risk managers comfortable, he says.

“We are much more disciplined now about anchoring our change programs in our strategy. In the past these good ideas came from the bottom up, out of product and other business groups. And we still have that flow but we are more focused on testing the flow against the goals of strategy. The big picture is set top down.”


In speaking to Currie is it clear that banks are no longer sanguine about the threat from global tech companies or from fintech. “There are tech platforms who can out-tech us. They are digitally active, they are huge, they have big monetary resources and they are very capable.”

Against this threat, the bank comes armed with a big customer base and an established commercial franchise which, says Currie, many of these newer entrants desire. “The approach the tech players take is to say ‘You take all the regulated complex business of being a bank and we will bring our brilliant user experience and the access into the wider ecosystem and join it to you for mutual benefit’.”

According to Currie, much of the action today is focused on consumer play. “Under today’s strategy ANZ wants to play where it can win on a sustainable basis.

“So it does call into question what we will do in places where we have very tiny businesses.”

It is a matter of public record that those businesses are being reviewed, he said.

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