The chief information officer of the country’s fifth-largest bank in mortgages and retail savings, ING Australia, has said it will combat a shortage of technology skills, by targeting workers from all across the country, after seeing its operations thrive with remote teams during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Former senior Westpac Banking Group technology executive Linda Da Silva joined the local subsidiary of the Dutch giant ING this year, and said the pandemic had seen the company accelerate digital transformation style projects and investments and rethink its future workforce strategy.
ING likes to describe itself as the “original fintech” given its lack of a physical branch network and Ms Da Silva told The Australian Financial Review its leadership had been pleasantly surprised by just how effectively it had continued to operate during lockdown.
While it is easing some staff back into office life, with split teams operating for the 20 per cent of currently returned staff, Ms Da Silva said the lockdown period would permanently change the way many of its staff operated, and lead to a rethink of how it used its office space.
“There is an opportunity now for us to think about how we recruit across the country, because you’re really removing the need for people to physically come to Sydney,” she said.
“For me it’s exciting because it means that I can tap into a broader pool of talent to bring into ING. And that’s something I’ve been working through and talking through with my leadership team.
“There is a shortage of technology talent in Australia and I’m convinced that we do have more talent out there, just not necessarily in the big cities. So that’s an opportunity and a market that we want to tap into.”
Ms Da Silva said she also hoped a more flexible approach to hiring and working practices would help her improve the gender diversity among tech specialists in ING Australia.
There were still too few female leaders in big technology departments and she hoped she could show other women that ING was a company where their career could thrive.
“We can certainly do a lot better … I’m a big believer in diversity of thought and I want to recruit the best people into the organisation,” Ms Da Silva said.
” I think being visible about the fact that we’re very interested in getting diversity into the organisation will help, and that having a female leader is a visible sign that technology is a field where both males and females can excel.”
Working collaboratively apart
Technology development in the corporate world has often relied on staff being physically close to each other, with teams delivering regular software and product updates, and huddling around white boards.
Ms Da Silva said some of the increased COVID-era investment had been needed to let contact centre workers work from home, which had involved providing devices and installing software that ensured appropriate policies were followed.
This then extended to the greater use of collaboration software and some automation in its tech delivery processes to enable its staff to work remotely.
“A lot of these things were considerations that we had in the background, but with the pandemic, it meant that we accelerated our thinking and tweaked some of our processes to make it really easy for our teams to be effective working remotely,” Ms Da Silva said.
“One of the things I love is the fact that we’ve removed the dependency on physical boards and now we use virtual boards. I joke that it might be the end of Post-it notes on physical boards at ING.”
She said collaboration via video meetings and virtual boards had been just as productive, if not more so, than the pre-lockdown methods. When dealing with global colleagues within ING, meetings are usually held via Skype, but locally it uses BlueJeans.
A career shift
Before joining ING Australia, Ms Da Silva had been at Westpac for 12 years, and had most recently been CIO of its BT Financial Group.
She said the idea of joining an organisation that was digital native and less encumbered by decades-old legacy technology systems had been a driving force behind leaving life in the big four banks.
“I found it extremely appealing to move from an incumbent to one of the fastest growing banks in the country … it went from a standing start 20 years ago to being the fifth largest retail bank in the country, and passed 2 million active users this month,” Ms Da Silva said.
“The opportunity to lead and help scale a technology function to support a growing digital and trusted bank is actually very exciting, we are constantly looking at how we modernise and scale our platform.”
Work under way in this regard includes an infrastructure program that will see ING Australia implement two new data centres and a new private cloud, under a program known internally as Opera.
The COVID-era has also seen it adopt more robotic process automation (RPA), in a speedier fashion than it would have before the pandemic. This has involved customer-facing applications, as well as back office systems, and Ms Da Silva said she had been very happy with how the bots had stood up to the task.
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“We introduced robotics into our process of helping customers apply for assistance with their loans, and it really helped us reduce the customer queues,” she said.
“We have also thought about how we use AI robotics and certainly digitisation to improve operational efficiency. It has meant we can speed up processing approvals and the cycle times across a number of areas, including our mortgage and our consumer lending application.
“We will now continue to use a combination of RPAs and AI to automate and drive operational efficiencies as part of our technology agenda.”
Paul Smith edits the technology section and has been a leading writer on the sector for almost 20 years. He covers big tech, how businesses are using technology, fast growing start-ups, telecommunications and national innovation policy. Connect with Paul on Twitter. Email Paul at email@example.com
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