CommBank CEO says Albert 'took longer than we thought it would'

Field tests ongoing, larger pilot expected soon

Commonwealth Bank CIO David Whiteing says he has taken a Silicon Valley perspective on making mistakes.

Commonwealth Bank CIO David Whiteing says he has taken a Silicon Valley perspective on making mistakes.

Security concerns have delayed the release of Commonwealth Bank’s Android-based EFTPOS terminal, CBA executives have revealed.

CBA first announced the terminal called Albert as part of an initiative called Pi back in July 2012. At the time, it said the device would launch in Q2 of 2013. That target date came and went, and the bank now plans to release it at the end of this year or early next, according to CBA CEO Ian Narev.

“Albert took longer than we thought it would, absolutely,” Narev said this morning at a launch event for the bank’s new Innovation Lab. “The major reason was when you’re putting a merchant device in a small business or any other business, security is absolutely paramount.”

“Little things like getting security levels on the glass as good as they needed to be took longer than expected.”

CBA is currently doing field tests of the Albert devices in select shops and cafés in Sydney, said Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, group executive for institutional banking and markets. “We’re expecting to go into a much larger pilot in the next couple of months.”

In the meantime, CBA is “focussed on working with the developer community to come up with a range of great applications for the point of sale”.

To this end, CBA sponsored a hackathon last week at the University of New South Wales. The winning team, which is developing an app called CrowdSauce, has been given a space in the bank’s new Innovation Lab. CrowdSauce lets users see what menu items are most popular and then pay for them.

The winners of the UNSW hackathon explain their Albert app, CrowdSauce, to Dominic Perrottet, NSW minister for finance and services.
The winners of the UNSW hackathon explain their Albert app, CrowdSauce, to Dominic Perrottet, NSW minister for finance and services.
Read more: Data retention: iiNet slams 'mass surveillance'

CBA is not disappointed with the delay and is taking a Silicon Valley perspective that it’s OK to fail, said CIO David Whiteing.

“People in the Valley are really proud of failure. That’s a big shift around this innovation culture – us being ready to make mistakes along the way, and recognise those mistakes, reap the benefits of those learnings and then turn those into something great at the other side.”

With Albert, CBA doesn’t want to go to market with something that is “not quality”, he said. “As much as you want to innovate, we’ve got to deliver the quality.”

Narev pointed out that competitors have not taken advantage of the delay. “Nobody’s beaten us to the market, and as these get rolled out late this year and next year, they’re still going to be market-leading innovations even though they took longer than expected.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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