5 minutes with... Geoff Wenborn, CIO wealth management, National Australia Bank

Q: What is your organisation’s core business?

The National Group’s Wealth Management division operates a broad portfolio of financial services businesses across Australia, Europe, Asia and New Zealand. We have a network of aligned self-employed, salaried and external financial advisers, and provide financial planning services, private banking, insurance, and superannuation solutions to retail and corporate customers.

How big is your company and where are its main offices?

There are more than 5500 permanent employees across Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Asia and New Zealand, with 2.8 million retail and corporate customers where we manage funds in excess of $64 billion. Our business technology (BT) team operates internationally across the UK, Asia and New Zealand, and in Australia we are based in Sydney with operations in Melbourne and Perth.

How many IT professionals in your team?

In just a few years we have moved from a totally outsourced IT operation to an in-house IT services division. Back in the mid to late 90s our IT function was outsourced to IBM GSA — a joint venture between Telstra, IBM and Lend Lease (our then parent company). Since then we have seen some significant change and growth and an increase in our people. In 1999 prior to acquisition our IT department was about 300 strong, but today for our global operation we are tracking around 600. The staff numbers are also determined on a needs basis. As our business activities undergo peaks and troughs, we need to ramp-up technology delivery to compensate. For us, this means we need to have a flexible workforce. At any one time we will have about a 60/40 mix of full-time employees to contractors and vendor staff.

How will IT help drive your organisation’s success?

We aim to be a leading financial services company.

Technology is core in realising the strategic vision of our business and improving services for our internal and external customers.

Our technology team is a successful IT department with strong culture, process and practice that is highly regarded by many in our industry. In business technology, we determine BT solutions and select, provide, develop and maintain our systems, as well as supporting infrastructure facilities and operations.

Key to our performance is our focus on simplifying and optimising the business model, deepening partnerships and continuing to develop a leadership and innovation culture. Simplifying and optimising their business model: we continue to extend and enhance their business model to enable more efficient, scalable services and operations and achieve seamless service delivery.

Deepening partnerships: we focus on extending valued business partner relationships by bringing technology closer to the business to have common ownership and shared goals. We also foster relationships with a number of strategic IT vendors and consultants, generating value for the business through improved service quality and lower costs.

Developing culture through leadership and innovation: in BT we have a specific, deliberate and positive focus on leadership and innovation, and the team is developing programs to embed these into everyday business.

What key projects are you working on?

Our business has consolidated a major investment into a program of work we have collectively called Amazon. This program highlights our understanding of the market, the pressures the wealth management industry is facing, and what we need to do as a business to continue to grow.

In BT, we are playing a key role to help our business realise these goals by providing the technology enablers, supporting infrastructure and people to develop the applications and solutions of the Amazon projects.

Two examples of these technology enablers are the strategic advice platform and an adviser relationship management system.

The first, the strategic advice platform, will provide a core financial planning tool and other specialist tools to assist our advisers capture client details, model their client’s lifestyle goals, prepare financial plans and conduct client reviews. To achieve this we need to extend the capability to receive information from MLC’s source systems over the Internet — like client transactions, new and amended financial planning templates and MLC research services. The desktop application is currently being built in VB.net, J2EE and Web services and is due to be launched in the first half of 2004.

Another good example, and one we have already successfully launched, is our adviser relationship management system. The technology tool enables a single consolidated view of our adviser information, amalgamating a number of different systems. The development of this system has seen the first step in the strategic implementation of Siebel technology, and a journey to achieving consolidated adviser and customer information.

What are your greatest IT challenges?

We are continually looking for ways to ensure our discretionary spend on technology provides the greatest returns for the business. Each year we look to reduce our overall development costs while maintaining the same, or better, level of service. We are also setting a challenge to channel our expenditure towards activities that will significantly add value to our business.

What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you at work?

Not to me but when I was working in Asia the CEO of my company did the introductory address for my presentation to a forum of about 800 people. As I was presenting he went to the men’s toilet but left his lapel microphone switched on which created a furore in the hall as the flushing and laughter drowned out anything I had to say for 10 minutes.

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