CBA opens Innovation Lab inside Sydney HQ

Technology as important to CBA as classic banking skills, says CEO Ian Narev

An Oculus Rift virtual reality experience in CBA's new Innovation Lab lets customers demo the bank's payment technologies.

An Oculus Rift virtual reality experience in CBA's new Innovation Lab lets customers demo the bank's payment technologies.

Leading on technology is a “life-and-death matter” for Commonwealth Bank, according to CEO Ian Narev.

Narev stressed the bank’s commitment to innovation as CBA opened an Innovation Lab on the ground floor of its office in the Sydney CBD. The 690 square metre Innovation Lab will act as an idea incubator and accelerator focused on developing new products and services in collaboration with customers, partners, startups and industry.

In addition to hosting workspaces, the Lab includes several tech demonstrations such as a virtual reality demo using Oculus Rift goggles and an interactive visualisation of payment trends around the country.

CBA also announced the launch of an internal program called “Unleashing Innovation”. Under this initiative, employees from anywhere in the company can submit ideas through a Web portal. The ideas are reviewed by a panel of senior executives, with successful proposals moving into the Innovation Lab for incubation.

CBA executives declined to disclose the price of building the Innovation Lab.

“It’s not a significant spend in the scheme of the Commonwealth Bank, but most of the real expense was people’s time and effort to design it appropriately,” said Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, group executive for institutional banking and markets.

A CBA spokesperson indicated that the project had been in the works for many months and began before the May departure of ex-CIO Michael Harte.

CBA annually spends more than $0.5 billion on productivity and growth, including technology, said Narev.

“Being able to be leading edge and apply the world’s best technology for the benefit of our customers is a life-and-death matter,” said the CEO, adding that competition is heating up in this area.

“It’s not a nice to have. It’s as important a core skill that we need around here as the other classic banking skills.”

CommBank CIO David Whiteing said it was important to place the Innovation Lab inside CBA headquarters.

“Innovation only works when it is in close proximity with the business and Commonwealth Bank has deliberately ensured our Innovation Lab is not only in the heart of the Sydney CBD, but also the heart of our operations, close to our people and our customers,” he said.

“The real value we expect from the Innovation Lab is twofold in being able to explore new ideas and making quicker decisions on which ones will work best for our customers, and being able to scale those ideas across CBA so all customers and employees can take advantage of the innovation.”

Dominic Perrottet, the minister for finance and services for New South Wales, applauded the Innovation Lab and said government should look to private sector companies as an example on how to innovate.

“Governments generally aren’t the best innovators,” he said. “It’s the private sector in my view that takes the lead, that governments can learn from.”

“What [CBA is] doing here today is something that I think the New South Wales government ... should look towards emulating ourselves.”

Adam Bender covers business tech issues for CIO 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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