Trading with the digital natives

By Alexander Speirs

BNZ's new banking system is targeting the high tech-user youth market

BNZ Director Retail, Andy Symons. Photo / NZH
BNZ Director Retail, Andy Symons. Photo / NZH

Innovation has typically been a domain dominated by small-businesses and forward-thinking entrepreneurs. But it's important for New Zealand's success that big corporates create an environment in which innovation can be fostered and flourish.

That's the message from Andy Symons, Director of Retail at BNZ.

"Large companies are geared up to optimise what they are already doing and ensuring that the next 90-day result isn't put at risk," explains Symons. "Innovation isn't about changing the fundamental elements of the business - you experiment around the edges.

"It's a major shift that requires an evolution in organisational thinking, a willingness to experiment and courageous business leadership."

Symons believes a questioning mindset, a high level of curiosity and great networking skills are essential to successful innovations.

"Great observational skills and an ability to experiment methodically are key qualities for innovators to possess.

"People strong in these areas tend to be our 'hit it out of the park' entrepreneurs. These are things that people can learn, they just typically aren't taught."

BNZ's own latest innovation - YouMoney - is already garnering significant attention.

It is a new online banking system built from the ground up to capture a bigger share of the youth "digital natives" banking market.

"The traditional way of developing something like YouMoney might have seen six months of writing requirements and specifications, followed by user documents and then six months writing a business plan," says Symons.

"The development process for YouMoney broke the mould of typical product development. Instead of going out and looking to build a new product, we wanted to create a new experience for people

"That process began by bringing in people and talking to them. Initially that involved learning about what the actual end-users of the product needed from their banking, not what bankers thought they needed.

"Facebook is easy, banking is not."

Symons says young people said they wanted their personal banking to be easy and intuitive - "so that's what we've created".

In contrast to the standard internet banking format seen across New Zealand, YouMoney is a completely customisable platform.

Sporting an app-like appearance, the split screen interface displays accounts and payees on one side and a more detailed transacting history on the other. Users have the ability to "drag and drop" their money between accounts or to payees.

A smart search function providing the ability to filter transactions by amounts or keywords is part of a feature-set to educate users about their spending habits and trends.

"These features are all designed to help New Zealanders better manage and understand their money," says Symons.

YouMoney is an evolving product. Though initially designed with youth in mind, it has drawn interest from a far broader range of people seeking to make banking a more simple and intuitive process.

Utilising this feedback and integrating it into the development phases of YouMoney was just one component of a long-term strategy predicated upon perpetual innovation. This involved a team working constantly to improve the YouMoney product with additional features and an expanding user base.

Competitively protecting a product like YouMoney is difficult. BNZ is instead capitalizing on its first-mover advantage by staying ahead of the game.

'We're pretty relaxed about it, "says Symons. "We're moving so quickly and have a stocked pipeline, so if someone were to come along with a product that looked and felt like YouMoney, BNZ will just need to continue to lead the way."

In the early stages of release, YouMoney has received a strongly positive response both in New Zealand and abroad.

"Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to share this with some world-leading technology entrepreneurs at the Geeks on a Plane event. I was very keen to know if they had knowledge of innovative organisations that were doing similar things in the US. They had a look and they were a little bit blown away actually."

Of interest is whether BNZ's Australian parent will introduce YouMoney.

"They've been informed throughout the process about what we're doing and if the opportunity to collaborate with them to introduce this to the Australian market arises, we'd be very open to that."

Symons credits a process that BNZ uses called "agile innovation" as critical to the creation of YouMoney.

The methodology is person-centric and predicated on receiving input from within the business and further abroad.

"Agile creates a high level of interaction with end-users to enable us to create relevant solution. It creates an awful lot of incremental benefit along the way ... throughout the process you're developing small pieces of the solution."

BNZ also maintains strong relationships with incubators The Icehouse (Auckland) and Epic (Christchurch).

"That's our way of staying connected with organisations out there doing some very innovative stuff," adds Symons.

Symons has a diverse background in both banking and business. He was the founding shareholder of a software firm specialising in expert decisioning and credit management which exposed him to international business across a range of foreign markets.

He held a number of senior positions within retail banking at BNZ before taking up the role of CEO at Loyalty New Zealand (Fly Buys).

- NZ Herald

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