Q&A on data, AI and banking with Johmar Gazo, CIO, Suncorp Bank at the 2023 Gartner IT Symposium

The Gold Coast was buzzing in September, with CIOs and IT leaders coming together to explore the technology, insights and trends shaping the future of IT and business. In fact, Gartner went so far to call it “The World’s Most Important Gathering of CIOs and IT Executives™”.

At this esteemed event, DocuSign proudly presented a session on how to unlock the power of agreements using data and AI. Our GVP Engineering, Nipun Dureja, shared DocuSign’s vision for an AI-powered future of agreements before welcoming Johmar Gazo, CIO, Suncorp Bank, to the stage for an insightful Q&A session.

Here’s a recap of their conversation, edited for brevity.

Q. Data, analytics and insights are super important to make informed decisions. Can you provide an example how Suncorp is leveraging advanced analytics and AI to better improve the technology roadmap, business strategies and help the customers?

Well, this example is a good one because it actually involves Docusign. Three years ago, we set a goal during the strong mortgage market to be number one in turnaround times for  being able to say ‘yes’ to home loan customers. At that time, our approval turnaround times were at around 20 days. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of baseline data about our processes or what our customers wanted from us. So we spent about six months using data and analytics to really understand, end-to-end, our processes and our customers’ expectations. We then turned that into a roadmap of initiatives for the next three years, where we focused on a couple of things.

Firstly, intelligent automation and robotics to streamline human processes. We used modeling to understand how customers were spending and making it easier for our teams to collate a customer’s banking transactions. These models and processes meant we could say ‘yes’ really quickly, or even have pre-approvals for our customers.

This was all during Covid, when a lot of applications got stuck because brokers had to wait for our customers to sign physical contracts. In Queensland, we’ve also got a lot of remote customers who live a couple of hours drive away from town. So we went hard into looking at how we can implement DocuSign into our process.

Fast-forward three years, and in the last financial year, in 32 out of the 52 weeks of the year, we were number one in turnaround time.

Q. Can you share an example of Suncorp’s application of AI?

I can give a recent example. Our ambition in Suncorp is to deliver banking that makes you feel good. Our customer-facing teams are awesome — you can see how much empathy they have for the customer, particularly in regional branches where they know each customer by name.

With Covid, though, we really saw a swift change in customer behaviour. No one was going into branches anymore. They didn’t want to talk face-to-face unless they really needed to. We needed a way to create digital empathy — to replicate the feeling our customers had when they walked into a branch and were greeted by name.

This meant translating our people’s understanding of our customers’ banking needs into a digital channel where our customers were now self-serving. And so we partnered with Pega Platforms to create a decision engine, using a lot of data — both internal and external to Suncorp — in our mobile app to create a ‘segment of one’. Previously, our marketing emails would have very coarse targets. Now, with the decision engine using progressive deep analytics, we can have hyper-personalised conversations when our customers want them.

Q. What emerging technologies do you believe will have the most transformative impact on the banking industry in the next three to five years? And how is Suncorp positioning itself to be able to leverage these?

There are two really interesting phenomena in play today. There’s the acceleration of everything moving from physical to digital — from on-premise to cloud, from bank branches to mobile apps, even how we’re working with hybrid work. This requires the harmonisation of the physical and the digital, but we haven’t quite got there yet.

The second phenomenon is data. There’s this radical transparency that’s going on with data and who owns it. Corporations, regulators and investors are all looking for transparency of data. And our customers are now demanding it too, asking “What data do we have on them? How long are we keeping that data for? And how can we make them feel confident that their data is secure?”

To address both of these phenomena, it comes back to some basic foundational building blocks. First, you need to be on hyperscaler cloud or you’re going to be left behind. Suncorp has about 80% of our workload on the cloud now and by the end of this financial year, we’ll be up to over 90%.  So we’re pretty confident of this foundational building block. 

The other part is APIs, and using them smartly. We’ve been focused on them for several years now. But what’s really awesome is that business product owners are talking about APIs too. Our payments product owner will say, “Oh, I can reuse these particular APIs for this particular function.” It’s great to hear our business colleagues talk about that.

It’s also important to make sure you have a modernized core. The banking industry is littered with legacy systems. And the systems of record versus the systems of engagement are difficult to fix. But the banks that modernise the core — making systems more modular and creating reusable functions — will bring new features to market a lot quicker.

The last enabler, I think, will be digital identities. Having immutable digital identities that go across multiple, trusted uses, vendors or third parties is key to taking friction out of how customers find value across the ecosystem.

Q. With open banking and API ecosystems reshaping the financial landscape, how is Suncorp navigating this and how are you safeguarding customer data and privacy?

Open banking and consumer data rights (CDR) is really interesting in being able to open up data which customers have explicitly given consent to be provided to other entities. The banking sector is now on CDR and, later this year, non-bank lenders and Buy Now Pay Later entities will be too.

When you look at the uptake of CDR in the Australian market, compared to Europe and the UK, it’s probably been slower — but being able to roll it out across industries can help consumers feel more comfortable with giving consent about their data. And as it proliferates through industries, the level of comfort will increase. That said, consumers are still very nervous about how their data is being used.

The ABA is also looking at how to potentially eradicate screen scraping — which is where we ask, as part of giving consent, to provide your user ID and a password. Everyone in the industry knows not to give that information out. If we can eradicate that, and make sure that we’re using APIs that are secure and penetration tested periodically, that will increase consumer confidence.

Q. As you’re aware, DocuSign is trying to replace paper. Sustainability and green initiatives mean a lot to us. How is Suncorp driving sustainability practices internally and externally with their customers?

Our purpose in Suncorp Bank is to create a brighter future. And that’s not just for our customers, but for our people, our community, and also the world in which our community lives in. Having a partner like DocuSign, where you’re not just addressing a customer need, but you’re helping the planet at the same time, is so important.

Our CEO talks about not just doing well, but doing good profit and purpose. Late last year, we launched our Carbon Insight Account. As I understand it, it’s the first account that’s carbon neutral. We partnered with a FinTech which specialises in carbon footprint management, Cogo, to allow our customers to check the carbon footprint of things they buy, from coffee or to Uber rides. It’s all about creating awareness and having a dialogue, and getting more people thinking about their impact.

Huge thanks go to Johmar for sharing such insightful answers. If your business is keen to unlock the power of data and analytics in its agreements like Suncorp has, get in touch with DocuSign today.


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