Bank staff out of the loop: Microsoft

  • By Elizabeth Fry

There is a yawning gap between front-line staff and managers in Australia's banks and insurers when it comes to understanding the company’s digital strategy. 

Further, this chasm must be narrowed or the financial services sector risks putting itself in grave danger from innovative rivals, according to a new survey from Microsoft Australia.

The chasm between public-facing staff and managers is extreme and threatens to stifle digital transformation initiatives, according to the tech giant, which argued that only 59 per cent of front-line staff reckon their organisation has a clear and coherent digital strategy. This is compared to 78 per cent of managers.

According to Ian Heard, Microsoft Australia’s digital workplace manager, these figures reveal that management believes its organisation is digitally transforming but their front-line workers are not being brought on the journey.

The stakes are high for Australia's financial services industry, which last year added $140 billion to GDP.

“If employees don't understand the organisation's digital strategy as comprehensively as managers, there’s a risk that the full benefit of transformation initiatives will not be realised," Heard added.

Digital disruption

Admittedly while this gap isn’t as wide as for some other industries, he claimed it is still a problem since the sector is on the cusp of disruption and the need for end-to-end connectivity in the workplace is essential.

“The sector is only going to get more disrupted as we go and so the need to speed up these efforts is greater," Heard explained.

Clearly digital disruption is rife across the sector thanks to the emergence of fintechs creating innovative products, services and raising customer expectations.

“This is spurring incumbents to embrace new technologies such as cloud computing, machine learning, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence as they rethink their strategy, seeking to personalise and enhance customer experience while identifying efficiencies across the business.”

However, he went on to say, front-line staff feel they are out of the loop in terms of exactly what the business is doing with digital technologies – especially compared to managers. 

The survey revealed that although a solid 63 per cent of first-line staff feel well informed about their company’s use of technology, this figure is significantly lower than 78 per cent of managers. And that result still leaves a sizeable group that hasn’t got a clue.

More than half of the customer-facing employees surveyed feel equipped to handle any ground-breaking innovation that comes into the industry which, of course, means just under half do not. 

Damning result

While both staff and managers appreciate the potential of technology to transform the financial services sector, almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of staff do not feel they have an active and participatory role in how technology is deployed.

This goes a long way to explain why a stunning three quarters (76 per cent) of respondents believed that automation leads to job losses - which is a damning result given the rapid deployment of intelligent customer-facing technologies, such as chatbots.

“As rote work is increasingly performed by machines, human interaction and knowledge-based expertise will become more important to first-line workers,” Heard said.

He added that organisations that engaged customer-facing workers in their digital transformation initiatives would find themselves better placed to succeed with their strategic priorities.

"Digital transformation is powerful but everyone needs access. First-line workers are the key to the next wave of successful digital transformation and sustained competitiveness.”

Finally, Heard was asked whether Aussie banks are up for the challenge given the informational silos that have typically hampered them from rmoving quickly.

“Absolutely, however with the opportunities and threats that digital transformation brings, what has been historically good needs to be better. We have seen that it’s only going to get more disrupted as we go and so the need to accelerate is greater."