Steve James, Chief Executive Officer, Teachers Mutual Bank

Teachers Mutual Bank Limited will introduce artificial intelligence and process automation through its back office as it aims to boost productivity and deliver cost savings.

According to TMBL CEO Steve James, the decision was made following a successful pilot program that began last year. “We ran a successful proof-of-concept that included robotic process automation to make sure that the technology supported our commitment to sustainable business practices across the organisation,” James said.

The pilot program was applied to the direct debits part of its operations which included three members of staff. The program improved productivity, cutting transaction processing from four minutes to 30 seconds. It also improved accuracy by using consistent standards and automation rules.

“The technology delivered cost savings while also shortening cycle times, which improved the member experience. We were also able to achieve an improved audit, risk and compliance framework."

“The technology delivered cost savings while also shortening cycle times, which improved the member experience. We were also able to achieve an improved audit, risk and compliance framework.

“From that successful experience, we decided to allocate a substantial budget to introduce more AI process and automation throughout the back office. It has worked for us”.

The staff were redeployed to other parts of the business in more “value-add” roles. James recognises the importance of managing staff expectations around the deployment of technologies like AI.

“Sometimes when we talk about automation, people fear job losses, but our staff embraced the pilot program, knowing that they would no longer have to carry out manual processes. Instead, they can now spend more time on value-added services.”

The benefits of cloud

The mutual bank (which includes Teachers Mutual Bank, UniBank and Firefighters Mutual Bank) has a team in its human resources department to drive organisational change management, and this provides a high level of staff support through such innovations.

"We are undoubtedly a growing organisation and plan to add more staff as people continue to move into more value-added roles."

“We have around 550 staff, all based in Australia [including its contact centres]. We are undoubtedly a growing organisation and plan to add more staff as people continue to move into more value-added roles.”

TMBL also sees scope in the future to use AI in front-line, customer-facing roles including chatbots.

James adds that such technologies are an incredible business opportunity that can bring customer service online 24/7 by performing basic tasks such as balance enquiries. “Our call centres and our personal level of service are part of who we are as a bank. We see chatbots as adding to the service we give the member, rather than taking out the human interaction.”

"Our strategy at this stage is to establish a framework for our current core banking system and work out how the cloud technologies can be applied."

The business is also eyeing the use of cloud technologies as a way to deliver further cost savings while still being able to innovate. “We see the cloud as potentially giving us access to an industry-leading storage network. But we need to make sure that it is a clear benefit to us. Our strategy at this stage is to establish a framework for our current core banking system and work out how the cloud technologies can be applied.”

James also sees the benefits of using a private cloud given regulatory changes and the need for higher security standards. Innovation could also be sourced from the recent decision by Cuscal – TMBL is a shareholder in the business - to launch the digital bank 86 400.

“We hope to work closely with Cuscal once 86 400 is up and running and learn from their experience with innovation in digital banking".

“Our core banking system now allows us to plug in and play, using the latest technology. A lot of new innovations can be developed by fintechs particularly in the customer-facing space, so there are potentially exciting opportunities to work with fintech partners”. 

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