By Cristian Vargas on Wednesday, 1 June 2016

In today’s Australian banking economy numerous small internet banks have appeared and they are threatening the big four bank’s market share.

The main advantages for internet banks is that they don’t have the same overheads as the traditional banks who have to maintain a branch experience as well as a digital experience, nor do they have any historical legacy to consider; all this makes the job of promoting a clear, efficient and new experience easier, and the message is reaching the consumer. To counter this threat, the big four banks have had to raise their game.

Big four’s UX teams

It is generally accepted that today’s banking battle ground is being fought within the customer experience spectrum, where each major bank is trying to provide the best experience possible by making their systems more efficient, delightful and relevant for their existing and potential customers.

The big four Australian banks have embraced User experience (UX) and Customer experience (CX) practices as they strive to create the best customer experience across all their touchpoints.  Hence, when designing their digital products they know that customer input is essential.

The Commonwealth Bank, well-known for its Innovation lab, has approximately 75 UX designers on its books; by far the largest team of all the banks. Ian Muir, head of Customer Experience at Westpac, recently told me they have 55 UX designers. I have no figures for NAB or ANZ but be assured that they are not far behind.  You may think the teams are pretty large, but numbers swell even more when you consider that the banks also hire UX agencies to pick up the slack as they power through projects.

Each of the banks has dedicated UX teams for website enhancements, wealth management tools, personal online banking and mobile apps. In addition, they each have a CX team tasked to manage the end-to-end customer journey across all touch points, with the mandate to explore and incorporate new innovative opportunities into the journey. It is also the role of these CX teams to ensure the banks’ message is clear and synchronised, so no matter where or how a customer engages with the bank, the experience is familiar, friendly and succinct.


Each of these teams is conducting its own customer research both within a lab environment and in the field. They then share what they find with dedicated Research teams within each bank, whose role is to not only conduct their own research but to also collect research company-wide and make it available to the whole organisation.  This perpetuates the growth of a centralised pool of knowledge.  Often during a project’s research phase, completely new ideas or opportunities can be uncovered that can suddenly turn the whole project on its head.

By being responsive to these changes, or newly discovered customer needs, the teams can quickly and easily pivot and explore these new opportunities.  This approach is truly agile and always puts the customer at the centre of everything they do.

What does this mean?

All this demonstrates the importance the big four place on getting the user experience right and the level of investment needed to gain the innovative edge in the Australian banking economy.

To compete, smaller banks, credit unions and building societies need to adhere to the same principles concerning putting the customer first, following the same UX practices and design thinking methodologies.

However, without the scale of the big banks to invest in these practices, smaller organisations can best compete by reaching out to each other, sharing customer knowledge, pooling resources and ideating.

This can help us all deliver a future where ideas and opportunities are driven by what we learn from the research we conduct with customers.