Maile Carnegie says big organisations need to be comfortable failing if they want to stay nimble

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ANZ’s group executive digital banking, Maile Carnegie. Photo: Dave Goudie/Eagle Image.

When ANZ announced in March this year that Maile Carnegie was making the switch from Google Australia’s managing director to become the Group Executive Digital Banking earlier this year, it was a bold statement about how serious the bank was about its digital focus.

Even before she stepped into her new role in July, she warned that “I think if you aren’t a tech company or you’re not on the way to becoming one you’re in big trouble”.

Carnegie was firmly of the view that banks were already tech companies and ANZ charged her with leading the digital experience for its 8 million customers, as well as staff. Emphasising how critical that was, ANZ gave her shared responsibility for the financial results of the bank’s Australian and New Zealand divisions.

Named one of the coolest 100 people in Australian tech by Business Insider last week, Business Insider caught up with Maile Carnegie to see how things are progressing.

Business Insider: You surprised a lot of people when you left Google for ANZ. Was it a quick decision for you and what convinced you it was the right one?

Maile Carnergie: I love Australia and am also passionate about the work I am doing with the Government on the Innovation & Science Australia board.

I had been thinking for a while about wanting to stay in Australia both so that I could continue this Government work and also to allow me to contribute to an Australian company; to help them digitally transform to stay competitive in the 21st century.

It was not a quick decision as I wanted to find an industry that was important to the economy, where I can add value and with a leadership team that I trusted and who was going to make the tough, long term decisions required to digitally transform. It took me a while to find this triumvirate.

BI: Three months into the role, what’s got you most excited about fintech?

MC: I’m excited that Australia has an emerging, vibrant fintech start up scene. It feels more robust than many other start up sectors in Australia.

It is also exciting that there seems to be a lot of focus on partnering.

BI: Is the banking system ripe for disruption? How ready are the incumbents lead the charge?

MC: Of course. All industries are ripe for disruption and banking is not immune to this. It is a matter of “when” not “if”.

The banks seem to have come a long way in their openness to partnerships, which is a massive step forward. I’m particularly proud of ANZ’s partnerships to deliver with Apple Pay and Android Pay. There is still a long way to go.

BI: Can you see a time soon when companies have a “tech first” culture?

MC: I think that the winning companies going forward will have a customer first culture. Tech will enable them to meet customer needs, but the foundation of the culture will be customer-centric.

BI: How big a role with artificial intelligence play in the way we bank in the future?

MC: Huge. It is the way banks and all customer facing organisations can meet the customer need for personalisation, and do it in a mass-produced way. It is also critical to help improve operational efficiencies and reduce risk.

BI: And blockchain? Is it just the start of the potential for distributed ledger technology?

MC:Yes. ANZ is doing some very interesting pilots with international banks and it is clearly showing tangible benefits.

My gut is that it will make faster inroads in the back and middle offices of banks. Yes, ultimately there will likely be widespread consumer applications like Bitcoin, but the initial meaningful inroads will be B2B.

BI: What do big organisations have to do to stay nimble?

MC:They need to tackle some very sensitive political and personal power barriers.

They need to tell leaders that some things they used to “own” and “control”, they no longer have a vote on.

They need to aggressively tackle complexity which means that some teams will be disbanded and some products that are loved by people in the organisation need to be discontinued. And they need to be more comfortable failing.

BI: How important is collaboration to innovation and what advice would you give to executives concerned about letting outsiders into the fold?

MC:Critical. The companies that thrive going forward will both fiercely compete and collaborate with the same companies. I would suggest that executives look at the business models and partnership models of the young, successful companies and compare them to those of the older, declining companies. The role of partnerships and collaboration will stick out like a sore thumb.

BI: How do you see the relationships we currently have with our financial institution changing?

The existing financial institutions will either earn the right to maintain a meaningful relationship with the customer or they will become “pipes” to the people who have.

You just need to look at the relationship that businesses like Alibaba has with their SMBs or WeChat/WeBank has with consumers to see where it may go.

There is a lot of work to do and it will be an exciting adventure!

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