The Commonwealth Bank’s new app is here — but it wants a lot of your data (and eventually your face too)

The new CommBank app might want to scan your face in 2020
  • Commonwealth Bank has unveiled its new mobile banking app 4.0 and it reckons it’s leading the world with what customers will experience.
  • The app can nag you not to waste your tax return, flag weird purchases and stop businesses from overcharging you. A future version will also be able to scan your face.
  • The unveiling of the app comes at the same time that a host of neobanks arrive in Australia, with CBA saying they’ve learnt from their competitors and want to match, or even beat them, at their own game.

Commbank has unveiled its new banking app, promising to bring machine learning, deep data analytics and behavioural science to life for customers.

To do so, the app is going to need all of your data — and eventually it wants your face.

“This year the CommBank app will send 3 billion personalised messages to customers using 157 billion data points and 200 advanced machine learning models through our innovative customer engagement service,” Commonwealth Bank head of retail banking Angus Sullivan said, while unveiling the app at an event in Sydney on Wednesday.

“This is designed to give our 5.6 million app users greater control and visibility of their cash flow, including real-time insights into their spending behaviour, to help them achieve their goals and improve their financial well-being.”

That means your app will nudge you every time a bill looks a bit odd, whether it comes in a bit higher than normal — suggesting you may have been overcharged — or whether you’ve been charged for something twice.

What the new CommBank app will look like (Images supplied, edited by Jack Derwin)

If you’re on a trial subscription for Netflix for example, CommBank says it’ll notify you when the grace period is up in case you never intended to actually pay full price. When your tax return comes in, it’ll gently suggest you pay down your towering credit card debt or invest it in a rainy day fund. You can, of course, decide to blow it all the same.

Location tracking means that, if you let it, the app will notice you’re in Melbourne when your card is being used in downtown Hong Kong and block the transaction. In fact, you’ll have to give the app permission if you want to experience its full capabilities, though the CBA says doesn’t expects every user to be comfortable giving their data away.

The feature most likely to receive resistance is the bank’s foray into biometrics — including using your face data for security purposes — a development that is unavailable at the moment but one CBA confirmed it has in the pipeline.

The bank was vague on details but said it would allow you to scan your passport or driver’s licence and match it to your own mug, which would allow you to securely identify yourself when you set up the app, for example. This feature could be used to verify your identity as necessary as well making it harder for thieves to get hold of your money.

“We will be able to use the phone and its capabilities to read from an e-passport and pick out passport information and use your face to do a real time comparison with customers. That will probably be for the initial on-boarding of customers but also routine checks of millions of customers every year,” Pete Steel, CIO, retail bank and chief digital officer said.

The bank, though, is rightfully cautious about the potential implications, saying it has no intention to store such identity data locally.

All of this tech, according to Sullivan, is geared towards “putting customers first and helping them make great decisions”, after the royal commission last year found our big banks were terrible at both.

“The last 18 months have been a period of important reflection for us about how we need to evolve, what great service looks like and how we do the very best job for our customers,” Sullivan said.

Now the bank is backing big tech as the way forward to do just that.