Working remotely: ANZ’s network affect

ANZ has four primary focus areas during this acute phase of COVID-19: protect the bank; adapt; engage; and prepare for recovery.

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Protect essentially means run the bank in a sustainable manner and that includes maintaining liquidity, managing risk and following regulations.

"Fortunately, as a bank we were in many ways ahead of the curve. Central to that ability to respond rapidly was our geographic spread.”

Adapt is almost self-evident given the extraordinary circumstances: how do we actually operate the bank in this period?

Engage too is obvious: we must communicate, even over-communicate, with our customers, our shareholders, our staff, our regulators and government.

And then there is the vital but perhaps less obvious question of what does the other side of this crisis look like?

In all of those points of focus, technology has a major role to play. Our platform must be robust and resilient enough to protect the bank; it is fundamental to us being able to adapt; it is the vehicle for our communication; and it must underpin what inevitably is going to be a very different operating model in the new world after the virus.

We won’t return to the same “normal”. We must adapt and, together with our Deputy Chief Executive Alexis George, I am working on exactly what the post-crisis bank looks like. Our people are obviously vital in this too so Kathryn van der Merwe from Talent & Culture is also deeply involved. As of course is Risk and other key functions in ANZ.

Ahead of the curve

Our world at ANZ – as for so many Australian companies – changed drastically in the second week of March as the wave of social distancing and isolation measures were brought in to stem an exponential rise in infections.

Fortunately, as a bank we were in many ways ahead of the curve. Central to that ability to respond rapidly was our geographic spread. Our network of 33 markets - including China, Singapore, Manila, New York and New Zealand - meant we experienced the crisis in stages. We were able to learn from each and adapt.

China’s lockdown in February was our first direct experience – but it also meant our Chengdu hub provided valuable insights into what the easing of lockdowns entails as restrictions loosened in China.

We have a significant business in Manila and they were also impacted early in the crisis. Meanwhile New York, although a small operation, is a major epicentre for the virus. New Zealand also gave us an understanding of the demands of a higher level of lockdown than Australia.

By the third week of March in Australia we were in a position where about 90 per cent of our Australian staff were working from home. Those who weren’t basically couldn’t – that included essential staff and people in our branches.

Unique challenges

It wasn’t just staged exposure our network helped with, it was invaluable in our business continuity and remote working capability – both from home and from other locations. Those locations included customer service and business trading desks. Those operations continued despite the need for social distancing and lockdown.

For example, our hardship desk which normally operates from South Melbourne needed to move to Docklands to allow space for social distancing. We made working from home possible but given the sensitive nature of the calls our people needed peace and quiet.

We have cyber security operations centres in Melbourne and Manila – where working from home was an issue as many people did not have internet at home. Our team solved this by purchasing prepaid modems.

Our markets trading desks in Sydney and Melbourne are highly regulated so working from home is not an option but we still needed social distancing. That meant shifting locations – including to the mailroom for the Sydney desk.

Our Bangalore operations are more about business processes - back office, middle office, credit approval, transactions, sanction checking. We had thousands of people in Bangalore who were able to work from home but again there was another set of unique challenges.

Some had laptops, some needed a desktop - so how do we get the desktop to their house? What's their internet bandwidth like at home? Despite the challenges, we were able to remarkably rapidly continue our operations in India with everybody working from home – while maintaining the quality and satisfaction of our work.

This whole period has put enormous pressures on our Internal Service desks which are based in Manila and India. The huge volumes of enquiries required new solutions including increased use of chat functions.

Our first challenge as far as contact centres was in Manila. However, our Chengdu team, who were locked down much earlier, were able to go back to work. They're all data people - they're not traditionally a contact centre or tech support. But they stopped doing what they were doing and quickly trained up as service desk assistance to help our staff. They became an extension of our service desk.

Capacity stretch

We’ve been learning and adapting all the way and our regional footprint gives us quite a unique insight and capability.

This was not something we had to prepare from scratch. Our normal business continuity planning was very thorough and was the basis for the decisions we made.

We’ve long had the capability and technology for people to work from home if they choose. ANZ was an early adopter of flexible working. Yet we had never before asked such a large percentage of our staff to all work from home at the same time. We essentially had to double our capacity.

Moreover, there are multiple systems: VPN connections, VDI services, and - depending on the nature of the application and the data they're using - we don't necessarily want that leaving the building.

There are some purely practical challenges in moving people out. We had to ensure we had the appropriate software licences – for example for the system we have to allow our people to access emails on their mobile phones. We didn’t initially have the capacity to offer that to everyone who needed it.

We needed to assess the internet bandwidth into our data centre – that too had to be increased by 400 per cent. We had to assess security issues – what communication needed to be on our system and what could be done via external systems because the security imperative was lower?

There is a whole spectrum of platforms out there with different levels of security. It is different too depending on whether a call is initiated by ANZ or by a client. While lots of point-to-point conversations might happen, when it comes to multi-point meetings, late last year our daily call minutes for our conferencing tool would be around 50,000 a day. We had days in the last two weeks where we've peaked at 2.1 million minutes.

We don’t have that capacity sitting around idle which meant together with our telco partners, our software and hardware partners, we had to make some significant changes so we could keep servicing our customers.


Of course, these are not simply technology changes. These are big changes in the way our people work. Not just in technology but across the bank, we've got a lot of people playing out of position. People who are branch staff who might be helping with some of the authorised printing of sensitive documents, for example.

The key word has been adaptability. We have had to adapt on a daily basis. My team meets every day – in the early days it was three times a day. At least twice a day I was meeting with the “adapt team” with Lex and Kath.

These were short, sharp meetings: who needs help? What is it that you need? We' needed to move a number of people, for example, from one of our contact centres. One hundred people from tech came together to move those people in one evening to manage the risk.

When you are doing these things on a daily basis it is by no means perfect, there have been mistakes along the way. The important thing is to remember why we’re doing these things.

We’ve already had retrospectives on this and what we are hearing consistently, across the bank, is the question “how do we bottle what's been happening?”.

Not just here at ANZ, but more broadly, people are recognising what has been achieved would normally have taken much, much longer. So how do we learn from that and keep that going? Clearly though, we don't want to be working under the same pressure - that's not sustainable.

But from this process so much good practice has been picked up along the way. There's no way to learn quite like doing. How we rethink business continuity in the future will be interesting. We need to capture these lessons so we can build that into our planning.

Return to normality

Underlying all of this is the fourth focus point: the post-crisis. Whether operations or human resources or tech, people are going to need to come back in the office and work together in a different way.

We've got to think about that in-line with all of the recommendations and requirements that we have from the government. And at the same time, we'll be looking at how do we - as quickly as possible - return to a kind of normality?

Normal will be different. We will have learned to run our bank differently. Our customers will see they can bank differently – retail customers have become more accustomed to remote banking and cashless payments. Business customers have learned different, more efficient processes.

We're in the middle of this at the moment and it is a terrible, terrible time for the globe. At the same time though, it is an opportunity to learn, so we want to make sure we take that good and preserve it.

Get certified in a week

As the COVID-19 crisis developed and ANZ mobilised radically different work patterns, including a major shift to working remotely, many workers were in a position where their normal work and access was reduced.

Rather than see that time underutilised, a team from the Enterprise Cloud Portfolio (part of Group Technology) saw the opportunity for a “Get Certified In A Week” program.

The program prepared participants to sit the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Associate Cloud Practitioner exam in just one week, requiring around 16 hours of contact and study.

ANZ offered to pay for both a practice and final exam, if certain attendance and employment conditions were met.

The site for the program was built off-network, people joined the webinars from personal devices, ‘mobile’ and accessible channels, notably Yammer and email, were used.

The program was mutually beneficial: the participants received free learning and potentially certification while Enterprise Cloud increased the number of people across ANZ who understand cloud, one of the fastest growing and increasingly relevant disciplines in IT.

To date, nearly 1400 practise exam vouchers and nearly 300 final exam vouchers have been issued while more than 100 people have been certified. Participants were mostly from Australia, India, New Zealand, China, Singapore and The Philippines but also PNG, Indonesia and Viet Nam.

The speed at which “Get Certified In A Week” was pulled together is testament to how much continuous learning and innovation is embedded into the working rhythm of Enterprise Cloud, as it is with many parts of the bank who are working in new/agile ways.

AWS believes this is the largest simultaneous AWS cloud training event, nine times larger than any live training group they’ve had before.

- Katy Harding, 

Gerard Florian is Group Executive – Technology at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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