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CBA to continue innovating ‘at the edge’

The Commonwealth Bank must adopt a stance of “constructive paranoia” in the face of digital disruption, according to the bank’s chief financial officer.

Speaking recently at a Bloomberg event in Sydney, David Craig outlined CBA’s approach to the current wave of digital innovation in financial services.

“I think that we need to be constructively paranoid about paradigm change,” he said.

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“It’s happening all around us, and if you’re a bank, it’s not only about thinking about your own business but about the businesses and industries that you’re dealing with.”

Citing one “simple” example, Mr Craig said driverless car technology could drastically reduce the number of cars on the road – and, as a result, impact car loans and car insurance.

But for every challenge created by technological advances there is an opportunity, he said.

“And that’s particularly [true] for strong incumbents – as long as they’ve got their eyes open,” Mr Craig said.

“If you take CBA, for example: we have the brand, we have the customer base, and we have the capital. And most importantly, we have the leanness to embrace change, and I think that’s critical.”

As CFO, Mr Craig is responsible for the “staggering” $1.4 billion the bank invests each year – almost all of it in technology.

“That’s pretty straightforward, but we have $2.5 billion of bids – we have lots of people with great ideas,” he said. “So I’ve got to try [to work out] which is the $1.4 billion that’s the most important out of the $2.5 billion in bids.”

He conceded that much of the $1.4 billion annual spend is “evolutionary, not revolutionary”.

“But we need to also fly some kites – we need to continue to innovate at the edge,” Mr Craig added.

“And I think that one of the differences between us and start-up companies is that we can afford to invest in flying kites, and if they fail (as inevitably some of them will) it’s not a big deal – as long as we learn from what’s happened.”

[Related: CBA says foreign investors driving Melbourne apartment 'bubble']

CBA to continue innovating ‘at the edge’
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