Could COVID-19 be the catalyst that ends New Zealand’s brain drain?
Westpac NZ’s new Chief Information Officer, Andrew Henderson, believes it could be and he is living proof of the type of successful professionals moving back to New Zealand after 20 years abroad.
After two decades of working in Europe, the United States and Australia, Henderson saw a gap in the market in New Zealand to fill.
The CIO is confident in New Zealand’s role in the global tech market and is working on Westpac’s digital innovation to prove it.
“I think you’ll see more people like me coming home. I don’t see myself as unique.
“We’re looking to bring people into Westpac with the sets of skills that we’ll need for the bank’s strategy to ignite modernisation,” Henderson says.
REDnews sat down with Andrew Henderson to delve into his background and what lies ahead for technology in banking.
Can you tell us a bit about your career background?
“I grew up on a farm in the Hawkes Bay and was the first of my generation in the family to go to university. When I finished school, I came up to Auckland and studied commerce and information systems as a double major at Auckland University.
“When I started my career, my focus on leveraging technology to solve real business problems put me in good stead. I moved through roles quite quickly and worked overseas for 20 years, from Sydney to Kiev, to Amsterdam and finally New York before returning home with a young family.
“I’m now back in New Zealand after two decades abroad and I’d say I naturally have a pioneering mindset to take on big challenges. I’ve done many years of ‘big bank transformation’ but I’m now looking to build a team that can just roll forward fast in response to our business and customers’ needs – we shouldn’t need to do any more “transformation” – it's just the way we roll .”
What drew you back to New Zealand and to work for Westpac?
“I came back firstly for personal reasons. I have a nine-year-old daughter who was born in Sydney, a five-year-old son who was born in Amsterdam and my wife is from the Ukraine.
“We were all born in different countries and I wanted the kids to have a taste of my childhood in New Zealand. We moved back in October 2019, which was perfect timing in hindsight because of what has happened with COVID-19. I had been talking to Westpac in Australia and got contacted for the CIO job in Auckland. Initially I met with NZ’s CEO David McLean and we spoke about his ambitions and what could be possible in terms of how we could transform Westpac to support customers and staff with new technology. David’s vision resonated with my vision for what’s possible with tech, so it was a simple decision.”
How does the tech space in NZ compare to what you were working on in New York and Europe?
“The number of Kiwis I ran into doing great work abroad gave me a sign of the great things we can do in NZ with technology. The brain drain was a big thing but what resonates with me is our ability to solve problems, so I'm optimistic about the NZ environment.
“We don’t have the scale of the US or Europe, but if we look at the availability of cloud services or other services in the global ecosystem, we can leverage these to support innovation in NZ. There's a lot of opportunity here but we need to encourage people to develop their craft – like design and engineering to develop services that really help customers. We can do that leveraging the best global tech from right here in NZ. The opportunity is immense if we become more strategic and confident in the role of New Zealand tech in the global market.
“I think you’ll see more people like me coming home. I don’t see myself as unique. We’re looking to bring in people with the sets of skills that we’ll need in Westpac to ignite our modernisation agenda. We're currently tracking Kiwis that have spent 15 years doing great things with big companies overseas. So, I'm positive about seeing people with expertise back in the country - to do globally relevant meaningful work.”
What are your plans for the bank in terms of tech progress?
“I'm six months into the job, so I've had one of the best inductions of my career because of COVID. We’ve had to rapidly support our staff, customers, vulnerable customers and government during the pandemic. That ambition has accelerated technological trends. We have already updated Westpac’s tech strategy and created the next version of tech in the bank. We need to focus on building engineering practices and the modernisation of tech stack, while keeping the services secure and simplified and remove complexity from our platforms and services.
“We're bringing in new people and building new skills to take the bank forward. Tech will build new digital experiences for customers, be that online, with mobile apps, open banking and open data in a way that adds value for our customers.
“There’s a range of things that customers can do today with technology that will inform what we do tomorrow, for example knowing how their spending flows through the wider ecosystem. Data will be an enabler and will mean we can share insights with the wider communities we support. For example, if you’re looking to renovate your house, we may be able to help customers understand the most respected renovation teams in the area based on insights gathered from other like-minded customers.”
Where do you see the future of technology in banking in NZ?
“Our ability to leverage data and provide better insights to support customers and businesses, within an open banking/open data ecosystem, will be critical for a fully digital New Zealand. We will also need to leverage tech to further strengthen key infrastructure, like payments, so we can make financial services as customer centered and resilient as possible. There's a big future and we have the opportunity to really develop our own capabilities in New Zealand.”
Has COVID-19 accelerated NZ’s tech space?
“It definitely has in three main areas:
- There's been a move away from physical interactions and therefore we’ve seen digital/mobile banking channels grow in usage. Therefore, we have extra data and great insights available to help customers.
- We’ve supported vulnerable Kiwis via our payment processing as the government’s bank. This has meant we’ve focused a lot of our work on building further resilience in those systems to ensure customers are supported when they need it most.
- We’ve seen a change to the way we are working - for example providing remote working on a large scale. We’ve had 5000 Westpac staff working from home productively and staying connected with each other with services like Microsoft Teams. Adoption of digital collaboration tools has just taken off.”
What would your advice be to your 25-year-old self?
“Pay attention to your wellbeing and look after yourself. You think you’re bullet proof at 25, but once you get into your mid-40s, multiple moves around the world and the hard work that entails can catch up to you. Look after your mental and physical health. I’m keeping fit and healthy, using my Mentemia and Calm apps every day to keep my balance. I only wish I’d known 20 years ago how effective that is.”
What would your advice be to people who want to follow a career in tech?
“Do it. It’s a big area of opportunity for New Zealand. We are good problem solvers and we are pioneers by nature. If you’re creative and like building things and helping customers, then look at tech. It's fast moving and not boring or static. Take a look at platforms like the American online interactive platform Codecademy - they offer free coding classes. Anyone can do it and I especially would love to see more women in tech – it’s a lot of fun.”