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National Australia Bank builds ‘customer brain’ using Pega to make digital banking more human

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez June 17, 2024
Using Pega’s Customer Decision Hub, National Australia Bank is analyzing all customer data to push personalized services through all channels.

Image of National Australia Bank logo on a building
(Image sourced via National Australia Bank )

Established in 1858, National Australia Bank (NAB) has a long history of providing financial services to its customers. However, over its 166 year history the nature of banking and how NAB interacts with its customers - of which there are now 10 million - has changed dramatically. No more so than in recent decades, thanks to the advancements in digital technologies. 

And whilst digital banking offers customers convenience and speed in many respects, given the sensitivity that can come with dealing in people’s financial concerns, NAB doesn’t want to lose the feel of a ‘human relationship’ with its customers. It sees value in providing that ‘human touch’ through personalized services, to improve customers’ experience. 

This has led to NAB building what it calls a ‘customer brain’ through the implementation of Pega’s Customer Decision Hub, which brings together swathes of customer data from multiple sources, and then uses machine learning to analyze what customers may need in any given channel. The ambition is essentially to give customers what they need, when they need it, and where they need it. In theory, the ‘brain’ aims to combine the idea of left brain analytics and right brain creativity, using data, design and personalized services, to delight NAB customers. 

NAB has approximately 1,000 customer data attributes feeding the brain and close to 800 adaptive models running to learn what customers need and how to best serve them. And the results are speaking for themselves, with NAB seeing 50% more opportunities for bankers and conversion rates increasing by 50%. 

Jess Cuthbertson, NAB’s Customer Analytics and Decisioning lead, was speaking at Pega’s recent user event in Las Vegas, where she explained how the bank is thinking about the blend of in-person and digital banking: 

If you think about customers’ preferences, a lot of them are shifting to digital. Our job then is to think about how we bring these experiences online. We're creating ease and convenience for customers, but it's an interesting challenge. 

How do we maintain that human relationship and that personal connection? That's where the customer brain comes into play. It’s about using everything that we know about our customers to provide personalized, timely, relevant communications - and that's across all of our channels - inbound, outbound, human, digital. And we're really trying to empower our customers digitally but also support them personally. 

Boosting engagement

Cuthbertson explained that with the customer brain project, which launched in 2023, NAB took time to listen to customers, but through the use of data. It analyzes everything from net promoter scores, to complaints data, as well as customer journey insights on where there is friction in processes. These insights are then used to prioritize experiences: 

Let's get the hygiene right, let's get some of those base experiences right, and then we can move on to the engagement. You're taking the data that we have about the customers, but then you're also listening to how they're interacting and responding in real time to fuel the engine. 

NAB has implemented the customer brain across all of its major channels, going from zero to 75 percent of customer interactions in less than 24 months. Cuthbertson noted that the aim was to not only achieve scale, but to go after the depth of relationships too - delivering over 150 next best actions across service, sales and engagement experiences. 

For instance, in service, NAB is helping customers keep ahead of their finances by taking actions that include delivering payment reminders when customers may need them, or providing education and awareness around fraud. Some customers are also receiving personalized communications if NAB can see that this might be useful. 

On the sales aside, Cuthbertson said: 

If a customer has a product need, we want to make that experience as simple and as easy as possible. It could be making sure that they bought the right products based on their need, or it could be helping keep them informed through their product journey. Trying to make sure they're aware of what's happening at every single stage of the process.

The third area of focus is of course engagement. NAB sees this as anything from celebrating milestones, such as a customer’s birthday, to applauding them for achieving a savings goal or paying down their mortgage. This is enabled by the high frequency with which NAB customers engage with the bank via its mobile platform: 

They're in the app quite frequently. Some 65% of our customers on average hit the mobile app at least twice a day. So we've got a great opportunity to connect with them, engage with them and just keep a conversation going.

And through the use of the customer brain, engagement is up: 

As soon as we plugged the brain in we saw a 40 percent lift in customer engagement, which is absolutely massive for our customers, right? And I think that it shows the fact that we're being more relevant. It might mean that we actually speak to some of our customers less, but when we do, they can trust that it’s going to be something that's relevant, in the moment, for their need. 


Cuthbertson said that the use of Pega has helped NAB on two fronts, in particular. Firstly NAB knew that speed would be a priority, and given that the bank is operating in a cloud native environment, Pega was up and running within three weeks of the contract being signed: 

That was massive. With a brand new platform, new tooling, the team got in there, and with the way that Pega works, we took our development cycle down from 12 weeks, on average, to four. It was great to see that speed and simplicity.

And Cuthbertson added that the second benefit, that lead from this, was the ability for NAB to try new things: 

An unintended consequence of that was experimentation. We could get in, we could develop something quickly and safely. We can test it and learn how customers are interacting with it, and optimize as we go. 

One of the key priorities in implementing the customer brain was that NAB ensured that it included frontline workers - bankers in this case - in its development. It did this from the get go, as it wanted to build in much of their process into the system, so as to make their jobs simpler and also level-up everyone’s capabilities across the board: 

We sat with them and we asked: what do you look for when you're speaking to a customer? When customers might need a little bit of help, what does that look like? And so we took that and we codified it. We put it into the system. 

That's really cool for two reasons. One, they were having to go into multiple different systems and look things up. It just made their lives so much simpler, because in the morning they know that there's going to be something there waiting for them. They don't have to do all that work. And It means that they can spend the time with customers, which is what they really want to do. 

And then secondly, that's a lot of knowledge they've built up over years and years and years. So, we've codified that. Whether you've been with us as a banker for five minutes or five years, it can help create that consistency, that confidence, to be able to pick up the phone to the customers.

Cuthbertson said that this focus on employee experience too for the project has remained a constant throughout the development of the brain, keeping bankers involved so that they can constantly evolve the programme as the system continues to adapt and learn. 

Overall, NAB has found that having a centralized point for customer data has led to greater consistency for customers interacting with the bank. As Cuthbertson noted: 

The success is that we’ve got one enterprise-wide platform. We are the only game in town: if we need to make a decision, and it needs to go out to a customer, it needs to go through the brain. 

And I think that's really important because if you've got lots of different systems, communicating to your customers, it can actually end up having a really fragmented experience for them. 

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