Article written by Dexter Cousins

Bianca Bates - Cuscal

Bianca Bates is Chief Client Officer at Cuscal, Australia's largest independent provider of payment solutions.

Cuscal has a rich history of technology innovation in Australia and is the main investor behind Neo bank 86 400. They were the first provider to go live on the new payments platform, switching on 30 clients simultaneously on one day.

Tier One People’s Dexter Cousins talks to Bianca about the next evolution for Cuscal as we enter the open banking era.

Could you tell us a little bit more about Cuscal.

Cuscal is Australia's leading provider of payment solutions. We are an ADI (Authorised Deposit taking Institution) and have all the same licencing and payment capabilities as the major banks in Australia. However, we provide our services on a wholesale basis operating in the business to business space. What it means in essence is, we provide the back office functions for mutuals, credit unions and Fintech’s.

Cuscal have been operating in Australia since the 1960’s, formed by the mutual sector as an industry body. Our origins in the mutual sector mean culturally we have always had our members best interests at heart.  Cuscal’s strong focus on the customer experience and  passion to "do the right thing" is at the core of our values.

Could you share with us some of the work Cuscal has completed, in particular your involvement in the new payments platform?

We have been heavily involved in financial technology innovation from our inception. Back in 1977 we launched Australia's first ATM in collaboration with Queensland Teachers Credit Union. In 1982 we were the first to issue a scheme debit card in Australia. Fast forward to 2018, which was a huge year for Cuscal, we had the NPP launch.

Cuscal enabled 50% of those financial institutions to go live. Later that same year we simultaneously launched over 30 clients going live with the three global digital wallets, Apple, Google and Samsung. It was an immensely proud year for us.

We built on our success the following year when we launched the first digitally issued card for one of our clients in Western Australia.

You’re the main investors in 86 400, the digital bank, could you provide us some insight into how you became involved.

Our journey towards a digital bank started many years ago.  We saw digital banking as the future of banking. The real opportunity for us lay in our end to end payment expertise and a long history of working with banking clients.

In August 2017 business case approval was granted and we started work. From the beginning we made a conscious choice to establish an independent organisation with its own leadership team, premises and board to allow the organisation its independence and autonomy.

This ensured the right focus to achieve the vision, and last September 86 400 was born. We're so proud of the innovative, mobile only banking experience now being offered to Australians through 86400.

As the founding shareholder, our licence agreement with 86 400 effectively enables Cuscal to be the sole distribution partner for all of the digital capabilities we have built. Our goal was to allow Cuscal the ability to launch those capabilities to other clients, which is our plan in the coming year.

What are some of the opportunities you're seeing for Cuscal?

We have a very broad base of clients who are predominantly based in Australia, with a couple of US clients. These include large and small financial institutions, Acquiring Clients, Fintechs, Corporates and Payment facilitators.  We’re focusing on how we can deliver the solutions our current clients need in the most optimised manner.

We are also doing what we do best, being the source of thought leadership to our clients. Being a scout for what is coming down the pipeline in terms of investing their money, as well as providing some perspective and prioritisation.

Open banking is a big area for us. The 86 400 white label licence services also provide us the opportunity to utilise some of the digital capabilities for our clients that we built for 86 400. COVID-19 has highlighted the need to have a really clear digital strategy and a digital engagement programme. We are planning a roll out of some of these services for our existing clients in the year ahead.


How have you been able to change the mindset of the business to go on this tech journey with you?

It's certainly been a journey. The positive decision to change and diversify was made approximately 10 years ago. New products require capability from technology. It required a rethink in the way we delivered programmes of work. From this came the need to bring in people who have successfully managed similar programmes to drive change.

The NPP programme was probably our biggest learning platform. When we started the build of NPP, waterfall practices were our go to method.  We quickly moved to an agile way of delivery which again meant new people to drive the upskilling we needed. Many FinTech startups go through a growing pain process and the NPP was our experience with those pains.

Pushing to have 30 clients go live in one day also gave us the confidence to recognise we are a nimble organisation with less complexity than the major banks.

What is the culture you're trying to create within Cuscal?

Cuscal have always been; a) client focused, with an emphasis on doing the right thing and b) providing a great employee experience. This has become even more focussed in recent years.

There's four main areas we look for in our people. Top of this list is energy. We want people who are looking to make a difference and getting stuff done. 

The second is people who will work as one team, people who think only of their own success and reward tend not to work for us.

Thirdly we want people who are accountable in all aspects of their work, process, product, service whatever it may be.

Finally being outcome focused. Having a really clear strategy to make sure everything they're doing is driving towards executing their strategy.

How have you gone about attracting the calibre of individuals to allow you to go on this big transformation?

We’ve had a few challenges, one of these is competing with the Neo banks. People are naturally attracted to the hottest startups who get a lot of press. Our strength is Cuscal being a bank. It comes with financial security, regulation, certainty. Startups can be exciting but they also come with a lot of risk.

We are well networked from an industry perspective. Our people sit on most of the working groups, boards, committees and forums in Australia from a payments perspective. All of the benefits that come with working for a bank. Our dual pronged approach is that we are also a FinTech. We work on innovative and transformative products and services. But we offer an environment where our people have the resources to deliver. We’re essentially the best of both worlds.

We're also a small organisation who encourage our people to sit in on forums with leadership, board members and their direct reports . Our people have a voice and provide invaluable feedback.

Do you find that the relentless focus Cuscal places on its customers has helped you in attracting the right people?

Our heritage in the mutual space has seeped through to our organisation. Cuscal has an ethos of doing the right thing for our customers. Our way of operating is in complete contrast to other organisations where they are KPI driven. The benefit for our people is the opportunity for them to stand up and really differentiate themselves in the market to their end customers.

Cuscal is really enabling competition in the Australian market and we're really proud to be able to support this thinking.

What is the big vision for Cuscal?

Data is at the heart of driving a tailored customer experience. Mobile being the first way in which consumers are looking to engage. Our beliefs form our strategy which I summarise as four pillars.

Firstly, Our clients need to get to market as quickly and cheaply as possible. We’re making everything really modular, plug and play to enable this.

The second pillar is around expanding our client reach to ensure we can scale to deliver much more competitive pricing for our customers. We've made significant investments in NPP, as well as digital capabilities and our fraud solutions. We're really looking to scale those solutions and reach as many customers as possible.

"Cuscal has an ethos of doing the right thing for our customers"

bianca bates

The third area is increasing the relevance of our payment solutions. Many products we have been delivering since inception. We need to continually focus on using the right systems and tech stack to deliver those products. An example of our focus here is with our fraud platform which we replaced when we introduced NPP’s new payments stream. We now have a new platform using machine learning and artificial intelligence for fraud monitoring services to customers.

The fourth area is making strategic investments in innovation. We really see this as essential in maintaining our position of leadership and relevance whilst capturing emerging markets.

Our big focus here is really on open banking, hence our investment in bringing 86 400 to life. We're really clear on our strategy. We're into the second year of our five year plan.

Forbes recently launched their list of the world's top banks based on factors including ethics and customer centricity. Of the twenty Australian banks that featured, I’m proud to say seven are clients of Cuscal.

Founder of Tier One People and host of the Fintech Chatter Podcast.

Contact us