Driving citizen engagement through innovation: Inside the Commonwealth Bank’s Intrapreneur initiative


Government faces plenty of challenges designing effective policies and services that deliver. So what happens when difficult problems get thrown to a big bank to tackle using business and tech smarts? The answers are refreshing and unexpected .

Australian businesses big and small have a key part to play in helping government understand and tackle a range of societal problems to harness the power of innovative solutions within their own staff to do so.

(pictured above, left to right: Debra Holder, Dr Kate Cornick, The Hon Philip Dalidakis and Julie Hunter)

Just as importantly, business and corporations should take learnings from their own interactions with community organisations and use these to partner with governments to empower, strengthen and embolden public services.

Those were the key messages delivered by a range of competitors at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s Intrapreneur event, an innovation bake-off for government solutions, held on February 15th in Melbourne.

A range of competing teams made-up of employees from across the Commonwealth Bank developed and delivered a range of solutions for social challenges to a panel of judges, led by the Victorian Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, Hon Philip Dalidakis.

In doing so, teams tackled a number of problems and their potential solutions including digital resources for victims of domestic abuse, a more connected vision for public transport, and an application that would serve as a single digital sign-on for government services that highlighted the need for a universal digital back-end solution. 

The Hon Philip Dalidakis, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, Victoria.

Finding new ways of thinking

“Innovation isn’t a destination but a journey, and it is great to see the CommBank encouraging their own staff to solve real world problems that people experience every day,” Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade Philip Dalidakis said.

Julie Hunter, CBA’s managing director for health, education and government, said the event was designed to encourage staff to be “innovative in their thinking”.

“One of the things we noticed is that many of the best ideas had social impact focus. And on reflection, that wasn’t actually surprising because the Commonwealth Bank strategy for securing and enhancing the wellbeing of people, business, and communities is one that we know resonates very strongly with our staff.”

The four teams within CBA had worked on their problem sets over the summer, coming together from cross-organisational groups.

Michael Bedwell, CBA’s director for government and education, said the bank’s team members had come from “across geographical areas and departments”. As a result, staff were able to share ideas and learnings from areas where they may not have otherwise had exposure – proving the value of such interactions, Bedwell said.

The teams also presented to Dr Kate Cornick, the chief executive of the Victorian government’s start-up fund and independent body, along with Debra Holder, manager of the Victorian Public Service Continuous Improvement and Innovation Network at the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Pitching real solutions

Each of the teams – which had already been put through a rigorous pitching process from the CBA’s internal judging panels – presented their ideas to the judges.

In many cases, the teams pulled on information the bank had learned from its own experiences with community and welfare groups in order to tailor and offer a more informed, practical and beneficial solution for users.

The teams also looked at overseas examples to where other governments had focused on similar issues and in many cases had even established technology solutions to solve some of the problems in question.

The first team offered a united vision of public transport in Victoria, proposing a “MyVki” app that would allow public transport users to top up their cards using the app, enter and exit train stations, along with making simple transactions for coffee or newspapers at station-based stores.

The next team proposed a more comprehensive mobile application to serve as an entryway for anyone hoping to use government services such as VicRoads, or access a bond application. The “Masterkey” app would tie in government services into a single application that would act as a unifying front-end.

Winners: Team Masterkey – David Laird and Noor Magesh

 Smart services transcend boundaries

Having developed technology of the bank’s own to help consumers manage their finances, the CBA’s team in turn put those expectations to work on a government service that provides a simple and easy way to reckon a view of where their and individual’s records stood.

The third team proposed an application service for victims of domestic violence, who would be able to access essential life and crisis services in an intelligent and connected way. The team said the Commonwealth Bank had learned from its dealings with domestic and family violence advocacy bodies and service providers while developing its Domestic and Family strategy over the past 18 months, particularly that victims of domestic violence often contact these agencies first before anyone else.

A partnership with such service providers would enable a corporate partner, such as the Commonwealth Bank, to provide assistance in the form of appropriate banking advice, products and services to provide essentials and support when victims are seeking shelter.

This, the team argued, was an example of where a corporate partner could naturally fit with the government.

The final team offered a solution for education in Victoria harnessing virtual reality (VR), proposing a platform managed by the Department of Education that would publish VR content to help provide premium digital content to all schools and universities so as to help level the educational playing field

CBA partners with Government to drive the innovation agenda

Attendees were also addressed by start-up guru Andrew Hyde, who is serving as entrepreneur-in-residence at LaunchVic. As part of the Commonwealth Bank’s shift to thinking like entrepreneurs, Hyde urged participants from both the Commonwealth Bank and government to “get involved in startups”.

“There’s some people making absolutely life altering risks right now and trying to create something for the world. And I think when you have that in your society that is something that is really empowering and inspiring to be part of.”

And the winner is…

After substantial deliberation and a tight contest, the judges settled upon the Masterkey project as the winner on the night.

The winning team’s innovative idea now progresses into the Commonwealth Bank’s Innovation Lab for further development.