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Microsoft partners with Commonwealth Bank’s X15 Ventures, accelerates innovation

Microsoft is playing a pivotal role as technology partner for Commonwealth Bank’s newly minted X15 Ventures which has been established to help the bank stay at the leading edge of Australia’s financial services sector.

Over the next five years CBA plans to work with 25 start ups through the wholly owned X15 Venture, creating valuable new services which will be available to its retail and business customers as well as to the broader market. Through the partnership with Microsoft, the start-ups that X15 selects to work with, are assured access to leading edge technology and expertise.

Speaking at the launch of X15 Ventures in Sydney, Microsoft Australia managing director Steven Worrall, said the partnership provides; “Broad access to all of the technologies inside our portfolio – and through direct engagement with our engineering teams, brings not only the best technology, but the best thinking to bear, so that X15 makes the right assessment at that point in time for each portfolio business.

“The sorts of technologies would include artificial intelligence, mixed reality, blockchain and other related technologies.”

He added that; “Our role will evolve – this is a partnership we have had with the bank for over 20 years. This is the latest incarnation of that partnership.”

CBA CEO Matt Comyn is steeped in that partnership having worked closely with Microsoft in the early 2000s when he was part of the team at the CBA which developed the ground-breaking CommSee customer relationship management system.

He noted that then, as now; “Clear digital and technology leadership is critical to the Commonwealth Bank. We see that at the heart of what we want to deliver for our customers strategically and for our people. The organisation is at its best when it is leading and bringing some exciting propositions to market.”

Comyn said that during the development of CommSee the bank worked closely with Microsoft, with bank executives spending time in Seattle, and the then Microsoft CEO Bill Gates visiting the bank in Sydney. “We got a lot of out of that – working with large scale organisations and being able to leverage some of the technology.” He added that he had discussed that partnership further with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in both the US and during his recent visit to Sydney.

Comyn said that X15 Ventures, which has partnered with KPMG High Growth Ventures as well as Microsoft, is now poised to; “Accelerate the pace of innovation for the bank, which is incredibly important. We want to see a dramatic increase in terms of what we can bring to market, benchmarking ourselves against some of the tech companies.”

He said that the creation of X15 Ventures ensured the bank would be far more than a passive investor in start up businesses, instead working closely with entrepreneurs to build and grow their organisations.

Toby Norton-Smith, who has been named as X15 Ventures’ managing director explained at the launch that the company was named in honour of NASA’s X-15 hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft which played a critical role in preparing astronauts for early space missions. In much the same way as the X-15 was launched from a B-52 aircraft which provided it with a 45,000-foot boost, X-15 Ventures has been launched from the Commonwealth Bank to provide it with a boost to tap “next generation solutions”.

As a wholly owned subsidiary, X-15 will have the financial and operational backing of the Commonwealth Bank. The ventures it works will have access to the bank’s financial muscle – but critically also, the opportunity to market their solutions to the bank’s 15 million-strong customer base.

By 2024 X15 Ventures hopes to have signed up 25 organisations, delivered a threefold funds return and signed up 3 million customers for innovative new services.

Trust, technology, transparency

X15 Ventures’ partnership with Microsoft assures its start up businesses have access to leading technology and expertise.

Steven Worrall said; “Perhaps the most important is the provision of a trusted platform. Our key role with all our customers and partners around the world is providing a platform on which they can build digital services that can be trusted, where customers can be assured that their data is secure, and we think that is vital for all of the X15 partners that we will be working with.

“We also bring to the table clarity in terms of our business model – we have no aspirations to be a participant in the payments industry, we don’t see ourselves as participating in the financial services industry more broadly.”

Worrall said that Microsoft was instead committed to continually investing in its digital solutions, security and trust.

The first two start ups which have been embraced into the X15 Ventures fold are Home-In, a service which brings together in one streamlined app, all the services that someone buying a new home would need to access, and Vonto – a free app for small business owners that allows them to bring together in one location all the information they need to run and optimise their business.

According to Comyn the clear intent of X15 Ventures and its industry partnerships is to “See a dramatic increase in what we can bring to market.”