Reported By: Jennifer Hewett, Columnist, Financial Review
Julie Bishop is busy building her post-political career by joining the advisory board of another global business.
Bishop's new role is with Afiniti, a private US-based technology company specialising in helping major telco and financial services companies increase their revenues from call centres.
It was established by Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneur Zia Chishti, who is keen to create his third multi-billion dollar business by harnessing artificial intelligence and algorithms to better match call centre operators with customers.
That commercial focus doesn’t mean an end to political connections. The advisory board at Afiniti is chaired by former British Prime Minister David Cameron while former Liberal MP and assistant minister for innovation, Wyatt Roy, is its Australian managing director.
But Roy, still only 29, says Afiniti is about as deeply immersed in the private sector as it is possible to be – one of the reasons he was attracted to join the company as its first Australian employee two years ago. He describes his "good friend" Bishop as Australia’s finest foreign minister and suggested her possible appointment to Afiniti.
"I have seen first-hand how Julie consistently applies her incredible work ethic and creative approach to getting things done." he said, praising her work with political and business leaders to advance Australia’s interests.
Bishop was targeted by Labor and the Greens earlier this month for accepting a board role with Palladium, the giant global impact investing and consultancy group. Palladium works for governments, companies and NGOs on international development projects and strategic advice in nearly 90 countries.
Labor seized on the government connection to compare Bishop’s role at Palladium with the quick jump to EY by former defence minister Christopher Pyne.
Bishop said all Australia's foreign aid contracts and tenders had been done at arm's length and said she was totally confident she was compliant with ministerial guidelines.
This was different to the situation at EY where Pyne was initially described as having been engaged specifically to advise on defence issues.
But the two appointments became politically conflated by the Opposition with compliance by former ministers now the subject of a Senate inquiry due to report in September.
Afiniti describes itself as the world’s leading provider of AI-based behavioural pairing technology. The basic idea is to assist companies to increase call centre returns in terms of selling products, retaining customers and improving debt collections. The use of algorithms to pair customers with the record and style of call centre operators typically means a three to six per cent increase in revenue with Afiniti taking a share of that.
Afiniti says the senior group of business and political leaders on its advisory board provides "strategic counsel on critical issues". Other board members include Ivan Siedenberg, former Chair of Verizon, Lord John Browne, former CEO of BP, Elisabeth Murdoch, founder and former Chair of Shine Group, Nobuyuki Idei, former Chair of Sony and Richard Freudenstein, former CEO of Foxtel.
Bishop told The Australian Financial Review she is very interested in the impact of the "fourth industrial revolution" and how it is transforming the way people work, live and communicate. She talked about it with Cameron during a recent visit to London.
"It seemed an obvious fit for my skills and background and interests," she said, adding she looks forward to being involved with a leading technology company at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence development.
Originally published in the Financial Review: