Balancing speed and safety in the digital economy

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The below speech was delivered by NAB CEO Ross McEwan at an Australian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce event in Sydney on Thursday, 7 September.

 

Read NAB’s latest research on scams here.

**Check against delivery**

It’s great to be here with you today. Before we get into our broader discussion and Q and A, I want to touch on two areas that are critically important to businesses here today: the resilience of the economy and the growing threat of scams.

On the Australian economy, it’s clear activity has slowed from last year. We saw that show up yesterday in GDP data. The impact of 12 cash rate increases is being felt. It was a good thing that the Reserve Bank held interest rates at 4.1 per cent this week.

It feels to me that interest rates have reached the top of the cycle, with at worst possibly one more move up. Around mid-next year we’re looking at rates starting to decline and getting the economy moving again.

There is always a lag as rate changes work their way through an economy. It has likely been more pronounced this time as fixed rate demand surged ahead of the RBA’s actions to increase the official cash rate.

This means that while high inflation has hit all households for the past 18 months, rate changes for homeowners have taken longer to impact household budgets. And some still haven’t come through.

To provide context, fixed rates have historically represented around 20% of home loans. When the RBA started raising rates in 2022, nearly 40% of loans were fixed.

This is now switching back to trend.

There has been widespread concern that customers moving from a low fixed rate to a higher variable rate would face significant difficulty. So far our customers are telling us that they are doing okay: ‘it’s hard, but we’re managing’.

Previously I have spoken about how we reached out to more than 8,600 home loan customers who we considered to be most at-risk. Only 14 needed help at that time.

Since then, we’ve continued to contact customers who might face difficulty, and the number who need help remains very low.

We know proactively contacting customers can help give them support when they need it.

Customers are making thoughtful changes to spending. They are budgeting. Those who were on fixed rates have had time to prepare for changes to their home loan payments.

But we also know there are many Australians who are doing it tough in the high inflation environment.

We welcome ASIC’s focus on hardship support. At NAB, we have increased the size of our NAB Assist team to about 700 colleagues. They are working closely with customers in difficulty and their support helps 90% back on their feet within 90 days.

We are also staying close to our community partners who work with vulnerable Australians, including the Salvation Army and Good Shepherd. They are telling us that they are seeing a big number of Australians really struggling. Around 35% of Australians are impacted by interest rate increases, while 100% are impacted by increasing cost of living.

My message to anyone finding it tough is please call your bank. The sooner you do, the sooner we can help get you back on your feet.

It is likely the economy will further slow in coming months as consumers continue to make responsible spending decisions, but we will still have growth.

I am still confident Australia will avoid recession. I believe that towards the end of next year we will be talking about an economy that is growing steadily again.

With strong net migration, our natural resources and high levels of employment, we are positioned to rebound quickly.

For today, the second topic I’d like to discuss is the scams epidemic.

Australia needs to have a conversation about balancing speed and safety in the digital economy.

If you think about when cars were first produced, we didn’t have seatbelts, speed limits, drink driving laws or traffic lights. Without these guardrails we quickly saw the downsides.

Safeguards are increasingly needed for the digital age. The digital world has shifted financial crimes online. The growing, global rise in scams is being led by co-ordinated and well resourced, multinational crime networks.

Last year NAB processed one billion payments. Among that billion were 10,800 scam incidents.

We are working hard to reduce this and we have made changes to better protect customers.

This has in turn raised the question of how much change or inconvenience customers are willing to accept in their experiences. We have seen pushback as bankers ask customers about the purpose of substantial cash withdrawals.

For years we have had conversations on how we can make things faster for our customers. Payments happen in an instant – our customers expect this.

How do we best manage convenience and safety?

It’s a difficult balancing act. But new research we released today suggests both small businesses and personal customers are willing to slow things down.

The study finds one in two small businesses are ‘extremely willing’ for payments to be slower if they are better protected from scammers. Four in 10 consumers are ‘extremely willing’ to slow transfers down.

Among consumers, older Australians are more willing to trade off speed for safety. They are also more likely to invest time in educating themselves on scams than young Australians.

Education remains vital, both for businesses and the wider community.

Yet only 15% of small businesses said they had done enough training to stay across scams, fraud and cybersecurity, while 40% said they did ‘not do much training’ at all.

This is a real worry. We must increase these numbers urgently.

I know there are a lot of small business represented here today. Our team run terrific free monthly webinars with practical advice about the latest scams and cyber threats for businesses.

Search Security Hub on nab.com.au for more information or to sign up for the next webinar on October 3rd.

Across NAB, we have 64 initiatives complete or underway to help protect our customers from the devastating impact of scams. This includes our recent announcement as the first bank to remove links from unexpected text messages to NAB customers.

Another was the introduction of payment prompts to digital banking for personal customers.

We’ve added targeted friction when a payment is out of character to encourage customers to pause and consider any red flags on where they are sending money.

It’s having an impact. Since we introduced this measure in late March, we have seen an average of $250,000 in payments abandoned each day after we raised scam concerns.

We are working quickly. But there is much more to do.

In Australia we have 15 big telco pipes coming in that need to be cleaned up. It has been far too easy for criminals to pretend to represent organisations by stealing SMS tags – be that banks, Australia Post, Linkt or the ATO.

Banks alone can’t solve the growing problem of fraud and scams. It will take a national effort to counter this global organised crime wave. This means government, industry and the community working together to stop the crime before it happens.

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