15 Jun 2020

Equipping bankers to work in a post-virus economy

OPINION EDITORIAL
NAB Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director – Ross McEwan
As published in the Australian Financial Review on 15 June 2020. 

I’m cautiously optimistic about Australia’s recovery from COVID-19. Although we will be a very strong economy once again, it’s a matter of how quickly that happens.

We’re in a good position, thanks to effective action from government to manage an unprecedented health and economic crisis.

But we have a long and difficult road ahead. With many restrictions still in place, a lot of businesses are yet to get back up again. And we’ve got hundreds of thousands of people who still don’t have a job.

Some industries are doing it tougher than others, especially tourism and hospitality. And while we need to get things moving again, it must be done safely.

With another three months of support measures still to go, it is too early to call how good or bad this will be. As a bank, we’re not waiting until then. We are talking to our customers now.

A number who deferred their loans are already returning to normal repayments. That’s the right thing for them; it means they won’t be in debt longer than they have to be.

When deferral periods end around September, some customers may need additional support, some may need interest-only for a period of time, and some may be happy to go back to their normal principal and interest payment schedule.

Banks need to be there for customers in the good times as well as in the tough times – and I’m proud that NAB has been able to move quickly to support our customers.

Having the right conversations with customers is a vital banking skill. Sometimes saying no to customers is the right thing to do – we can’t put people into more debt if they can’t afford to pay it back.

If we want to earn customers’ trust, we have to be open and upfront. And trust is something I do not take for granted.

Where NAB has stood in the eyes of the community over the past few years is not where we want to be. After the royal commission, the banking industry was found wanting, and when I joined NAB as chief executive in December last year, I was under no illusion about the challenges we faced.

We needed to go back to basics. Doing the right thing by customers – it’s what we as a bank should be doing and what our customers and the community should expect.

And while we’re moving in the right direction, the only way we’re going to keep earning trust and respect in the community is if we get the basics right every time.

That means we need an unwavering focus on two things: serving our customers well and investing in our colleagues.

An industry first

NAB is investing $50 million to pay for every one of our 34,000 colleagues to receive a unique level of education and accreditation, in what will be an industry first in Australia and New Zealand.

I want NAB to have the best-qualified bankers in the industry. This includes a consistent understanding of ethics and conduct, and will be delivered in partnership with the Financial Services Institute of Australasia.

I want to equip my colleagues by investing in giving them the skills and knowledge to make the right decision, no matter what circumstances we face in Australia.

This year, as a nation, we have endured a devastating bushfire season, a global pandemic and the recession we now find ourselves in.

To succeed time and time again in serving our customers no matter what hardship they face requires bankers who feel not only qualified but empowered.

How customers want us to deliver for them and serve them is changing dramatically – we have seen that during the COVID-19 crisis, when the acceleration of digital banking has been rapid, and the decline of cash and traditional ways of banking has been equally dramatic.

But through this, the basic needs of customers have not changed. Customers want their bank to be simple to deal with, a place where everything just works and happens quickly. Customers expect their bank to know them and get behind them with products and services to help them prosper.

We will meet those needs by doing the right thing for our customers and getting the basics right – every time. That’s what customers and communities should expect, and that’s what we will deliver.

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