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PODCAST: building a better, simpler bank

Pic: ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott with journalist Sally Warhaft at the bank's Melbourne headquarters

In 2017, journalist Sally Warhaft sat down with ANZ Chief Executive Shayne Elliott for an in-depth look at his vision for the bank as it transformed to an agile way of working. He shared what he envisaged those changes would mean for the business and what they meant for people working at ANZ. It was named The ANZ Way.


At the time, Shayne was about a year into his term as CEO and was looking to create a clear, strategic focus for the bank’s future. Since then, the bank has been through many changes including a major transformation in the way the workplace is structure, the Royal Commission into the financial services industry and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.


Sally and Shayne spoke once again as he prepared to share his updated vision known as The Bank We’re Building. This concept ties together the bank’s strategy, purpose, culture and values building on The ANZ Way as it looks ahead.


In the wide-ranging conversation, Shayne explained what he hopes The Bank We’re Building will achieve, what he has learnt from the last five years, and ANZ’s plans for the future.


You can read the highlights of the conversation below or listen to the full chat by click on the podcast.

Click here for a transcript of the full podcast


Sally Warhaft: Shayne, it's wonderful to see you and thank you for inviting me back. It's a rare thing to be invited back to a corporate headquarters to see how a change of culture has gone. And I recall, of course, in 2017 you sent a hard copy letter to every member of your staff here, introducing a change of culture - The ANZ Way. And central to that letter was the purpose of ANZ - to shape a world where people and communities thrive. Four and a half years on, we're sitting here. The world is not thriving right now. In fact, almost every community in it is in crisis. I wanted to ask you to start how the community of ANZ is faring?


Shayne Elliott: Well, so it's good to see you and it's good to reflect back. It feels only like yesterday in a funny way, but it has actually been four and a half years. I think actually when we talk to our people and when we engage with them and talk about what happened with The ANZ Way and how they've embraced it I think the thing that's been probably the most surprising - and possibly I shouldn't be surprised, I'm pleased with it - is actually how much that purpose meant to people and how much it's really shaped the way that people think and what they do and how they make decisions.


And something like 90 per cent of our people say that actually they consider the purpose of the bank when they're making decisions. And so that's really heartening, actually, because it would have been easy to say it was a poster on a wall or it was a thing that you wore around your neck, or it was a nice corporate speak. But it seems to have really resonated with people and therefore it has changed the shape of ANZ.


I mean, it has changed the conversations we have, what we talk about, what we care about, how we go about things and the recent experience with COVID is a really good example. You're right, communities all over the world are in crisis. And what happens in a crisis, particularly for somebody like a bank, where we have a role, where we really can positively help through transitions and change is that, by and large, our people have lent into this crisis and really tried to do the right thing by customers, to assist people through some of those changes that they've had. And I don't think we would be able to have done that - I'm sure we would have had good people - but without that sense of purpose and focus and drive, I don't think we would have been as impactful as we've been over this period.


SW: I wondered how much you might have learnt [through the pandemic] from customers, small businesses, even government has proved itself much more agile than a lot of people would have expected. But at the same time, COVID has had so much red tape attached to it as well. So, it fit a bigger vision in a way.


SE: Absolutely I mean, obviously we have to focus on the very devastating impacts that COVID has had on people's lives, obviously, and health and just the security of people worrying about the future. Having said that, what's remarkable, and we should really, I think be thoughtful about - how amazing and resilient have people and businesses been? Seriously. I mean, we sit here and think wow, little businesses, big business have been able to pivot on a dime. Being able to shift their entire business online to delivery away from coffee shops and restaurants or retailing, seeing the changes we've seen. ANZ is the most global of the Australian banks. We've got a big business in Asia facilitating trade. We have seen, not just because of COVID, but for all sorts of reasons, this massive shift in trade flow away from this intense focus only on China - which is still really, really important. And suddenly, all these kinds of companies have pivoted and are now exporting into the United States and into Thailand and Japan and Europe and the UK because the world changed and they were able to change really, really fast. So, I think there's lots of real positives. And I know talking to customers, they say the same things we do. We kind of surprised ourselves! If we had have sat around and said, "how flexible do we think we are?" or how agile, we probably would have underestimated our own abilities.


SW: With all the changes that you've made, who would you say has benefited the most?


SE: That's a really good question. So, I'd hope to say it's our customers. I say I hope because I can't prove it. I think there is some evidence that's the case and we can see it on some of the scores we get and some of the feedback and things from our customers. But that's what it was designed for.


At the end of the day, that's why we're doing it so that we're more responsive, that we can actually be there when customers need us and have the right services for them. So, I think they have been the most beneficial... or had seen the greatest benefit.


But I think actually also our people. I think our people have responded really positively. I mean, we look at our engagement scores and everybody measures those things. And we know that, without showing off, we have the highest in the industry and we've been able to... and everybody got a COVID bounce in those scores but we've actually been able to maintain ours at really high levels. And I think it's because we trusted our people, we've delegated authority to them, we've given them the freedom to make decisions and get on and do the right thing. So, I think our people have benefited but ultimately it was really for our customers.


SW: You're choosing this time to bring in and another big, big set of changes, big ideas - The Bank We're Building. Can you talk about, first of all, the timing of that - I assume it's very deliberate that you're bringing it in right now - but also what it is, what it means for the bank?


SE: I've been CEO for five years. I think it's fair to say that a lot of that five years was spent getting ready - cleaning up, simplifying, strengthening, culture, all of the things that we've talked about. But all of those things were in order to achieve something, in order to be more contemporary and more successful with customers in the long-term. And now we feel like while we've still got work to do on that, we're now shifting much more into being on the front foot and saying, "hey, now that we've built that better culture, now that we're building a stronger, more simpler bank, it's now time to use that in a more assertive way with our customers".


So, it's now... It's a step forward, if you will. So that's why we feel we've crossed that Rubicon, if you will. And so, The Bank We're Building... that came out of that conversation, we were just talking about a group of us. And reflecting on the fact that we are not quite but almost 200 years old and all of our predecessors have continued to build and we are the beneficiaries of a lot of the work in the past. And it's a recognition that the bank will never it'll never be finished right; it'll always be a work in progress. And so, we need to just acknowledge that we are continually building and adding and knocking things down and streamlining other things and adding new things. And that's exciting.


And we think that's a way of bringing our people along and understanding that we don't want people to just want to work here, we want people who want to help build a better bank that's going to be more appropriate for the future challenges. So, it's just time, given the achievements we've made over the last five years.


SW: What have you divested? What have you got rid of in order to have more clarity about what it is you're doing?


SE: Well, yeah you can look at that from two perspectives. So, there's the hard-edged financial side of it which says we've sold 30-odd businesses that we used to have. That were perfectly decent businesses and there's nothing wrong with them, we just weren't the best people to run them. So, it's everything from life insurance to superannuation businesses to share trading platforms to all sorts of things. And again, we just went, "hey, when we go back to our purpose, we think about our strategy - helping people buy and own a home etc - what are the things that we can do really well and what are the things we need to partner with others?" And we looked and said, "well, what's all this other stuff for?" And again, there's nothing wrong with them but we weren't the right people. And actually, I can tell you... We are a far better organisation for having made that... They were hard decisions; it was so hard. Because these are businesses that people loved and built and invested in over a long period of time. But we're more agile, we're a bit lighter afoot, if you will, for not having to do those.


And we were chatting about it the other week. If COVID had have hit at a time when we still owned all those, I would really not like to think the state we would be in. Having to manage the diversity and the complexity of all that. So being simpler is much better.


SW: The bank has a coat of arms and a motto - Tenax Propositi - Tenacious of Purpose. I wondered what that motto means to you and how - if at all it shaped - the idea of the purpose of the bank?


SE: The honest truth is it didn't shape the purpose of the bank but after... it was after the fact. It came along and we went wow! And I think we talked about it before, uncovering the purpose of an organisation somebody described it to me as an archaeological dig. You don't make it up. You actually are searching through what has sustained the company for this period of time.


So, I think, unknowingly to us anyway, that motto was actually incredibly appropriate and it obviously has shaped the bank over a period of time. And so maybe it should be unsurprising that our purpose is so aligned with that. But I think again, it talks about courage - to me anyway. It talks about for standing up for what you think. That tenacity of purpose, of saying this is what we believe and we're going to stand up for that and we're going to put our shoulder to the wheel on those particular... exactly what we just talked about. Which is what are the areas where we really want to be tenacious - on and really speak up. And where is it not appropriate?


So, I think actually, whether it's a coincidence or not, it speaks a lot about the 200-year-old culture of the organisation. And I think it's an... I personally think it's entirely appropriate. I mean, the fact that some people now it was men in those days came out from the United Kingdom to settle and start an organisation in the 1830s in Australia and then in the 1840s in New Zealand. That takes courage, that takes a sense of purpose and adventure. And I think those things do... have actually shaped ANZ over a long period of time and continue. I personally think, look, it's just me. It's also that courage that has helped shape ANZ as a socially progressive organisation, because those things that would have been courageous in the 1880s to employ women. Today we kind of think it's nothing but that would have been courageous. It would have been courageous for the organisation to go to what we now know as Papua New Guinea in 1910 and say we're going to go and do business in these places. And so, I think there's lots of there's lots to take out of that.


Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ


Click the podcast player above to listen to the full conversation or click here to read the full transcript.

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