Fast Five: Westpac Group banking on interaction over transactions

Bank of Melbourne Chief Executive Mark Melvin explains why cash registers have been ringing more during lockdown in Victoria than the same period in 2019.


Welcome to another edition of Fast Five - the Victorian Chamber’s fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s top business leaders to answer five questions about how they have managed to become captains of their industry.

This week the Victorian Chamber presents Mark Melvin - Westpac State General Manager (Victoria and Tasmania) and Bank of Melbourne Chief Executive.

Now that Victorians can finally get back to work and restart their businesses, Mark shares his unique insights on how the COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria have impacted the financials of businesses and households across the state.

Westpac State General Manager (Victoria and Tasmania) and Bank of Melbourne Chief Executive, Mark Melvin.#1: What do you think will be the greatest challenge to the banking industry in the future?

The challenges for banking will be similar for many other industries – we need to work at pace to adapt to changing customer behaviour and the economic environment.

If you think about the history of banking, the first bank branch opened about 200 years ago, but ATMs didn’t come for another 150 years. Since then, innovation has been exponential.

The challenge in the future will be to innovate in a way that’s relevant; we’ve seen the pandemic accelerate the adoption of technologies like e-signatures as an alternative to ‘wet ink’. Another challenge will be continuing to work together as an industry to support customers and businesses as we all adapt to the ‘COVID normal’.

At Westpac Group, we expect around half of the 135,000 customers who accessed repayment relief to return to making payments. A key focus for banks and the Australian Banking Association will be continuing to support mortgage and business customers through this challenging period and into economic regeneration.

#2: What is the greatest lesson you have learned from the past six months?

It’s been remarkable to see the speed of change and the way people and business have adapted. Even though all businesses and governments have contingency plans, everyone’s been operating in unchartered waters.

One example is the use of cash – even though cash transactions have been steadily falling year on year, the trend has accelerated since the start of 2020. Our data shows that the Victorian restrictions are having a profound impact on customer activity, with the value of consumption on credit and debit cards in Victoria down about 14 per cent over the past five weeks, compared to the same period last year.

It’s been incredible to see how creative and resourceful people can be when they work together – whether it’s our branch staff calling elderly customers just for a chat or dropping off some groceries, or local businesses like Nobody Denim in Thornbury transforming their business from manufacturing jeans to making medical scrubs and masks.

#3: What is the Bank of Melbourne doing to separate from the pack?

Bank of Melbourne has a proud history as the only bank focused solely on Victoria. With its origins dating back to the 1950s, the brand was re-launched to the market as the local challenger bank almost a decade ago.

We have great offers for our customers and a history of innovation: our sister brand St.George was the first to introduce internet banking in 1994, and Bank of Melbourne was the first bank in the world with fingerprint logon in 2015. But what really sets us apart is how we support the sectors that make this one of the most livable places in the world.

We’re behind icons like Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, the new arts hub Collingwood Yards, and Melbourne Cricket Club. Our charitable foundation was established to give a helping hand to the Victorians who need it most – and has given over $3.7 million in grants to hundreds of local charities.

But what really makes me tick is the way our people are passionate about providing the very best customer service. We even designed our branches especially for interaction, not just transactions – and being out in branches with our people and customers is what I’ve missed the most over the last few months.

#4: What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career?

During my time leading retail banking for Abbey National (now Santander) in the UK, I was recognised with the Financial Services Industry’s innovation award. I’d introduced a franchise model, where local leadership and empowerment became the key levers for success in local bank branches.

The project was a true team effort that lifted branch sales by more than a third, year on year. More recently, it’s been an absolute privilege to lead the Victorian retail banking team as they’ve continued to keep branches open to support our two million customers through COVID.

The resilience and strength of our bankers has been remarkable and has reinforced the important role banks have in local communities.

I’m proud of the way we’ve helped our vulnerable customers (for example, by helping them transition away from passbooks if they’ve had to stay home) and the broader Melbourne community by supporting the social enterprise collective Moving Feast, which provided food aid to residents in the housing towers in Melbourne’s north that were in hard lockdown in July.

#5: What is the one piece of advice you would offer someone starting a new business?

Choosing the right banking partner for your business is extremely important. Remember they’ll be with you during the good times and difficult ones, like we’re all going through now.

Your banker needs to understand the local market, your industry, and the ebbs and flows of doing business in your category. They’ll help you get started on the right foot and be a trusted partner as the business grows. 

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