Drilling right down to the personal is at the heart of Ashley Stewart’s professional world. It’s not the public perception of banking – just the opposite – but as Managing Director Private Wealth at Westpac Group, Ash, as he prefers to be called, is responsible for the experience and satisfaction the Bank’s Private Wealth clients enjoy from a highly personalised relationship with his Private Banking Team. It’s a tall order.
Growing up in South Australia’s Barossa Valley spurred Ash to consider a career in winemaking, but by chance a job at a local bank lit his interest in the finance sector. He embarked on a career with ANZ, including a decade in advice-related rolls in ANZ’s wealth business. He joined the Westpac Group in 2011 as Head of Westpac Private Bank for Victoria and South Australia, before taking on advice roles with Westpac subsidiary BT until 2019.
“I quickly developed a real passion for private banking. It’s such a dynamic, fast-paced and challenging segment where you get to partner with and help so many amazing and successful clients,” Ash says. “I was so pleased to return to our private wealth business in late 201 and I am now genuinely privileged to lead such an amazing business as the managing director. I’m responsible for Westpac Private, St George Private and Bank of Melbourne Private, and we have 500 people here.”
“While the road will be rocky, I am genuinely optimistic about the recovery and opportunities ahead of us.” – Ashley Stewart
Private banking is a highly personalised relationship management service available to high-net-worth clients and their families, executives, professionals, entrepreneurs, retirees and successful business owners who require assistance with their personal banking and wealth management. Clients collaborate with a dedicated private banker and their associates for personalised assistance in all their banking and finance needs, including exclusive investment insights and opportunities, which may normally be beyond their reach.
“I love working in such a dynamic environment,” Ash enthuses. “We are fortunate to have so many amazing, successful clients and my team does a tremendous job of helping them solve complex problems and access unique invest opportunities. Expectations are high and time is precious – it is such an interesting and challenging place to work.”
Many wealthy individuals invest so much time and energy into their business that they sometimes miss opportunities to optimise their own personal wealth management. That’s where private banking can step in.
Curiosity and genuine care in the relationship are the essential ingredients in successful private banking, and the X factor in Westpac’s Private Banking services.
“It’s our people,” Ash tells. “Our clients constantly tell me it is the expertise, the problem-solving capability, the care and genuine desire to help clients succeed that sets us apart. Second, our clients genuinely value the exclusive insights, opportunities and expertise provided by our market-leading Global Investment Service.”
The new reality
The onset of COVID-19 has created a very challenging environment for so many businesses. Westpac Private Wealth has constantly made adjustments to how it connects with and supports its clients in such rapidly evolving and unusual circumstances.
“I’ve been immensely proud of how our people have innovated, adapted and overcome challenges in order to continue to help our clients,” Ash says. “Clients form a lasting impression based on how we help and serve them throughout challenging periods. Their preferences and expectations also shift significantly – and permanently. I’ve got a very clear vision as to how we will support this.
“So, while the road ahead will be rocky, I am genuinely optimistic about the recovery and opportunities ahead of us. We have a fantastic opportunity to partner with our clients over this journey. I’m also fortunate to have such a capable, agile and resilient team who are so committed to their clients.”
On a personal level, COVID-19 has prompted Ash to rethink his own priorities. Being based in Melbourne has made it a particularly challenging period, but Ash has consistently found that facing challenging situations offers the richest opportunity for career and personal development.
“I surround myself with clever, capable people who can challenge me and bring out the best in each other.” – Ashley Stewart
“Those hard and challenging situations undoubtedly teach you the most,” he suggests. “I find they provide invaluable professional and life lessons; so much so that over time I learn to actively seek out tough assignments because they provide so much more growth and fantastic opportunities.”
The willingness to take on challenging jobs has moulded Ash’s perspective on leadership. He welcomes input from a wide range of stakeholders but then prides himself on making timely, balanced decisions. Alongside that affirmative action comes a forward-looking and strategic disposition.
“I’m very comfortable making bold calls,” he reveals. “I also enjoy setting very stretching goals so the business and the people in it can really achieve their potential. I consider myself a highly disciplined person and dedicate a lot of time to planning and preparation. The other thing I do is I surround myself with clever, capable people who can challenge me and bring out the best in each other.”
Among those who have brought out the best in him, he intimates, are people like his grandparents, who have been “very generous people and very courageous through hardship but always maintained a sense of humour”.
Advice he received early in his career resonated with him immediately, although he can’t now recall who it came from; however, he still strives to fulfil its intent: “’Be ruthless with your time, and gracious with people.’ I’m always working on achieving both with equal measure.”
At Westpac Private Banking he’s destined to acquire that in good company.
Case study: Cobild Partners with Westpac Private
Coby Rotenberg founded the Melbourne-based building and construction company Cobild in 1995. His son Rotem joined the business in 2004 and it is now a highly successful firm specialising in luxury homes, high-end apartments and boutique commercial mixed-use and office buildings.
Cobild prides itself on old-school practicality with new-school smarts – the same approach it adopted when it started working with Westpac in 1997. Westpac has supported Cobild as it has expanded, and Coby says the bank and its Managing Director Private Wealth, Ashley Stewart, have been an indispensable partner.
“The foundation of the relationship is the incredible amount of respect and trust we have for each other,” he says. “The success in the partnership to due to the open discussion and clear expectations of both our needs.
“When we were a small team of eight, Westpac was unstinting in its support. Today, with more than 10 times the staff and the growing sophistication of the business, Westpac continues to support our growth. Ashley and his team are extremely personable. They make a point of intimately understanding our needs and are completely transparent.”
Every key milestone in the company’s growth has been with the support of Westpac. “From our first A$1 million in turnover to the scale of the business today, and to every new need, the Westpac team was present,” Coby tells. “They were there the day we bought our first office building and helped us celebrate on the rooftop when we moved in.”
Rotem adds that culture is a very important part of the business. For instance, before taking on a new client or collaborator, they run what they call the “Coffee Test” – sitting down with the prospective partner for a coffee for a chat to ensure their core values and priorities align. This approach is clearly a success – the business has gone from strength to strength in the past 25 years, including appearing in the Great Place to Work list in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020, and scoring in the top three in the WorkSafe Awards 2018.
Culture is also an important part of the company’s relationships with Westpac. “Our philosophy at Cobild is that culture is created by the people in a business, and it is created from the top,” Rotem says. “Similarly, our experience has been that Ashley’s values permeate right through Westpac Private Wealth. We can truly see the care, dedication and support that he provides live in his team. We are proud to call them our bankers and, more importantly, to call them our friends.”