Most Australians are aware of the royal commission into misconduct in the banking industry, established in December 2017. The Big Four banks have faced harsh criticism but Martin Barrett, the Managing Director and CEO of Auswide Bank, sees it as an opportunity. Auswide Bank is looking to challenge the public mindset towards banking institutions.
“It is a significant time for us as we address our brand,” he says. “We’ve taken the chance to put our company into focus and use our digital banking platform to attract growth.”
Martin has a professional history in business and corporate banking at Yorkshire Bank in the UK and Australia’s St.George Bank. After St.George merged with Westpac in 2008, Martin began rethinking his future in industry.
“I realised I was more passionate about working in smaller banks. I really enjoy working through the challenges of growing brands, trying to get more traction and growth, and providing a different proposition to customers.”
Auswide Bank, previously Wide Bay Australia, was a listed building society at the time Martin joined. The same CEO had run it for 50 years. Martin acknowledged the bank’s footprint in Queensland, with community roots in regional areas, but wanted to move it forward.
“I felt we needed to work on modernising the company,” he reflects. “I aimed to refresh it and to grow it into a prominent financial institution not just in the state but nationwide too.”
Martin believes diversity in a team is important to expand an organisation’s skills, capabilities and ideas. “A CEO should have a clear view of the vision and direction they want for the business,” he says. “I like to see ideas come from within the organisation and I like people to challenge me. Diversity of thinking and having different personalities on the team are essential.”
“A CEO should have a clear view of the vision and direction they want for the business.”
Auswide Bank focuses on doing its best for customers, something Martin says has been in the organisation’s DNA since the very beginning.
“It sounds easy for a CEO to say,” he admits. However, this attitude is entrenched throughout the organisation. There is a desire among the staff to do the best they can to find positive solutions for customers or help those with difficulties.
“There is a desire among the staff to do the best they can to find positive solutions for customers or help those with difficulties.”
We treat people as human beings and do to them what we would want done to us. It’s important for me to keep building on that.”
Martin and his team have worked on introducing superior technology across the organisation to improve the work the company does. Its partnership with fintech company Sandstone Technology has been critical to the process, providing Auswide Bank with an advanced lending system, and the ability to automate processes and streamline activities for faster responses to customers.
“The system helps us keep our paper base down to a minimum as well, which is a big step forward for the organisation,” says Martin. “Sandstone is also a critical provider for us in relation to our internet- and mobile-banking platforms.
“Within the next few months, we are going to release a new fleet of online products,” he continues. “Customers will be able to apply online for personal loans, savings accounts, term deposits, home loans and credit cards. We’ll have some of the best technology in the market. It will mean Auswide Bank can connect with people across the country, to attract a broader range of customers to our products and services.”
As a young man, one of Martin’s managers taught him that the way money is spent determines future success. This is what guides his decision-making at Auswide.
“He inspired me to spend money wisely and reinvest it,” he explains. “This is the philosophy I take to the business, making sure we choose our investments wisely. We need to spend valuable dollars on what is going to return some benefit to our shareholders. It’s the sensible thing to do.”
While it has a strong focus on optimising the organisation, Auswide Bank doesn’t neglect its social responsibility, engaging with and supporting the community through events, sponsorships and donations. “We seek to give back to the communities in which we work,” says Martin.
“Our executive team gets involved in community boards because we see this as an integral part of our existence. It will continue to be a notable part of our future.”