Stoking the engine room of the Australian economy

The nation’s fleet of small to medium-sized businesses boosting economic growth has been one constant amid the technological and demographic transformation of the Australian economy.

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And the importance of the sector will only increase as it continues to be the “growth engine of the Australian economy,” according to ANZ’s Group Executive, Australia Commercial Clare Morgan.

"I think there was a recognition that this is a really important sector of the economy and we want to serve it well. And I think a recognition that it's a high return business when it's done well.” – Clare Morgan, Group Executive, Australia Commercial, ANZ

The country’s 2.5 million businesses drive about 65 per cent of private sector employment and contribute roughly 55 per cent of private sector profits.

“It's a really important part of the economy to be supporting and investing in,” Morgan said in her first interview with bluenotes after joining ANZ in early 2023. “We have a role to play in serving the sector well.”

Morgan, who has more than two decades experience across business and banking roles in Australia and the United States, is now in charge of the Australia Commercial business which encompasses 650,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs), corporates, private bank clients and specialised industry customers.

The separation of Australia Commercial into a standalone division last year provided a strategic opportunity to focus investment, grow the business and its contribution to the Australian economy and enable great outcomes for customers.

“I think there was a recognition that this is a really important sector of the economy and we want to serve it well,” Morgan said. “And I think a recognition that it's a high return business when it's done well. And we are seeing record levels of investment into this division, which is great.”

The Australia Commercial division was strong and had all the “ingredients for success”, but Morgan said she was keen to provide greater emphasis to parts of the business that would enable it to achieve the next stage of growth. Effectively “elevating the role” of existing capabilities while “adding some new elements.”

This involved creating some new roles to focus on areas she calls transact and save, lend and grow, digital and customer experience and strategic delivery.

Sweating cashflow

Transact and save is all about making sure businesses have the services and products they need to conduct business with their customers, she said.

“We know that our customers really sweat cash flow. Where am I going to get paid from? How am I going to make payments? Those things are really important to our customers. So making sure we have a product set and processes that meet their needs is important,” Morgan said.

The creation of a 'lend and grow' role was focussed on ensuring customers could invest in things like new equipment and facilities to expand their revenue – or “about making sure customers can grow their business over time and they have access to the capital that they need to do so.”

The new 'digital and customer experience' role will ensure the bank utilises data and analytics to make sure customers have a seamless experience with digital banking and have all the insights their expanding business requires.

“We want to make our customers lives easier. We want them to be able to deal with us online or in the channel of choice. It could be a branch, it could be phone, it could be face to face. But getting things done easily, usually through digital channels, is a big driver of customer satisfaction. It's really important that we get that right.”

And finally the 'strategic delivery' role has brought together all the enabling functions that allows ANZ’s frontline business bankers to carry out their jobs.

“We need to make sure we've got really strong foundations for growth and that also make life as easy as possible for our front-line teams. So they can spend as much of their time focussed on our customers.”

More broadly, Morgan says the commercial banking market is a pretty “competitive space”. But also it was large enough to create plenty of opportunities for financial services companies to create different offers and products for customers.

Seeking differentiation

In such a competitive landscape Morgan had to quickly identify where ANZ had a point of differentiation to assist business customers. A good example is ANZ’s Private Bank which works with high net worth individuals and families to support their wealth and goals.

ANZ Private allows the bank to connect with customers both on the professional and the personal level, Morgan said.

“For many business owners, particularly those who have a lot of their own wealth tied up in their business. Your business is personal. And so having that side of the conversation present in the Commercial division is really important.”

ANZ is also the most internationally focused of the Australian banks and that international footprint could open up many business opportunities for Australia Commercial customers looking to be involved in the movement of good and trade around the region, she said.

The Institutional division has a strong sustainable finance capability and a focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues that are becoming increasingly relevant to many SME customers, Morgan said.

“All of this means there's an opportunity for us to position strategically in different ways and continue to leverage what ANZ has in terms of its real strengths,” Morgan said.

Another opportunity exists in attempting to serve existing ANZ customers in a more fulsome way, she said, including business owners who also require a home loan.

“We know today there are many business owners that we serve but actually then choose to get a home loan elsewhere,” Morgan said. “That just feels like not a great experience for the customer. But equally a wasted opportunity for us.”

And conversely, with microbusinesses. For many, they may present like retail customers, often with a home loan, but a lot of those microbusinesses may require business loans to help them expand their operations, Morgan said.

Wherever the opportunities are, Morgan is confident the Australia Commercial division has the right structure, people and strategy to capitalise on the growth potential and provide great outcomes for existing and new customers.

“All of this takes me back to the conversation earlier about why we've set up the way that we have – bringing in some of those product and process capabilities to the leadership table and much more of the digital and customer experience focus as well.”

Brett Foley is Managing Editor of bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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