Unlocking the economic strength of First Nations

What is a First Nations Strategy, and what should it look like at one of Australia’s biggest companies?

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These questions have been front of mind since I accepted my role in January, as ANZ’s inaugural Head of First Nations Strategy for Australia.

I belong to the Nyoongar people of south-western Australia, and am proud to take on this new role - the first of its kind in corporate Australia that reports to Chief Executive Officer, Shayne Elliott. The significance of this ‘first’ for my people, who have long called for First Nations representation at senior executive levels, is not lost on me.

While this role is new, it is simply another step in ANZ’s history of reconciliation. ANZ was one of the first major Australian companies to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in 2007 and was a corporate donor to the Yes campaign in last year’s Referendum. This role also has precedent overseas, with the appointment of my peer Karleen Everitt in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2021.

" For First Nations in Australia, this is an exciting opportunity to advance our economic self-determination by being included in the financial system, cementing a rightful place in the Australian economy and determining our own futures from a position of economic strength.”

Prior to joining ANZ, I’ve worked in a range of industries, usually at the intersection of business and First Nations. From my first role as a financial analyst in the resources sector, to advocating at the United Nations for greater financial education, to becoming Director at one of Australia’s largest philanthropic organisations – the common thread has been in advancing the economic empowerment, and self-determination, of First Nations in Australia.

I have a longstanding interest in the role and impacts of money in First Nations communities – which started when I first learned there were only 24 First Nations accountants in the country (thankfully, that number has now grown to 200+). I hear too many stories of money being used against First Nations people – it is time to make money work for First Nations – to unite, empower and heal.

For First Nations in Australia, this is an exciting opportunity to advance our economic self-determination by being included in the financial system, cementing a rightful place in the Australian economy and determining our own futures from a position of economic strength.

However, don’t assume that a First Nations Strategy is only good for First Nations people. If we do this well at ANZ, everyone wins.

Let me be clear; ANZ is not only pursuing this strategy because it’s the right thing to do. It will also be good for our business. There is a strong commercial imperative for all banks to look closely at their relationships with First Nations.

For example, the First Nations economy in Australia represents an exciting opportunity for our bank. This sector contributed around $16 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product in 2022, and is growing at a rapid rate, well above our national growth rate.

Without a strategy on how to bank this sector and cater to their specific needs, we miss the opportunity in front of us.

You can look across the Tasman, to ANZ New Zealand’s Takiri A Rangi Strategy for proof. That strategy, under the leadership of Karleen Everitt, is focused on economic equality by advancing Māori business and financial wellbeing. Their strategy is working.

ANZ’s Australian First Nations Strategy will also be strengths-based and recognise that First Nations people have run economies and traded for longer than anyone else on the planet. There is much for our bank to learn.

My priority now is to develop an Australian First Nations strategy for ANZ that is aligned to our purpose, strategy and business. It will weave together meaningful actions, projects and commitments that leverage our core business strengths, and allow us to be more deliberate about our relationships with First Nations in Australia.

We have already commenced extensive consultation with, and are seeking input from, a wide range of people across our bank, communities and country. While it’s early days, the themes are beginning to emerge.

Subject to further consultation, the strategy is likely to focus on three key areas:

1. Financial wellbeing

2. Banking the First Nations economy, and

3. Improving the cultural capability of our bank.

The strategy will also build on the proud achievements already made under our past and present RAPs. We continue to make strong progress against our 17 actions (comprising 100 commitments) in our current RAP and this will continue to play an important role in ANZ’s future work with First Nations.

A First Nations Strategy finds the common ground and win-win opportunities for our bank and First Nations together. There are plenty of these opportunities to explore, and I look forward to playing my part in bringing this promise to fruition.

Shelley Cable is Head of First Nations Strategy, Australia at ANZ.

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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