Australia’s banking leaders will likely make the same mistakes as their UK peers despite their studied self-assurance. That’s our key take away from listening to Steve Weston, CEO of Volt, the first company to be issued with a retail banking license since the early 2000s.

Volt is part of the new trend of neo-banks – born into a digital era which puts customer experience at the heart banking, stepping away from the traditional product-based approach of the industry.

According to Weston, who was speaking at the Salesforce conference in Sydney, when he returned to Australia after four years working for Barclays in the UK and queries his colleagues about whether they were concerned about the UK experience, they told him “No, we are different.”

But then he says when he asked them how, “…the answers they gave are very much the answes we gave before we got our backsides smacked.”

He said the pattern of big bank responses in Australia echoes that of the UK. “First they say, there’s nothing to see here, then they admit a few small problems and we are sorry for those but they are not reflective of culture…”
And then you get the royal commission, he added, as his punchline.

Changes introduced by the then-Treasurer and now-Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the 2017 budget provided the final necessary impetus for Weston and his co-partner Matt Bunbury to act.

When they saw the government introducing the same kinds of changes the UK government had done, including BEAR — banking executive accountability regimes — he was confident the climate was ripe for a new entrant and that this would be encouraged by the government and regulators.

Weston said the fundamental difference between Volt and the incumbents is that traditionally a customer goes to a bank, is sold a product and then is left to their own devices.

“At Volt we understand what you are trying to achieve with that product and help you achieve it. Neobanks (like Volt) don’t just give you products. We find the most passionate customers — we co-create the products and they get first dibs and then you let your customers tell people how good you are.”

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