Casting a wide net
Change in business is vital for success, but a shift in thinking can be a difficult proposition when one man has run a business for almost 50 years. When Martin Barrett took over CEO duties from Wide Bay Australia founder and Managing Director Ron Hancock
The problem with change is that there are casualties. And the question for the incumbent is how to minimize the casualties. For Martin, who has been in the position for just over six months, it was about assessing capabilities.
“Despite the very significant successes, mergers, acquisitions that Wide Bay has had over the years, probably the last couple of years have been quite challenging,” Martin says. “It’s required me to come in and very quickly define what the strategy for Wide Bay will be over the course ahead. And I guess in that regard, I’ve needed to steer into the capabilities of the business. I’ve needed to steer into the capabilities of the people. I’ve needed to look at our product offerings. I’ve needed to look at our positioning in the market place. I’ve needed to look at particular segments that we had not perhaps taken advantage of and really look across the whole opportunity.”
In the first six months, Martin has made some difficult decisions based on the challenges he mentions above. One decision was to write down an entire investment to avoid any surprises that may rise in this financial year or years ahead. That, however, is tempered by the new products he is launching. The first was the introduction of a personal loan.
“What we were seeing was some of our younger customers, ages eighteen, nineteen through to about twenty-two, come to Wide Bay for a personal loan and when they couldn’t get one go somewhere else and we would lose that client.
“So we plugged that gap and we put personal loans in place. We’ve been able to do that very quickly and quite successfully in the sense of winning new business in that particular space.”
Another problem was a lack of IT sensibility. Most banking is now mobile. It can be done via tablets and pads; it is instant.
“We looked across our IT relevance and our ability to be able to appeal to the new age; those banking on tablets and on phones and so forth,” Martin says. “We now have a mobile app in the market place that fills that particular hole for us.”
Martin also needed to integrate new products into the core demographic – the area he sees as having the most brand awareness. Building the core demographic was one of his predecessor’s greatest successes.
In fact Wide Bay has a long history in that area of Queensland, which stretches from Mackay to the Sunshine Coast. Its footprint is impressive. A brief history shows that Wide Bay Australia has its roots in several regional Queensland-based building societies that were created to provide low-deposit home loans and needed competition to the banks.
Initially, Ron was the founder of the Burnett Permanent Building Society. He says, “As we obtained funds, we had a queue a mile long of local people trying to get into a house on 10% deposit – it hadn’t been heard of before. As $10,000 or $20,000 was invested we were able to take some more loan applications and it just kept on growing from there.”
In 1979 Burnett Permanent merged with the local Maryborough Permanent Building Society to form Wide Bay Capricorn Building Society. Two years later Wide Bay Capricorn amalgamated with the Gympie and North Coast Building Society. Another merger occurred with the Gladstone-based Port Curtis Building Society.
In 2008, Wide Bay Australia took over the ASX listed Mackay Permanent Building Society Limited.
Wide Bay also has strong presence in Melbourne and Sydney, but it is Queensland that is key and Martin wants to further consolidate Wide Bay’s reputation in this region.
“We’ll be commencing business banking from October this year. So we are underway with building the credit policies, processes and interviewing business banking managers.”
It is no surprise that Martin has been busy; he’s an experienced executive who understands the need to move forward. He came to Wide Bay after holding the position of state manager for St. George Queensland and West Australia and previously held roles at regional financial institutions in the UK and at National Australia Bank.