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

Business First - - PROFILE -

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.

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