Westpac Celebrating 200 Years – Biggest Celebration Ever
On Saturday 8th April 2017, the Westpac Group celebrates 200 years of business.
As Australia’s first bank and its oldest company, Westpac Group - which started life as the Bank of New South Wales in 1817 - represents a central unbroken thread in our region’s history. The bank has survived and thrived because it has been guided by the same purpose over its first 200 years: to provide stability, to support customers and communities, and to help grow the economy in Australia and all counties in which it operates.
1817 - Establishment of the Bank of New South Wales
In 1817 Governor Lachlan Macquarie signed his name on the charter of incorporation to establish the Bank of New South Wales. He knew that a stable formal currency and the financial security of a bank could help the businesses of the early colony of Australia flourish.
The Bank of New South Wales first opened for business on 8 April 1817 in a building owned by business woman and former convict Mary Reibey and its first employees were ‘chief cashier’ Edward Smith-Hall and ‘porter and servant’ Joseph Potts.
1850s - Expansion and the Gold Rush
As the colony of Australia grew and developed, so too did the Bank of New South Wales. The rush for gold and expansion of settlements saw strong demand for the Bank’s services, but it was a time not without challenges. While bushrangers, including Ned Kelly who robbed the Bank of New South Wales Jerilderie, branch were an everyday threat, a more severe test lay ahead with the economic crash of the 1890s. Few banks would survive. It would be thanks to the prudent decisions of the Bank’s management that the company was able to navigate its way safely and continue to support its customers through such difficult times.
1900s - Serving the nation through World Wars and the Great Depression and expansion into the Pacific
While the Bank of New South Wales had been growing steadily, two world wars and the Great Depression tested the strength and stability of the company and indeed economies across the world. As the nation faced some of its most challenging times, the Bank played a key role in keeping the economy running even though many of its men were serving on the battlefields. The difficulties of such dark times brought the company together and saw the Bank’s family grow, with women beginning to play an increased role in office life. During this time, the company’s commitment to serving the needs to the community was clear. Under General Manager Alfred Davidson, the Bank of New South Wales took bold steps to assist Australia’s economic recovery, devaluing the Australian pound against the British sterling.
Reaching out to the Pacific
The Bank of New South Wales began operating in the Pacific through registered offices and agencies in the 1850’s, however by the turn of the century demand for the Bank’s services had grown to the stage where it was ready to open its own branches in Fiji and New Guinea.
Westpac Suva Branch
General Manager, John French authorised the leasing of premises and the Bank opened its first branch in Suva, Fiji on 12 August 1901. Business focussed on foreign exchange and financing Fiji’s export of sugar and copra.
1950s - Australia’s post war boom era
The post war period was a time of reconstruction in Australia with booms in housing, migration and manufacturing. It was also an era when the Bank of New South Wales was able to radically transform the services it offered customers and the way it operated. The receipt of a savings bank licence enabled the Bank to meet the needs of Australia’s growing middle class who wanted to own their own home and save for the future. As new technology
emerged, the Bank was at the forefront of these innovations, offering Australians greater convenience in their everyday banking.
1982 - ‘Westpac’ is formed
In 1982, ‘Westpac’ was formed through the merger of the Bank of New South Wales and the Commercial Bank of Australia. The Bank expanded rapidly in the 1980s. However, as a result of the economic downturn at the end of the decade, Westpac declared a loss for the first time of $1.6 billion for the financial year ended 30 September 1992.
Between 1993 and 1999,
Westpac underwent a substantial rejuvenation and acquisition program which expanded its retail footprint, bringing WA’s Challenge Bank Limited, NZ’s Trust Bank and Bank of Melbourne into the fold.
The 2000s - Adapting
Westpac began the new century as a principal sponsor of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. It was also a time that the organisation began its strong focus on sustainability. The Bank focused on reconnecting with its core principles of helping and supporting its customers, people and communities. It took a bold leadership position as the first bank, and only one of 10 companies globally to sign the Equator Principles. This approach and the firm focus on sustainability remains deeply embedded in the company today.
Westpac merged with St.George Bank Limited (which included BankSA), resulting in a much larger multi-brand Group. In March 2010, the Westpac Group began operating as a single authorised deposit-taking institution (ADI), and St.George Bank became one of Westpac Group’s operating divisions. Then in July 2011, Westpac Group re-launched the Bank of Melbourne through its St.George business. As the Westpac Group expanded through acquisitions, and diversified its business to adapt and respond to changing customer needs, its focus on providing exceptional service grew stronger.
As Westpac enters its third century, this ability to constantly adapt in an ever changing world will help enable the company to deliver its vision to become one of the world’s great service companies helping its customers, communities and people to prosper and grow.
Stories from Westpac history
Life on the goldfields was just as tough for the Bank’s staff and agents as it was for the diggers. In some cases, it was more dangerous-not from the risk of accidents or injury, but from the threat of robbery. The first challenge for an enterprising and pioneering young bank staff was to actually get to the diggings; this often meant a long, difficult ride by horseback. One such staff was George Preshaw, who in 1860 was posted to the goldfields in the town of Kiandra, in the Snowy Mountains. He spent six hard days travelling across 240 kilometres of inhospitable and unfamiliar territory, later writing, ‘I knew as much about a horse as a horse did about me.’
When he arrived in Kiandra, he discovered that the ‘branch’ consisted of ‘a calico tent, built on the high side of the street.’ Inside the tent, Preshaw found his young assistant ‘perched on a piece of bark that rested on two logs, a stream of water running under him . . . caused by the snow, which was a foot or two deep at the back of the tent, thawing.’
Not quite how we picture camping today, let alone a day in the office!
First Two Lady Typewritters
Being a pioneer is never easy, especially for the first women to enter an organisation that had been the sole preserve of men since its founding. This was the situation in which 40-year-old Edith Lamb and 16-year-old Tennyson Beatrice Miller found themselves on 4 October 1898, when they were employed as the Bank of New South Wales’ first two ‘lady typewriters’.
When Miller and Lamb first arrived at head office to start working they were shown into a private office that was separated from the rest of the premises. They were not to be seen or heard, due to concerns about having women in the workforce. The only male bank officers allowed into their office were those authorised to give and collect their work.
Miller and Lamb were initially placed on 12 months probation, on salaries of £80 a year, working daily between 9.30 am and 4 pm. But such was the quality of their work - producing all of the correspondence for head office, documents for the board, and the printing of circulars sent out from Sydney - that they were soon made permanent.
Six decades later, in a 1958 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Miller recalled: ‘The regulation was that Miss Lamb and I were to leave before the men because they didn’t want the public to think they had been so weak as to take women on staff. But we often had so much to do that we couldn’t finish in time. So we left by the main door at the required time and came back into the office by the Wynyard Street entrance to get on with our work’.
The women were bold and stood up for each other in showcasing the high standards they had set themselves. Lamb later became a published poet, writing under the name E Beaufils Lamb, while Miller stayed with the Bank for 41 years until she retired in 1939. Miller supported, and then led, a campaign by female employees to establish a Women’s Fidelity Guarantee and Provident Fund to match that set up for retiring male staff in 1863. In 1938, the campaign was successful.
The first female teller - 1961
Today nobody would blink an eye. But more than a half a century ago the appointment of a woman as a full-time bank teller raised more than an eyebrow. In fact, it gave rise to headlines all around Australia. Judy Millar found herself in the centre of a media storm in October 1961 when she took up her position at the front counter of the Bank of New South Wales branch in Wynyard in Sydney’s central business district.
Aged just 25, Millar was part of a new generation of women who would eventually transform both the Bank’s and society’s approach to gender. Her first day in the job was covered extensively in newspapers across the country but not everyone was happy about it. The Brisbane Telegraph headlined its story ‘Women bank tellers not likely here’ reporting “time will tell whether Miss Teller continues to pay out or is deposited back in a behind-the-scenes job. What is the position in Brisbane? Short of chaining yourself to a teller’s railing in the Pankhurst style of suffragette days, I’d say your application would have as much hope of getting by as a dud cheque.”
Dexter, our promotional ATM, made a run for it -1978
Persuading customers to use an ATM instead of going into a branch to withdraw money at the counter was no easy task. Such a huge cultural change went beyond any slick advertising campaign so the Bank came up with a novel way of showing customers what to do by creating WPR1Westpac Promotional Robot 1-later named Dexter.
Dexter was taken out onto the streets by regional offices to help overcome customers’ doubts about electronic banking. Dexter was battery operated and could move around. He even ‘spoke’ thanks to a microphone connected to the robot through which an accompanying bank staff would talk.
Most demonstrations were well received and uneventful until one day a fire engine going past interfered with Dexter’s command signal frequency and he went charging down the street out of control with concerned bankers in pursuit. Luckily there was no damage done.
First employee of the Bank of New South Wales
It was 200 years ago today that Joseph Hyde Potts began work as the first employee of the Bank of New South Wales. Little would he have known how many of us would come to follow in his footsteps.
Potts was 23 years old and had only been in the colony for six months when he was employed as a ‘porter and servant’ at the Bank of New South Wales. He was paid £25 a year, received a weekly ration from the government stores and was required to sleep on the Bank’s premises as part of his role.
Potts was responsible for drawing up many official documents, including a financial reference guide called the ‘Table of Factors for Interest at 8 and 10 per cent’. In 1826, he designed the Bank’s new sterling bank notes in £1, £2, £5, £10 and £20 denominations.
Over time, Potts’ duties increased, and he took on the roles of collecting clerk and accountant. He epitomised the concept of service and was lauded for his work ethic and dedication during his 22 year career with the Bank.
When Potts retired due to ill health in 1839, the Bank of New South Wales board presented him with a silver tea service inscribed with the words, ‘In testimony of his long, efficient and faithful service’. In 1961 the service was presented back to the Bank by Potts’ descendants and it is now housed in the Westpac Group Archives.
In 1830 Potts payed £505 for 6.5 acres at Woolloomooloo Hill in Sydney, which was then known as Paddy’s Point. He renamed it Potts Point, as it is known today.
636 New offices on one day!!
Imagine opening 636 new offices on one day?! That’s exactly what we did after our savings bank licence was received in 1956. The new licence enabled the Bank to offer interest-paying deposit accounts and begin mass lending for home ownership for the first time. This change transformed our company, in Australia and in the Pacific.
Once receipt of the licence was confirmed a military-style plan sprang into action. The Bank sent telegrams to its branches, putting its detailed plan into action. Telegrams were dispatched to launch advertising campaigns, including in the next day’s newspapers and radio broadcasts.
By the end of the first day, 1,233 new accounts had been opened and within nine months the Bank of New South Wales Savings Bank had 200,000 customers with £41 million deposited into those accounts.
Throughout our 200 year history, many people have played an amazing role in helping shape the company and we thank our staff and customers for the role they continue to play in helping us support our community in Fiji.