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Alexis George, ANZ Deputy CEO

14 December 2020

Exploring the Future of Work

Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia - conversation with Alexis George (ANZ)

COVID-19 is rewiring a new world of work. In this episode, we find out how ANZ and the financial services industry are reshaping, planning and improving their workforce, and growth of digital banking while tackling their people skill changes across the industry.

Episode transcript

Ben Hamer: I'm Ben Hamer, and welcome to Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has launched much of the nation into a work from home experiment. It's a shift that has dramatically transformed workplaces. So what does this mean for business leaders and what happens next? In this podcast series, we're going in search of answers. 

In this episode, I chat with Alexis George, Deputy CEO at ANZ. We tackle several topics, including skills changes across the industry and the importance of passion and curiosity, the changing nature of banking, and how the industry has responded to disruption from the royal commission to the pandemic, how it's good to have best-laid plans, but with the need to be adaptable and using principles to navigate through complexity and how the financial services industry is at the front end of automation and technology. You're listening to Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia.

I'm joined now by Alexis from ANZ. And Lex, first things first, because I have done my research I just want to confirm that on the side of being a deputy CEO, you're not moonlighting as a famous dress designer making bridal gowns in Adelaide.

Alexis George: You know, that is a very funny story because I lived in Adelaide for two years. I went down there with BT when we set up down there. And I actually lived about 300 metres from the Alexis George gown shop. And one day I was actually at a dinner, a formal dinner with the group. And I was sitting next to this woman who was dressed in a beautiful gown. And I said, Hello, my name is Alexis George.

And she went ‘I'm wearing your design!. And I said ‘I really don't’ think so. You wouldn’t want to wear my designs!’. So i did get treated quite well while I was in Adelaide because of that name, actually, but it’s a man. And I’m a woman.

Ben Hamer: Well, I would totally play it up.

Alexis George: Yeah, well I did. Best seats in restaurants!

Ben Hamer: Absolutely. So we'll move right forward to your current role now. And when you were appointed to the gig, the CEO said that being able to talk to somebody who comes at it from a different angle is incredibly valuable in these types of roles. ‘She brings, frankly, a different perspective and has a different background than I do.’ So I'm keen to understand, what did the CEO mean by this quote and what do you think it means for leadership teams more broadly?

Alexis George: Yeah, I think actually listening back to that now, I'd forgotten he’d said that. Actually we're from similar backgrounds in terms of schooling, that our fathers are builders and mothers are secretaries. But what he means is, Shayne Elliott who's my boss, has been a long term banker. I think he started his career in banking. He went into investment banking, institutional banking, CFO of a bank, CEO of the bank, and he has lived in different places. My career is completely different. I'm a chartered accountant by trade. I've worked in insurance, I've worked in superannuation. I've worked in investments and had a little bit of exposure to banking. So we were both in financial services, but we've come to it from very, very different worlds.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, absolutely. And I think then that talks to the importance of having that diversity, not just in terms of educational background, but gender experience for different industries that you've worked in. And do you really see the strength of diversity being a real focus when it comes to leadership teams in the future of work?

Alexis George: Totally, totally do. And I talked about my background in also a very regulated environment, which obviously banking has become more so. But I think if you look at our leadership team, we have very diverse, very diverse backgrounds and the world is changing so quickly. You can't just have people sitting around that leadership team with 25 years of banking. Yeah, we might be curious about the way we're using data, etc., but none of us are experts. 

Let's look about how we work now, how our customers are acting now. They're all interacting or wanting to interact digitally. You know, data is the new asset. So how do we use data better to help our customers or their financial well-being and to make their dreams come true? None of us around the table were experts in that. And so we really brought people in who've grown from those skills. 

And it makes so much difference because you sit there and you come with your thinking. And they say something, and I go I just would never have thought about that and would never have realised that there was a different way of thinking. I think it's so important in this world and honestly, it reflects our customers. Right. They're not all homogenous. So you kind of leadership teams that are all homogenous. And it's not just in terms of sex, but it's in terms of backgrounds, as you said, technical skills, etc.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, that's fantastic. Something that I do want to pick up on. You did mention before around how banking is a heavily regulated environment. And I'm curious, it's the royal commission into banking. Now, there have been some real challenges that have come as a result of that or that led to that. And we won't go down that rabbit hole. 

But the thing that interests me is that since the findings were released, the big banks keep appearing on the top of the best place to work and top employer rankings, and surely that can't be by chance. So I'm keen to understand, what has the industry done to ensure that despite some of the negative press that came from the royal commission, it's still being able to have a really compelling employee value proposition?

Alexis George: It's interesting, isn't it, because the year of the public hearings of the royal commission were tough. They were really tough on our customers, they were really tough on our people. And I think our executives particularly. And I remember when the final report came down and I'll never forget this flicking through because it was late in the evening and thinking, well, that isn't too bad. I kind of expected more. 

But then I remember going away on that weekend and thinking, actually we have to use this not just ANZ, but the industry as a watershed moment to change the way we think about our customers, our community and our people. And I remember ringing Shayne Elliot on the weekend saying I've been reflecting on this over the day and I really want to lead our response because I don't want it to become a compliance exercise. 

I want us to change the way we behave and act. And he was, as he was completely on board and very supportive of that approach as well. And I think as an industry, we really took that to heart as well. And it's not about the number of recommendations. That's about how we think about our customers, our people and the community we operate in. And I really think that has helped us over the last 12 months to respond to the needs of the community and the customers. 

And I feel that our people now particularly feel that strong sense of purpose and that way we approach things and I feel proud of that, actually, that as an industry we have adapted. And I think, you know, during the last nine, 12 months, we really have stood up to what was asked of us if then had even come along as well.

Ben Hamer: Also, we've gone from a royal commission into a global pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about how ANZ was impacted by COVID-19 in terms of the workforce and ways of working?

Alexis George: Yeah, well, we're a company of over 40,000 people in 33 countries. Before March, we worked predominantly about 85 per cent worked in the office full time. And where we sit today and the world changes every day, so it’s a little hard to guess. But, you know, even Australia would normally have about 17,000 people. We've got a thousand people in the office at the moment. That's across the entire Australia plus some branches to fundamentally change the way we operate within a week. 

And did we get it all right in that first week? No, we didn't. Right. Because we were not prepared to have 40,000 people in 33 countries all working at home within a week. But I think we really stepped up over that a couple of weeks, got everyone working from home and introduced video for everyone, started to put in wellbeing programs to make sure people could look after themselves. 

We upped the communication. Shayne Elliott was communicating every day for a period of time. Then every executive was doing weekly big calls, answering questions, etc. So I think we really did change fundamentally the way we work from being office based groups now to being predominantly home based. Hopefully that's not forever, but predominantly home based with some time in the office. And then, of course, we've got to think about the future.

Ben Hamer: And so based on the future, what are some of the things that you think will be sustained that we've been living through now as a result of living through the pandemic that you think will really shape the future of work for ANZ?

Alexis George: Look, we've been debating this and I suppose early on I wanted to start thinking about the future because I felt if we didn't think about the future, it would kind of just happen organically and maybe chaotically. And so we really put together a small group of people straight off who started to think, what do we want ANZ to stand for in the future? What do we want the way we work to stand for? 

And we really thought quite deeply about it. And started to come up with firstly principles because it's really easy to jump to solutions. So what do we believe? We believe our purpose is incredibly important and connection to the purpose is important. We believe team is important. We believe the workplace has value. It has value for collaboration, for Problem-Solving, for new people. So we start with that. And what do we want to achieve out of this? We want to achieve an improved employee value proposition.

And so that was the starting premise, not cost or not anything else. And so from there, we really started to think about what that meant and have decided enough. And I’ve seen other companies get to this place as well that actually probably about 90 plus per cent of our workforce can have more flexibility. They can work from home more. They can maybe have more flexible hours. We want people in the workplace about two days a week because we think that's important for all the reasons I said before, culture and for new employees learning those unwritten rules that you have to learn in companies, but otherwise stay at home.

That works for you. It works for us. We've got a much better engaged workforce. That is a monumental change for a company like ours. And so we've talked to our staff about that. Now we've made sure their home environment is safe and secure for them to work. So we've put in place reimbursement programs. We clearly can't start working like that exactly now because there's requirements all over the world. But that's why we want to work. And there are many other ramifications of that. Of course, you have to have video. You have to make sure cyber is strong because now you've got this distributed workforce. But I think it's powerful that people have really embraced it.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, I think that one of the things I love hearing you talk about that is the idea of starting with principals, because I think when we can't plan more than a couple of weeks in advance at this point in time, having those principals just helps you pivot and navigate through some of that complexity.

Alexis George: I think that's so important. And, you know, you can have the best laid plans. And believe me, we've had the best laid plans. One thing I've learned through the pandemic is it's good to have plans to be adaptable because I can assure you they don't happen. You know, and even in Australia, we're in a pretty comfortable position, you must say, compared to other places in the world. But just recently, we've had South Australia back home. So they're still home now, but they'd been in the office. 

So I think you have to be adaptable. And if I look forward, I think this is right for us now that most people can have more flexibility. I don’t know what we need in five years time, people going, what will it look like in five years time? I don’t know. Right, but I know it's probably going to be different. I know we're going to have a lot of learnings out of this and we're just going to have to learn to adapt to that.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, totally. One of the things that I do want to kind of pick up on is that during the peak of the pandemic, we surveyed globally CFO’s and over half of them said that they plan to accelerate automation throughout the pandemic. And history also tells us that in recessions we invest in automation and financial services is often considered at the front end of automation and technology pre-COVID-19. Can you talk a little bit around how the automation agenda is playing out at ANZ and in banking?

Alexis George: Well, I think automation is something we've been focused on for many years, right? I mean, the reality is that in banking margins are decreasing and so we need to get better at doing what we're doing. Also, people's expectations of us are changing. You know, it's not okay anymore to come back 15 days later after a customer asks something and give the answer, because Google does it instantly. That's who they compare us to. So I think we've had to start facing into that. 

And you ask me the question about diversity at the leadership team. That's exactly why we've brought in some of the people we have brought in. Three people sit on our team with really strong technology backgrounds. So it's absolutely changing the way we work. Yes, robots have ideas. People have ideas because they are still doing all the work. We need to know who did the work in case something does go wrong and we need to reprogram the robot. So I think automation is incredibly important, but so is digitisation. 

And I think digitisation is something that was a trend before we even could spell coronavirus, but it accelerated enormously because people had to be at home. So how do they engage with the bank like ours? And I think before money was telephone or branch, that was just five percent asking Q&A or using our bots. But now it's 25 percent. 

Similarly, most people were doing digital banking. Even nine months ago it was 40 percent less or something. So, you know, while those trends were there they have accelerated tenfold over the last nine months. We have to adapt to that. That's hard. We're a big company and suddenly we have to start sprinting, not just walking.

Ben Hamer: And they have some pretty massive implications around the skills that you look for in the workforce. I mean, the obvious one is making sure that we have the foundational digital literacy as an organisation to ride that wave. But one thing that we see more and more is this emphasis around those skills that make us uniquely human as more gets automated and more value being placed on those, are you able to just touch on what you see are the key skills that characterise a high performer in the new world of work?

Alexis George: Wow, that's a big question, isn't it? Someone asked me that today, actually. Interesting. I was talking to some of our new inductees and they were asking me that same question. 

Ben Hamer: It’s a hot topic. 

Alexis George: Look, I think curiosity is one of the biggest things I would look for in someone and a passion for what they do. You know, most of us are capable of learning incredible things if we put our minds to it. But to learn those things, you actually have to be curious about what's going on and I’m constantly annoying my team because I'm always asking them, what are you doing? Why did you do that? Can you explain that to me? Because I'm not an expert in that stuff and I want to keep learning. I don't have to be an expert, but I have to know it has application. 

So I think curiosity is really important. Passion is really important. And you know what? You have to be the best you can be of what you are doing today. It's great to have aspirations, right? To have ambitions. But please be the best you can be every day at what you're doing now. And that doesn't mean every day you're going to be 100 percent because we're not all 100 percent every day. Right. But be the best you can every day. And I think those things really take you a long way. You know, as you get up the management level, of course, leadership comes into it. And all of that comes with leadership in terms of being able to communicate and relate and and be brave and make decisions. 

Ben Hamer: That’s great. And I mean, the World Economic Forum publishes a lot on this kind of stuff. So the future of skills. But they also pose quite a bit around the future of jobs and a lot to do with technology, data and people. And if I look to financial services organizations where things crop up like customer journey experts, that didn't necessarily exist, at least with that job title several years ago. Can you talk a little bit around what roles you're saying emerge or that we can expect to emerge in financial services?

Alexis George: That's such a good example of one. We moved to Agile a couple of years ago, and I don’t think I'd heard of a customer journey expert. Now we've got hundreds of them. So I think there is that desire to become more agile and really push down responsibility to make decisions. But, you know, you look at our organisation now, everyone had accountants, everyone had technologists. We've now got design thinkers, you know, who would have thought that would have existed many years ago.

And those people helped me when we've gone through the pandemic, actually to think about how we could think of different solutions more quickly. So I think that an important job, you know, who would have thought we would have had more data engineers than you're probably accountants in our organisation who, you know, try and understand what our customers behavior looks like, how we can help them achieve their goals. 

I mean, you know, their jobs that just didn't exist years ago. Now we've got people working on AI, machine learning, etc. Not sure what their job titles will be in the future. You know, I don't get scared of those things, and that's why I said to you before that for me it’s about adapting to the environment and being continually curious, and I have a 20 year old daughter and I used to stress about what her career would look like. And she said to me, For goodness sake, Mum, can you just stop, you know I'm going to have 20 different careers in my lifetime and I'll just adjust. I thought that was the best of advice I’d heard because I know what all the roles are going to be like.

Ben Hamer: Absolutely. And I kind of think of it more around your next job is just a stepping stone to the next one. It's not this absolute finality of this is where I'm going to be for the next five, 10 years.

Alexis George: I think that's so true that as you take new opportunities, just make sure you add to your skill set. That's what I always say to people. What I mean, it's not all about moving up now. We're an agile environment with teams and making decisions. So just add to your skill set and enjoy what you're doing.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, that's great. So Lex the AFR wrote an article at the peak of the pandemic where an anonymous source from the industry and we know it's juicy because it's from an anonymous source, said that banks will want fewer staff who work smarter. What are your thoughts on that one?

Alexis George: The old anonymous source. Yeah, I think if you look at banks around the world over the last many years, we've been changing. Right. We've been simplifying, focusing more on banking, less on some of those other things we may have acquired over the years. And so you have seen a reduction in staff. And I think that's partly due to the fact that the customers are acting differently. They're interacting with us digitally. We used to have a branch on every corner. We used to stand outside and wait to speak to the teller, that's not the way customers are behaving anymore.

So as an organisation, we've had to adapt to that. We've had to focus. We've had to simplify. And I think the result is there has been less staff. As we look forward to the future, we all know that things are changing. Data is becoming more important. Automation is becoming more important, cybersecurity is becoming more important, and digitisation is going to become more important. So is there necessarily going to be less people as we go forward? I don't know. But they will have different skills. And that's why I think that curiosity, constant learning is really, really important for you to have a fulfilling career.

Ben Hamer: Absolutely. I could happily fire off questions you all day, but I'll have to wrap it up there. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. 

Alexis George: Thank you.

Ben Hamer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia for additional in-depth analysis. Head on over to where you’ll find our latest report Thinking Beyond: How the Pandemic is Rewiring a New World of Work. 

This podcast miniseries uncovers insights from industry experts so that together we can design a future that works for everyone. To make sure you don't miss a single episode, subscribe to this podcast series via Apple, podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts from. 

And while you're there, feel free to give us a rating or review. And 2021 is already looking up because we have season two in the works for you. So stay tuned for that. My name is Ben Hamer and you've been listening to Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia. 

Thanks for joining us and goodbye for now.

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Dr Ben Hamer

Lead, Future of Work, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 437 159 517

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