NAB CEO on supporting people and new digital trends from COVID-19

  • By Kate Weber

CEO of National Australia Bank, Ross McEwan said supporting individuals alongside SME businesses is the most important goal for the bank during the COVID-19 economy downturn. 

“We need to make sure that going forward those businesses which were highly successful beforehand, need to be successful again," McEwan said at the AFR/Deloitte Banking and Wealth Summit.

“That's why the bank itself is supporting customers with the six months of principal and interest deferrals that we've got the unsecured loan in conjunction with the government. 

“It is getting individuals back with income in their pockets and able to pay their bills and keep their families moving,” McEwan said. 

Already NAB said it will deliver in the Small Business Relief Package unveiled by the Australian Banking Association.  

Stating there is “no playbook” to handle the current crisis, McEwan said initiatives needs to be taken on a daily basis as there is no set timeline on how the virus will continue to evolve. 

“Sometimes you got to be a wee bit careful in closing down an entire economy as it could be just as bad as actually the health problem you're trying to solve. 

“The government doesn't have a playbook nobody does, and they're doing the best thing that they can at this point in time.”

McEwan said it was “bizarre” to see people ignore the advice from the government and continue to gather in large quantities. 

“I think there's still a bit to go in Australia,” he concluded.

“It is getting individuals back with income in their pockets and able to pay their bills and keep their families moving,”

McEwan said 75 per cent of NAB’s 34,000 employees are now working from home to ensure safety. 

While cashing handling or branch network roles cannot be completed at home, McEwan said remote access may create a new trend in the workforce.

Increasing people are turning to digital solutions for banking and branches have seen a significant drop in foot traffic over the past 10 years. 

“You can see the trends. If there is a closure for a three month period of time this will just accelerate, and then you have to stop to look at what is the service provision out of a branch network.”

Another trend McEwan foresees is NAB offering mortgage advice through video conferencing however was told activation could take up to a year.

Now with the added pressures of the virus, the technology has been pushed through and is already active.

“When you actually really push the technology it will respond very well and again there's a change that will have a dramatic effect on how people do a mortgage in the future.

“They don't need to come and see somebody physically face to face anymore. 

“They can do it from the comfort of their own home, through a video so I think you are going see a lot of transition and change happen in a three month period of time.”

Now the question for McEwan will be if NAB employees head back to the buildings when the COVID-19 dies down. 

“Will I need all the buildings I need when some of my work colleagues can do their work from home in the future? I think there's another trend around remote working.”

However, NAB recently underwent a $4.1 billion dollar cloud transformation resulting in 900 new employees and a brand new building.