Westpac chief looks into the crystal ball
BANKS were not been immune to the impact of the recent devastating weather, with 63 Westpac branches and 120 ATMs out of action in south-east Queensland.
Brian Hartzer is chief executive of Australian Financial Services, the umbrella division that incorporates St George, BT and Westpac. He visited Maroochydore Westpac staff last week.
"I remember when Innisfail (Cyclone Larry) happened," he said. " The first thing that goes through people's heads is 'am I ok and where is my family', the second thing is 'I need money', so getting branches and ATMs up and running is a remarkably important first step.
Mr Hartzer said BT would be providing insurance via St George and Westpac during this recovery phase.
"When you have a disaster like this, it creates an added imperative that we work closely together to make sure everybody has information and relief packages.
"We are trying to remind our people that in the current banking industry environment, it is really important we remember why we're here, which is to support our customers and the economic development of communities."
Mr Hartzer said the Sunshine Coast had felt the financial crisis more keenly than most other areas.
"The Sunshine Coast has an interesting mix of customers. There's the big tourist dimension affected by the strong Australian dollar; an ageing poplation which brings migration and challenges in terms pf housing and healthcare as well as financially for older people with low-interest rates.
"There are a lot of pensioners trying to figure out how to live and sustain themselves in retirement.
"Queensland has been having a good run, but it is struggling with the financial crisis, the impact of the dollar and mining's temporary slow-down.
"And this area feels the brunt of that. Lots of parts of the country are facing big demographic challenges, but the particular mix of business and industry here on the Sunshine Coast means people are feeling it fairly acutely."
The Sydney-based banker also features quite a claim to fame in his bio: he led the post-GFC turnaround at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
"We had to refocus staff on why they're really here. It is about serving customers well.
"The bank had damaged its reputation with customers and it needed to rebuild it, one customer at a time.
"The reason I like this industry is because it's about helping people with money and in the development of economies, which creates prosperity for everybody.
"Banks play an important role in providing advice, in financing and the ability to transact and connect customers with businesses.
"One of the reasons the financial crisis happened was because banks lost sight of why they were there. They were too focused on short-term profit and not how they helped their communities to grow.
"You must have a balance of the two. But it all starts with helping customers."
"It's a really interesting time. There is quite a lot of availablity of supply of credit, the global central banks have been pumping money into the banks to keep things going; but consumers have been conservative, demand for housing and for businesses to invest is low. There is a lot of uncertainty.
"People are waiting for more clarity. And although announcing an election creates some uncertainty, at least we can see some certainty.
"The remainder of 2013 will be pretty flat, but we are seeing some sighs of rebound in financial markets. Equity markets are doing well, and there are some signs of renewed interest in the housing market.
"But there has been a shift in the mining sector where Australian resources companies are moving out of the investment phase and into extraction, so there will be softer support for the construction sector.
"Our prediction is the RBA will probably sit tight (on today's rate announcement), but our economists tell us we are likely to see some further cuts over the remainder of the year.
"We are not out of the woods, but there are signs of life."