Michael Pascoe writes:


Banking analysts are reportedly underwhelmed by the major strategic review unveiled by the Commonwealth Bank’s new CEO
yesterday – but what else were they expecting?

Ralph Norris’s big review came down to two
words: me too. Ralph wants the CBA workers to be happier so that CBA customers
will be happier and therefore borrow more money from, and pay more fees to, the
CBA so that CBA shareholders will be happier. With so much potential happiness,
Ralph could try out for a gig on the Today show.

The CBA’s big strategy is pretty much
exactly the same as that of ANZ, Westpac and, more recently, NAB. The only
difference between the Big Four is the order in which they seized on the
concept that maybe business might be better if the workers aren’t completely
p*ssed off and the customers don’t hate you. The funny thing is that
shareholders pay their CEOs multi-millions to come up with these wild and wacky
ideas.

A bit of history is required here. In the
last recession, the ANZ, Westpac and CBA
ruthlessly put their own interests way in front of the customers. In Westpac’s
case it was a matter of survival. Business customers who might have been saved
were burned left, right and centre. NAB hadn’t been quite as silly as the
others, or at least was able to extract itself from the Alan Bond mess with
less damage, so it wasn’t as ruthless as its competitors. Instead, NAB fell
prey to hubris and became just as bad.

ANZ and Westpac were first to realise they
had a problem when the customers and staff hated them. The CBA and NAB were too
busy making mountains of money to care for a while, but have now officially
fallen into line.

So what does it mean when, as the Ozreports, “Ralph Norris will try to reverse a
dramatic slide in the bank’s share of high-growth business lending by restoring
autonomy to the branches and setting a three-year deadline for an overhaul of
its poor customer service” ?

Just “me too”. They all destroyed their branches as they
centralised together and now they are all decentralising a little. And when you put that sentiment to the top
bankers, they all nod their heads wisely while saying the secret is in the
successful execution of the plan.

Well, we’re waiting. ANZ and Westpac have a
head start, NAB and CBA are behind, but all pay their executioners well for
trying.

Peter Fray

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