Gail Kelly has wasted no time in getting rid of the legacy of David Morgan, her long time predecessor at Westpac who successfully rebuilt the bank and turned it into the best performer in the country, and one that has so far avoided most of the bad debt pitfalls that have ensnared the Commonwealth, the ANZ and the NAB.

Although the stalking of St George started while Morgan was at Westpac, it was launched with Kelly now at the helm and although she is avoiding most of the internal discussion and debate at Westpac because her conflict of interest from running St George, she will be the one to make the deal work, if it is done.

Today Kelly unwound all the restructuring that Morgan and his executive team had driven in recent years with a touchy feel approach that claims to be based on ‘customers’.

If you hate management speak, look away now. The press release started:

Westpac Banking Corporation’s CEO, Gail Kelly today announced changes to Westpac’s organisational structure which are designed to deliver on its customer service strategy.

Mrs Kelly said the new structure has been built around putting customers at the centre of Westpac’s business.

As outlined at our profit announcement in May, we have embarked on a journey of significantly improving our service delivery to customers with the explicit goal of earning all of their business,” Mrs Kelly said.

We have identified the need to enhance our customer segmentation capabilities, and to significantly strengthen our consumer and business banking distribution by building strong, locally empowered businesses.

And so on. There is of course a loser, an executive appointed last year who has been squeezed out in the revamp. The loser was also female, so Ms Kelly can claim to be non gender specific, although some of her enthusiastic supporters in the glass ceiling stakes will no doubt be horrified.

But the irony is that for all this talk of moving closer to customers (to pick their pockets a bit easier?) and putting them “at the centre “Westpac’s business”, the two big issues for customers are avoided. Loan charges, interest rates and fees, and smooth delivery of services.

On both counts Westpac hasn’t delivered of late. There was the direct debt debacle of a week ago that saw transfers of around $1 billion mucked up, and there was Westpac’s joining of the rate rise queue, right at the end on Tuesday, with a 0.14% increase.

Wouldn’t it have been smarter for Westpac to announce this revamp, and to say that it was forgoing this rate rise (and/or trimming fees and charges) because they had decided to place customers “at the centre of Westpac’s business.”

Peter Fray

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