ASB bank CEO Vittoria Shortt. Photo / Supplied
ASB chief executive Vittoria Shortt talks about the challenges for the banks in 2021 and how New Zealand can get ahead.
How would you describe 2020 for your business?
Firstly, I think it is important
When Covid-19 struck, we mobilised quickly to change the way we worked and how we supported customers. We moved our 5000 people to work from home within a week. We helped over 31,000 customers and provided relief on more than $11b of lending. Beyond financial assistance we created a hub with cashflow tools, digital tools, and leverage of our sponsorship assets to help New Zealand businesses. Along the way we found more effective ways to work and we made some of those changes permanent, such as a dedicated 0800 line for customers over 65 or those who need extra support; and we now have more flexible ways of working for all our people.
I also thought the way the Government, banking regulators and the banking Industry worked together for the benefit of supporting Kiwis to get through was important part of our recovery so far.
What are two key things the Government should do for economic recovery?
We will be looking for opportunities to continue to innovate and find new solutions to tackle the big topics such as the housing market and first home buyers; the challenges and opportunities of low interest rates for investors; and helping our business customers build resilience.
What will be the major challenges and/or opportunities for your industry?
With Covid-19 expected to have a long tail it is critical we continue to ensure Kiwis and their businesses remain supported. Particularly as support packages come to an end.
I do see a real opportunity through the challenge of addressing the physical and economic effects of climate change and ensuring a balanced and sustainable housing market. A key focus area for us is helping first home buyers to get on the property ladder.
Also, the face of banking is continuing to change. Banks have evolved from the branch being the single point of access for everything, to customers using a range of channels including contact centres, mobile workforces, automated transactions, mobile apps and online banking. Over the past four years we have seen branch use decline 32 per cent. The opportunity is to demonstrate what the future of banking looks like. The regional banking hubs are a great example of this.
What was the most interesting non-Covid story of 2020?
Where are you holidaying this summer?
Hopefully the global and national roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine will help us open our borders, but if not, we can expect “muted” 2021 economic growth of around 2 per cent annualised if the borders stay closed and unemployment rises.
On the upside as we prepare to wave goodbye to 2020 New Zealand has been surprising everyone – including economists. Yet, looking ahead no doubt every one of us will be mindful about the possibility of any unforeseen downside to 2021, so I think planning for different scenarios is important for households and businesses alike.