Westpac considers itself Australia's oldest startup

Westpac's CEO has called his bank a 200-year-old startup, as it has been dealing with 'innovation', 'disruption', and change since 1817.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

On Saturday, Westpac Banking Corporation will be celebrating its 200th birthday. As Australia's oldest bank and oldest company, CEO Brian Hartzer said the key to survival is adapting to change.

Speaking at the AWS Summit in Sydney on Wednesday, Hartzer said that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is one of the new companies that is forcing old companies like Westpac to adapt.

"They've given us the ability to collect data, store data, analyse it, and move it around the world at incredibly rapid speeds, at scale, very low cost, and they've given us new tools for experimenting with that data and with new solutions that help our customers," he explained.

"That's really important for a bank like us, because in a high-speed environment, a very competitive, disruptive environment, we know that we have to move faster, we have to adapt, otherwise we're going to be the ones that are adapted."

Hartzer touted his bank as being a "200-year-old startup".

"Our purpose from the founding back in 1817 was to help the fledgling economy of New South Wales to thrive. As a result, we issued the first bank note, when there was no paper currency in the economy. Before long, we had built smelting rooms with the latest technology of the time at the back of our branches, and we were melting nuggets down and turning them into gold bars," he explained.

"Each of these things seems obvious today, but they were a big deal at the time. What they reflected was the recognition that society was changing, and that if we were going to keep up with the expectations of society and of our customers then we needed to lead by adapting.

"As we enter our third century of business, this need to adapt has never been more acute."

When an organisation focuses on what its customers want, Hartzer said it naturally ends up being more innovative.

Westpac installed Australian banking's first computer and its first ATM; the bank was also the first to launch internet banking back in 1995, and again the first in the world to allow customers to log into mobile banking using their fingerprint.

"By the way, we built that in less than three months with the help from AWS," Hartzer added.

Hartzer pointed toward the bank's recently announced Westpac Keyboard as an example of the next stage of adaptation for the business.

The CEO explained that Westpac has realised it cannot meet new demands on its own, and partnered with Israeli startup PayKey.

"Yes, we can learn from the tech sector, we can learn from startups, we can embed customer-centred design, embed agile scrums -- and we're doing all that -- but by working with startups, we think we get the best of both worlds because we get the speed, hunger, creativity of the startup community and we combine that with the strength, the resources, the customer base, the experience, the risk-management skills of a major bank," he said.

In delivering his keynote at AWS, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said that Westpac is in a league not achieved by many organisations, even in the United States.

GE (General Electric) is currently the only original S&P company still operating, and was founded in 1892. It is also in the process of moving its entire stack to AWS.

For the 2016 financial year, Westpac reported AU$7.4 billion in after-tax profit, representing a 7 percent drop year on year.

During the 12 months to September 30, 2016, Westpac spent AU$1.9 billion on technology-related expenses as part of its ongoing digital transformation.

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