The task was a prize pearl no doubt coveted by many of
Australia's chief information officers; it had all the glamour of
a major project at one of the nation's big four banks,
but quite a bit more flexibility due to Suncorp's more relaxed and innovative culture.
That, and Suncorp has a large in-house IT department, without the hassle of huge outsourcing arrangements.
It was a great career move for Smith, who after a three-year
stint to March 2005 in the frying pan as Telstra's CIO had
temporarily faded into the background to get his breath back at
local baby technology supplier Majitek. The Suncorp role has
vaulted the CIO back into the limelight and given him a chance to get
his hands dirty again.
If you've been following the press surrounding Smith (our video
interview is here), you'd likely conclude the CIO has been doing a
pretty good job at Suncorp, with a well-run integration effort which has
the support of the company's management.
However all of this is about to change with the news that
various parties, including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, are
interested in buying portions of Suncorp at what must be bargain
basement prices, considering the state of the financial services
Today alone, Suncorp's share price has plunged a further 8.09 per cent to $10.11
at time of writing, having stood at about $16 in May this year. Nasty.
The news for Smith is bad: all that effort he has put in
integrating the various divisions of Suncorp could have to be
pulled apart if someone picks up its banking and wealth management
divisions for a song.
Jeff Smith (Credit: ZDNet.com.au)
That outcome would certainly be quite removed from
what most people thought Suncorp's medium-term future would be: to
further solidify its place in the local market as a major tier two
bank, as well as Smith's own role as one of Australia's most important
Some days just don't go the way you want.
It's easy to imagine the scenario if someone like the CBA (or
another titan like ANZ) carved bits off Suncorp; in fact we've
seen similar situations before.
Several senior Westpac IT executives left the ship shortly after
that bank announced its St George plans; they were replaced by
hand-picked former CBA CIO Bob McKinnon. And of course Smith
himself landed at Suncorp after the Promina acquisition, following the exit of his
predecessor, central services chief Diana Eilert.
It's no secret that mergers and acquisitions result in
executive shake-ups, and IT is no exception to this rule.
One wonders whether Smith, one of Australia's highest-profile
and skilled CIOs, would stay around long if portions of
Suncorp were hived off; a situation which would inevitably create
chaos in his department and diminish the prestige and power of his
Do you work in banking IT? How is the chaos in the financial services sector affecting you? Post your comments below this article or drop us a line.