Jamie McPhee : Breaking waves at ME Bank


In sport, life and business, transition is crucial to success. ME Bank’s Jamie McPhee speaks about the necessity for transformation in the banking industry. Interview by Ellie McInerney. Words by Jonathan Jackson

There’s something alluring about the sea, and in particular the surf: waiting for a wave to arrive, not knowing how hard it will hit and how this will impact your balance on the board, or whether you will be able to stay on … stay afloat. There is a danger about surfing that is as exhilarating as it is frightening at times. And yet, the allure of jumping on a board is too hard to ignore. The sea draws you back, the surf challenges you to become one with it and ride it through all its ebbs and flows. You feel like once you have mastered the surf, you can master anything. Is there something spiritual about it? I guess that’s an individual thing. Yet, how you face challenges and transformational moments is definitely something that the sea and surf brings to the fore.

Jamie McPhee took up surfing nine years ago when he was 40.  He is now trying to convince his two daughters to hit the surf. And why not? Their Anglesea property sits on a cliff and looks right over the ocean.  Yet for the Adelaide born patriarch of this family, the surf is an extension of his sense of how to approach life – ever shifting, challenging and how to navigate the big waves that come to try and knock you.

McPhee has an affinity with sport in general.

“I spent a lot of time playing sport. I played cricket and football and when I stopped playing football, I tried golf.”

McPhee understates his sporting skill. He actually captained the Australian under-19 cricket team. This was a team that boasted two future Australian captains in Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh as well as Mark Waugh and Craig McDermott. McPhee also played football in the South Australia Football League.

The lessons he has learnt from sport are with him to this day and inform the way he operates ME Bank.

“We at Attra have been delighted to work with Jamie and his team at ME Bank as he goes about transforming his organisation into a major financial institution. His approach to customers reflects our own, placing them at the centre of what we do”
– Rajat Agrawal Head – Australia and New Zealand

“I am a huge believer in a team first and individual second leadership model. Sport operates in that type of environment and teammates have a personal commitment and dedication not only to their careers but to their team as well. This is what sets apart successful individuals and teams. Watching those dedicated champions it was evident they had the wherewithal and focus to succeed..”

McPhee is still involved with cricket as a board member with Melbourne Renegades. The changing nature of cricket is another aspect of sport that has relevance to business.

“Change is fundamental to growth. When we talk about business we are in a unique period in history. There is currently a tectonic shift from the industrial to the digital era. It is as profound as the industrial revolution. That era went from single production of goods to mass production facilitated by machines. Today, it is the use of data that is fundamentally designing a superior customer experience … every organisation is being impacted by this. Take Borders for instance. People were saying for four years prior to their collapse that they needed to run more efficient bookstores.  But the real issue was called Amazon. Fairfax’s car classified was impacted by businesses such as carsales.com. Today we need to build environments that are consumer viable. If you look at cricket, the One Day series ended up funding Test cricket because it appealed to consumers and wasn’t just male oriented. Now the Big Bash, which runs for a couple of hours per match, means families are attending cricket again. The AFL has done a brilliant job with creating an even demographic of 50% male and female consumers. It brought the product to the consumer market. Some might say the Big Bash is not real cricket, but real cricket to me is looking through the lens of the consumer and developing a product that appeals to consumers. In that sense there is no difference between sport and business.”

“Fragile to Agile’s strong relationship with ME Bank is based on our core belief that business drives technology and our value proposition of enabling business strategy while minimising cost and maximising agility. We would like to commend ME Bank on its vision, focus and conviction during the transformation program.”
– Phil Yeardley, Principal Architect, Fragile to Agile

Sport has always been a passion for McPhee. It is evident in his CV and is brought home when you speak with him. However, the passion for banking didn’t come until later on.

After completing an engineering degree, he had no idea what he wanted to do. He felt no engagement with the profession. Someone suggested he go and play cricket in England – which he did. While there he took a job in a bank but had no idea where he was going, but there was an almost instant rapport.

“I think back to the subjects I enjoyed while I was studying engineering and they were focused on game theory and financial modelling. So I walked into the UK office of a merchant bank on a Monday and it was a real buzz. The stock market had just crashed and this was a business that was trading foreign exchange and interest rates. It was fast paced and I really enjoyed it, but I knew nothing about finance or banking. When they were talking about Bonds, I thought they were talking about Alan and Eileen. My knowledge was poor and the money markets were new, but I borrowed a lot of books and devoured them.”

He was there for 18 months before heading back to Adelaide and taking a job in the Treasury department with the Co-operative Building Society, which soon became the Adelaide Bank and later Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. The merger between the two was facilitated by McPhee and brought Adelaide Bank’s core competencies in wholesale mortgages, margin lending and portfolio funding together with Bendigo Bank’s unique community focused retail banking business. The community aspect was important to McPhee as it is today at ME Bank.

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He was mentored well and rose through the ranks. In 2006, McPhee was appointed Group Managing Director of Adelaide Bank and in 2007 became an Executive Director of the merged company. He says Adelaide Bank “was small enough to gain great visibility across the business, but large enough to learn how to run that type of organisation. I had terrific mentorship and the opportunity to do things within the business and to learn about the organisation. The Bank was great at investing in people and I was ultimately the MD in a short period of time because they gave me a chance.”

In 2010, when the CEO position at ME Bank opened up, McPhee was ready for the role. And he had big transformational plans, particularly from an electronic perspective.

He implemented a digital strategy almost immediately. McPhee said when he joined the bank, “I believe, although not everyone shares this view, that financial services are entering a period of significant digital disruption that will fundamentally change customer service models”.

Digital disruption has certainly taken hold in the last few years. Businesses that will survive this new age have adopted the technology to fit consumer requirements. Most banks are adopting new technologies, however ME Bank took this further and in 2010 embarked on a $70 million technology transformation that saw the business close its bricks and mortar doors and roll out a new banking platform.

“It is testament to ME Bank’s culture that Colliers International has been embraced as a strategic partner from the outset of our partnership.  Both parties continue to benefit from a collaborative approach to designing and delivering workplace solutions for what is a dynamic business.”
– Dylan ODonnell | National Director | Integrated Client Services  Colliers International

One innovation was to create active sites whereby ME representatives would attend worksites to help customers with their banking needs. In larger sites they trialled banking kiosks complete with ATMs and video screen capability that allowed customers to video conference the bank’s contact centre at times when the workplace banker was not onsite.

“The important point is that this enables us to take banking services to customers in their workplace rather than them having to come to us.”

McPhee was also convinced of the trend towards mobile banking.

“We believe that people will increasingly want to interact with their bank through mobile devices and will use the branch network much less. We looked at ING Direct, which deployed its business model in 1998 without a branch network and gained 5 per cent of the market quite quickly in the Internet era. What we want to do is take the next step and build the best digital bank in the digital era,” McPhee says.

McPhee studied the models of carsales.com, SEEK, realestate.com.au and Sportsbet. They were all focused on consumer-centric experiences. It was like the Big Bash for online consumer experiences. The transformation in retail behaviour had been changing for quite some time and the banks needed to catch up. ME was a pioneer and it paid off with an award for best Customer Experience in the 2014 Australian Lending Awards.

With the appointment of ME Bank’s first chief marketing officer (CMO) in January this year, ME Bank is further enhancing its customer experience as part of its growth strategy.

Led by Rebecca James, who has a wealth of experience and clients who have included Westpac, BT Financial Group, Ikea, Microsoft, Coles, Telstra and Qantas, the aim is to drive a broad and unified focus across customer, product, brand and marketing. This will be the core of a three-year technology transformation program due for completion later this year.

McPhee says, “ME Bank is focused on creating a consistently superior customer experience by placing the customer at the centre of our decision making. This role furthers that aim. Rebecca brings a unique blend of brand, technology and leadership skills and experience that will stand us in excellent stead as we build a fundamentally different bank – a genuinely fairer bank – in the Australian marketplace.”

“Genworth has been a proud partner of ME Bank for 20 years. Together we have continuously collaborated to ensure the transformation and success of our businesses. The dedication and commitment of our people is the key to our partnership and to continuing to realise further potential together in the future.” – Ellie Comerford, CEO


It seems McPhee’s strategies are working. Last year the bank announced an underlying annual profit of $36.9 million, an increase of 51 per cent on the previous Financial Year.

“The result was on target and a positive outcome in the context of ongoing investments in the Bank’s future and in an environment dominated by low credit growth and strong competition.

“ME Bank’s underlying profit has continued to grow steadily since 2009 based on customer growth and a shift from an off-balance sheet securitisation model to a more traditional on-balance sheet model that is contributing to increased net interest margin.

“The 2013 Financial Year was one of consolidation in which we were able to demonstrate significant growth and progress towards achieving the goals set out in our three-year business plan.

“Retail deposits grew 58 per cent and home loan settlements grew 17 per cent, while EveryDay Transaction Accounts grew 196 per cent and overall customer numbers grew 12 per cent.

“Our funding mix has also continued to diversify with retail deposit funding increasing from 6 per cent in June 2008 to 20 per cent in June 2013.

“Overall the results confirm our strategic approach, which is to offer an alternative to the major banks based on a genuinely fairer approach, a position derived directly from our industry super fund heritage that sets us apart from other banks.”

As for the role technology has played in these impressive figures, McPhee says, “ME Bank’s technology transformation program will position us as one of the most technologically advanced banks in Australia.

“Transformation is about improving ‘customer experience’ and capability. It will better enable ME Bank to challenge the majors through product and service innovation and operational efficiencies.”

It’s a great way to compete in a market where the big four have so much leverage. McPhee has called for a fairer playing field, but whether that occurs remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, it will continue its strategy of innovation and of customer centric solutions. Recently ME Bank undercut the big banks’ record-low five-year fixed mortgage rates, amid predictions competition in the $1.3 trillion market will remain intense as smaller lenders benefit from lower funding costs. They also issued mortgage bonds at the lowest price seen since the global financial crisis.
ME Bank is doing much more than staying relevant, it is leading the charge in technological and consumer-centric transformation. This was McPhee’s plan from the beginning and when the bank’s tech revolution is complete this year, there is no doubt he will look at further innovation. Success comes down to his attitude towards change, his ability to see the ball before he strikes it and his uncanny knack for riding a wave to its logical conclusion.

“ME Bank and Symmetry HR’s partnership is based on achievement & relationship. Symmetry HR enjoy being part of the ME Bank vision and we heavily invest in understanding that vision.” – Wayne Baker | Chief Operations Officer |Symmetry Human Resources

Great partners

Part of ME Bank’s success lies in its ability to create strong partnerships as well as innovative customer service.  Assisting the ME team to achieve their goals are organisations such as Attra, First Data, Fragile to Agile, Symmetry Human Resources, Gemworth Mortgage Insurance and Colliers International. The relationship with Colliers is vital.  With ME Bank experiencing rapid organizational growth, they found their head office in Melbourne unable to support existing and forecasted headcount. Capacity across each floor was nearing 100 per cent and business units were forced to scatter operations across their tenancy. The bank engaged Collier’s workplace strategy, design and project management service to increase densities on existing floors and deliver an additional floor within their premises.

“Colliers have greatly assisted ME Bank in managing both our occupancy challenges and in delivering quality and timely project services,” says Matt Setton, National Procurement & Property Manager – ME Bank.

“Their experience and technical expertise made both challenges very manageable and enabled ME Bank to house our growing staff. In addition, their depth of knowledge in lease management has provided great benefit to ME Bank through a period of heightened activity in recent times. ME Bank looks forward to building on this relationship in coming years.”

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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