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Thinking Big and Driving Change During COVID-19

An interview with Diane Tate, CEO of AFIA

Diane Tate, AFIA CEO

It’s been touted as the pandemic without a playbook. Without a tried-and-true compass to rely on, you would think Australian businesses have struggled to navigate out of the economic turmoil and towards a brighter future.

Diane Tate, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Finance Industry Association (AFIA), disagrees.

Having previously worked in the financial services industry during both the GFC and swine flu outbreak, COVID-19 isn’t entirely new territory for Diane, although she admits “there are similarities and some really big differences too.”

At the heart of our discussion was the timely reminder that we’re all human and that the power of people shouldn’t be underestimated in extraordinary times.

“At the core, businesses are actually people and I think that can be overlooked. I think there have been people that have been resilient, reluctant [to adapt to the current economic conditions] and sometimes both – and that’s the human reaction to this crisis,” says Diane.

“My view is that there is an incredible level of resilience in Australia and it goes back to our culture of mateship. We’ve always been a community that can come together.”

The human reaction to COVID-19 is a good news story worth telling. These are the themes emerging from the pandemic that are proof of how people are rebuilding, reopening and restructuring their businesses to better meet changing demands.

Entrepreneurialism 

During COVID-19, creating and innovating has been a means of survival. Diane has seen plenty of businesses showcasing “innovation on steroids”, even from some of the most unassuming outfits, like the small coffee shop on a local street corner.

“If I think about the 1900s, when we’ve had adjustments in economies, there have always been some surprises. I think that some of the biggest global names we have now emerged just post or during recessions or economic downturns,” Diane observes.

“We’re going to see really interesting ingenuity. At the SME end of the spectrum, we’ve already seen remarkable creativity. If there’s one thing we can harness as a broader Australian community, it’s fostering that creativity.”

What remains to be seen is how businesses will continue their entrepreneurial mindset during the months and years ahead. Resting on one’s laurels isn’t an option in a multi speed economy, and the future health of all industries requires a focus on leveraging the creativity we’ve seen during the current era of lockdowns and restrictions.

Digitalisation 

In 2020, it’s unfathomable that some businesses haven’t already embraced digitalisation as a way to streamline processes for both employees and consumers. Yet, some companies weren’t equipped for the COVID-induced push to work, eat and entertain from home, and have struggled to keep up with changing consumer demand ever since.

“There’s no going back now,” says Diane. “Digitalisation has accelerated, whether it’s working remotely or rethinking how we improve system efficiencies, technology is going to drive change. It’s not just the sexy cloud AI stuff, it will be what’s really needed to support industry in Australia.”

The financial services industry has taken this thought and run with it. The sector has reinvented itself to be more forward-thinking and flexible with its offerings, and this is welcome news for businesses and consumers alike.

Solutions-based mindset in finance

“Participants in financial markets have started to re-think how we build lasting benefit,” she says. “There will continue to be volatility within markets and in the business environment, so how do we ensure that access to credit continues to help businesses invest and our economy grow? Right-sized, best-priced credit is going to be essential to our recovery and long-term future.”

Personalisation is one example where a solutions-based mindset caters to consumer and business needs. COVID-19 has kept customers indoors, giving them plenty of opportunity to search for the best product online. Financial institutions need to keep up with this demand and offer dynamic products that are truly customer-centric.

“Personalisation of financial products is going to be key going forward. Financial services providers are seeing how their customers are behaving and asking, ‘what does a customer need and what would they be after?’” says Diane.

“You’ve got providers launching new no-interest credit cards, Buy Now, Pay Later is serving customers well during COVID-19, and people making more and more payments directly from their bank accounts online and in real-time.”

“You’ve got specialised lenders supporting SMEs with access to credit in ways where they don’t have to put their family home at potential risk. All of this innovation is evidence of a competitive landscape targeting customers’ needs. The industry has been really good at saying they’re customer-centric and we’re really seeing that now.”

Diane concluded by saying that although she has never seen the pace of change we’re experiencing, it presents a real opportunity to embrace this change to create an even more resilient, inclusive and sustainable Australia.

Talking with Diane about the big ideas to come out of 2020 made for a refreshing change from the negative humdrum. Big ideas from talented people are exactly what we need right now, and lucky for Australia, we’ve got the right people for the job.

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