Face to face : Paul Brock – The customer’s banker

For someone with background in marketing, Paul Brock has shifted very quietly into the chief executive’s chair at Kiwibank. Maybe he’s just too busy to make big fuss about it. After all, he’s got some 700,000 customers and 1000 staff to care for.
Brock’s new role is natural progression for someone who, together with the bank’s first ever chief executive Sam Knowles, helped draw up the original blueprint for the bank over decade ago.
Brock took over from Knowles in September this year. In doing so, he headed off deluge of local and international candidates for the job and consolidated his climb through the bank’s ranks via series of key positions including general manager marketing and, most recently, general manager savings and transactions.
He has been championing listening line of business right from the get-go. “People don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘I really want to do my banking today’,” he reasons. “It’s not something they spend lot of time thinking about. So banks have to think about customers first and then think about how we can make banking far more straightforward for them.”
He cites as an example, Kiwibank’s new Notice Saver account which acts as though savings account has mated with term deposit facility giving customers better returns than their usual savings account without penalising them for accessing their dollars.
Launched at the end of October this year, Notice Saver is being marketed as New Zealand first. Brock says it smacks of changes to come under his leadership as he ramps up the bank to new growth level. He won’t be drawn on the specifics at this point. But he does suggest there are plenty of opportunities for building on the bank’s work in the personal banking space and spreading out further into the small business banking market.
For Brock, direction stems from identifying and untangling customer frustrations. “We don’t do things just because we think they’re good idea. We do them because we’re trying to make things better for customers and we listen to what people have told us about what’s frustrating them with their banking.”
His customer-driven approach means he still sometimes listens in on Kiwibank’s phones so he can get to grips with issues from customer’s point of view. He believes the essence of good chief executive is someone who is prepared to listen and that one of the most important aspects of leadership is to create the right environment for success. “In many cases that’s about having clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve and, ultimately, it comes down to understanding people and being prepared to work with them.”
Brock first segued into the banking sector as 20-something year old, unleashed from Massey University with business degree heavily weighted towards marketing. “My grandfather had cut an ad out of the paper and said to me, ‘you should really go and do this’.” It was Trust Bank, looking for someone to help with its central region marketing.
Even back then, Brock saw himself as someone who liked to challenge the status quo and sniff out fresh opportunities. He says it was “an interesting dimension” to enter an industry that worked along what were very well-trammelled lines. “I wanted to find new ways of doing things that would ultimately be better for customers and therefore drive growth for the bank,” he says. “That was my starting point, my entry, into banking.”
Years later, his itch to challenge remains as strong as ever. When Kiwibank fired off brief announcement about his appointment as chief executive earlier this year, Brock’s few comments centred around his excitement at the prospect of helping Kiwibank continue to be challenger brand.
Eight years since its inception, Kiwibank is no longer new player on the New Zealand banking block but Brock sees plenty of room for it to play role as more mature brand challenger. This often involves reinvention, he says, and looking again at markets through new lens.
“An example of that is where customers are actively using the internet now. So we’ve had to find ways to reinvent the bank’s offering in the virtual space. It’s just different flavour but you can’t afford to be stagnant. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got that lens on your business and on your customers, and you must realise the lens is constantly changing and developing.
“As we look forward I think about how I would simplify the things that we need to do. More importantly, how would I encourage my leaders to get out there and continue to make difference?”
To Brock’s mind, leaders permeate Kiwibank: they’re from every rung of the organisation right up to members of his executive leadership team. “I want to see the people who have perhaps started in the contact centres becoming leaders in other parts of the business,” he says. “I want to encourage the next wave of leaders to stand up for what they believe in.”
He sees leadership as melting pot of learnings from all aspects of life. He draws, for example, on his insights as father to four boys aged from 5 to 11, and their experiences learning and growing together. “One of the amazing learnings from being father is that everyone has different drivers, motivations and skills. So I have this other set of experiences around how to help another group of people try to achieve different things.
“Part of being listener and having different perspective on the world is about being sponge and learning to grow from the environment around you. That’s not always from your work environment. People are 360 degrees an individual. You only see proportion of that at work. The rest is occurring in their private and social lives and, in many cases, these are the experiences that create great leaders.”
Kiwibank continues to maintain its positioning as bank with ‘Kiwi values at heart’. Its website still carries the story of how it ‘keeps Kiwi money where it belongs – right here, in New Zealand’. Given the Australian ownership of most of its competitors, it’s easy to read such lines as anti-Australian.
In recent times, some commentators have suggested that Kiwibank would be best not to push the anti-Aussie sentiment too far in its marketing. The global financial crisis has shown Aussie banks have been good for banking – and by extension, business – in New Zealand.
So where does Brock draw the line between promoting his bank as ‘Kiwi’ without being anti-Australian? “I don’t think it’s about being anti-Australian,” he says. “We have large number of large banks in this market that have perhaps done things that haven’t always benefited customers.”
So it’s more of pro-customer yardstick than an anti-Australian one? “If people are happy with their bank that’s fine but we’re saying there’s better way. Our idea is of challenging the status quo and how it does things. The fact is that much, or pretty much all, of the status quo is owned by offshore banks: that just happens to be coincidence.
“Our main premise is: are those banks standing by New Zealand during global financial crisis? That’s the question New Zealand asks itself in the form of small businesses, savers and borrowers. Those are the questions that, ultimately, banks should be judged on. Do they stand by their customers or not?”
Sam Knowles, says Brock, achieved lot in short space of time. “He came here with very diverse banking knowledge and his legacy is probably that we have many of the prerequisites for us becoming full service bank.”
For his part, Brock says that when he eventually leaves he’d like his legacy to be positive answers to two big questions. “Have I made difference to banking for New Zealanders? And have my staff developed and grown and been able to be the best they could be in the environment in which we operate?
“Those are the two main things I’d hope to have achieved in my tenure here.”

Ruth Le Pla, former editor of NZ Management, is freelance business journalist. [email protected]

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