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The ANZ Bank wants to operate more like a startup

Photo: Anoek De Groot/AFP/Getty Images

A restructure of ANZ Bank’s Australian arm aims to leave the division with 150 teams that will look more like start-ups than traditional parts of a large-scale bank, says an executive running the process.

Christian Venter, general manager of technology and digital banking, also signalled the bank expected staff cuts as a result of the changes, which were kicked off earlier this year in an attempt to make ANZ more flexible in responding to technology-based rivals.

With banks under fierce pressure to cut costs and manage digital disruption, ANZ in May said it would overhaul the management structure of its Australian division, adopting “agile” teams used by technology companies such as Netflix or Spotify.

The approach involves slashing bureaucracy and hierarchies to instead create multidisciplinary teams that should be able to respond to competitive threats much more quickly. The changes are being rolled out within the Australian business, excluding its branch and frontline workers, with other parts of the bank to follow in the same footsteps.

Mr Venter, one of the executives leading the project, said in an interview the “huge” changes would cut how long it took to roll out new products, and make the bank more adaptable to disruptive shifts in technology, markets and regulation.

The changes involve breaking the division into “tribes,” which are made up of “squads” of about 10 people. Staff from departments such as sales, risk, legal or technology could all end up working alongside one another, rather than being part of traditional “silos”.

A typical startup office

“We’re moving the whole organisation to roughly 18 tribes, with 150 squads, and I’d like to think of that as we’ve got 150 start-ups running,” he said.

“That’s 150 components of the organisation who all have autonomy and agility to adapt to customer need very, very quickly. That’s the benefit.”

The Finance Sector Union has expressed concerns about the restructure, and Mr Venter said the bank expected it would need fewer people as a result of the changes, to be completed in January, though it did not have a number in mind.

“What we do know … is working in this way means you should need less people to achieve the outcome,” he said.

“By being more efficient, by bringing the right resources together, there are some functions and capabilities that we have today which are necessary because of the complexity of the organisation; those roles effectively help navigate complexity. In the new world, if we bring this capability together, those kind of functions, we shouldn’t theoretically require them.”

The “agile” way of working will be applied to areas that currently employ about 2000 staff, and additional contractors. It is expected middle management jobs in particular could be cut.

ANZ chief Shayne Elliott has championed the shift to “agile” work as part of his attempt to boost returns, visiting banks overseas that have undertaken similar large-scale restructures, including the Dutch lender ING.

These changes overseas have resulted in big job losses, with ING last year saying it would cut 7000 jobs to create savings and make digital investments.

At its latest results, the bank’s Australian division led by Fred Ohlsson had 11,518 full-time staff, and employee numbers had decreased by 576 over the year to March.

Large-scale corporate technology projects are notorious for running late and leading to cost blowouts, and “agile” working aims to counter this by having teams check their progress much more frequently, and change track if needed. It is also the approach used by potential future competitors to banks, such as Alibaba, Apple and Google.

This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Business Day. Read the original here, or follow Business Day on Facebook.

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