Champion of change discusses lead role at NGM Group

Customer-owned bank's first female chair excited about future growth

Champion of change discusses lead role at NGM Group

Sam Martin-Williams understands how important diversity of representation is at one of Australia’s largest customer-owned banks.

Martin-Williams (pictured above) was recently named as the incoming chair of NGM Group – she will be the first woman to hold the position at the organisation. The group was formed in March 2023, following the merger of Newcastle Permanent and the Greater Bank.

She said it was really important for customer-owned mutuals that customers had a real voice.

“That diversity of thought and diversity of representation around the table is really important because your members hold you to account for that,” Martin-Williams said.

The business leader also became the first female director of Newcastle Permanent in 2012 and brings a wealth of experience to the role of NGM Group chair.

Martin-Williams is deputy chair of Newcastle Airport, vice-chair of the Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Australia (SCLAA) and serves on the boards of Fishburners, Australia’s largest tech start-up community, and the University of Newcastle Business School.

The former Telstra Business Woman of the Year is also a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), serving on its NSW Council, and of the Governance Institute of Australia.

MPA caught up with Martin-Williams shortly after her new role was officially announced to discuss her vision for NGM Group.

Martin-Williams currently chairs NGM Group’s People, Culture and Remuneration Committee. She will become NGM Group chair in November, following the retirement of current chair Wayne Russell at the AGM. Deputy group chair Jeff Eather will also retire at the AGM, to be replaced by Rod Jackson.

Martin-William’s connection to Newcastle Permanent dates back to 2009, when she became a non-executive director of the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation.

She said it was during this time that she saw how much of a bond the bank had with the community through the foundation and this was also evident in the Greater Bank’s charitable foundation.

Succession planning at NGM Group

Martin-Williams said she felt very energised about the future of the Group.

“This hasn't happened by accident in terms of the proactive succession planning that has been on the mind of the board since the merger,” she said.

While the merger was only just over 12 months old, Martin-Williams said it was a key long-term strategy, led by the current group chair Russell and deputy chair Eather, to ensure there was a “strong deep and wide composition on the board”.

Diversity important at senior levels

Asked about the significance of being the first woman to chair NGM, Martin-Williams said it was important to have diversity of representation.

“Voices around the table that represent our people, our customers, our stakeholders and our communities – that's a really key part of how we govern our business and it's a key part of how we connect with our customers.”

Martin-Williams said it was also important to have champions of change on boards.

“It’s not gender or ethnicity exclusive – it’s champions of change that really want to see diversity represented at board level.

“They do it because it's good business, it's not compliance-based. Good boards and good businesses know that diverse representation and thinking at board level best represents their customer base, best represents their people.”

Martin-Williams said there were a number of champions of change in the former Newcastle Permanent and Greater Bank boards

“And combined, we see two champions of change at the moment in our chair and our deputy chair – they do it not because of any other reason than they know it's good business.”

Attracting and retaining talent

When it came to a lack of women in senior high-profile roles in the financial services industry, Martin-Williams said lots of sectors were experiencing labour shortages and skills gaps.

“They’re having issues getting great talent and keeping great talent, and making sure that talent mentors and coaches others into the business as well. It’s not just financial services.”

In the post-pandemic world, having a value proposition for employees and customers was vitally important,  including a range of different options to keep and retain good people.

“You've really got to know your people and understand from a values perspective what they rate highly, to understand what you need to do as an employer to connect with those people to either upskill them, re-skill them, cross-skill them,” Martin-Williams said.

“But also have a look at how to  bring the best out of the talent that you have – we’re doing a lot of that at NGM Group because we have the opportunity for our people to move across bands and work in interesting and new projects and you can really do that now with the scale and size of our business.”

The company was focusing on how to “attract and retain terrific talent so that we can be a strong, really strong multi-brand business”.

“We want to be Australia's largest customer-owned bank.”

Martin-Williams’ goals for NGM Group

Martin-Williams said to become Australia’s largest customer-owned bank, NGM Group had to deepen its market share in its current footprint.

“But we also are very ambitious in expanding our offerings into new regions, whether that is physically or digitally or a combination of both,” she said.

“We're driving towards that goal now and we're seeing some really strong merger benefits already for our customers with reduced fees, more digital products, much more frictionless experiences on both of our apps for Greater Bank and for Newcastle Permanent.”

Martin-Williams said the group “was also keeping an eye on opportunities for partnership and other opportunities in the market as we seek to deliver what it is that our customers want before our customers ask us for it”.

Broker partnerships

Mortgage brokers remained vital to NGM Group, said Martin-Williams.

“A partnership model across brokers or communities is a very important part of how we deliver on our vision and our values and our purpose. The mix is important,” she said.

“We’ve got to have options for our customers and options for our partners. We look to become a stronger partner with a very nuanced mix and are really open to what that might look like into the future.”

This would mean delivering new products and offerings and strengthening relationships with brokers.

Merging of two different brands

Martin-Williams said the merger of Newcastle Permanent and Greater Bank was founded on driving strength, innovation and growth for existing and new customers.

“We're already living up to those promises. I think we're seeing that really in three different areas of our business.”

The first involved the staff who had “terrific opportunities to work on complex problems, innovative products across brands, upskilling and reskilling”.

“We're delivering on the opportunities to  keep and retain terrific talent that provides these services and products to our customers,” she said.

The second factor was the regional communities that the organisation served.

“We made a promise that we would invest in our communities to the tune of about $4.5 million and we've exceeded that in terms of initiatives, sponsorships and also our charitable foundations.”

Martin-Williams said the third area was customer value.

“We've seen reduction in fees, we've seen a reduction in fees in ATMs, we've seen new products into both of our brands and we've also seen terrific enhancements in our apps across both of our brands.”

While the merger was only a year old, Martin-Williams said the NGM Group was “living up to the expectations that the members held us accountable for”.

“Since the merger, we've seen our customer deposits increase across both of our brands, our home loan portfolios increase across both brands and our customer volumes increase across both brands.”

Merger trends

There have been a number of mergers in the customer-owned bank sector in the last few years.

These include the merger of Heritage Bank and People’s Choice Credit Union in 2023 to form People First Bank, the recent merger of Beyond Bank and First Choice Credit union, and a planned merger of Bank Australia and Qudos Bank, which was announced in February 2024.

Martin-Williams said consolidation had been at the top end of the sector and she believed this trend would continue.

“It’s not specific just to the customer-owned bank sector, we can see that happening in superannuation and other sectors as well where business models and governance models are changing.”

Decisions about mergers needed to be driven by what was in the best interests of customers and the communities being served, Martin-Williams said.

“In a mutual banking environment, that’s really at the heart of your strategy.”

What do you think of the growth of the customer-owned banks sector and the ongoing mergers? Comment below.