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Westpac has gone bananas

Two years ago I posted my first article in this series on offshoring. The ideas behind it had already been percolating for a couple of years, and my thoughts on this controversial topic continue to develop over time. I don’t intend to claim any moral high ground, but it’s my hope that I can contribute to what is a crucial discussion about the complex issues associated with offshoring.

This post was intended to focus on the commercial implications to your brand image if you decide to offshore. However, particularly in recent weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that it’s impossible to discuss the consequences for your brand without also discussing ethics and corporate greed.

ANZ have announced that they’re shedding 1000 staff, Westpac are getting rid of 400, NAB is eliminating 130, Suncorp is slimming their headcount by 150 — in fact, of Australia’s Big 4, the only bank not to implement substantial reductions in Australia staff numbers is the Commonwealth Bank — the bank that I’ve avoided for 20 years! Of course, a number of these jobs are being offshored to India and Philippines, paying Asia-based staff as little as 10% of the rate Australian staff would need to be paid.

Based on my earlier articles, you might expect me to defend this on the principle that offshoring is not inherently unethical and will help to alleviate poverty in developing countries. But you’d be wrong.

As far as I’m concerned, these moves by the ANZ, NAB and Westpac banks particularly are the epitome of stupidity and greed combined in one fell swoop.

Whilst on principle I’m supportive of the right of businesses to offshore, this needs to be considered in the context of their responsibility to their existing workforce. For the mega banks, who are all set to rake in over $6 billion profit in the current financial year, any argument that they “need” to trim down and send a percentage of those jobs offshore is baloney — it’s pure and simple greed. As an employee at risk of losing your job in such an organisation, how appreciated would you feel? Clearly, their staff are considered to be just a disposable commodity.

When a company is competing on a global stage, exporting products and services, and fighting to remain viable or risk everybody losing their jobs, I accept the argument for offshoring. If a company has the foresight to offshore as they grow I don’t believe that there is anything unethical in this. But for a CEO and board members to dismiss 1000 people from their jobs with the stroke of a pen in order to increase their profit margins which are already health, is quite simply immoral and disgusting.

Of course, I’ve hardly mentioned brand image yet. But do I need to? Clearly there are three of the big four who have taken a battering in my eyes (and those of many others) simply by their decision to offshore.

This post was originally going to focus on the perceptions that consumers/customers carry with them after a customer service experience, but quite rightly my opinions on this have developed further since this article was conceptualised and hence the focus of this article is now much broader.

Whilst considering a company’s brand image, it’s also important to consider the alternatives as well.

After hearing that Westpac had made the decision to eliminate 400 staff I started doing my homework. We’ve now signed Aktiv Tactics up with the Commonwealth Bank (who I’m sure are no angels — but there’s a point to be made here: we’ll support the banks that value the hard work and dedication of their employees and don’t make hundreds redundant just to replace them with cheaper offshore alternatives). I’m also in the process of planning to shift the banking of my other company, Techeffectiv, away from Westpac to the Commonwealth Bank.

The experience of selecting Commonwealth was rather illuminating. I started by tweeting them to confirm that they were committed to not sacking local staff and offshoring instead. As per their media statements, I got a confirmation that this was in fact their stance. They then provided me with incredibly courteous and prompt assistance via Twitter followed by a direct phone call. Finally, when I visited our nearest branch to establish our accounts I was astounded to meet the Branch Manager near the front door, who promptly ushered me in with a ‘Customer Service Specialist’ — no delay, no queues, fantastic efficiency, friendly service, knowledgeable staff — and all this with the most profitable of the Big 4 banks, who have achieved their stellar results without sacking Australian staff and offshoring their roles.

The high standards of local service, the Australian support, and the commitment to retaining their staff, have all dramatically enhanced the Commonwealth Bank’s brand in my eyes.

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Past blog posts in this series:

Offshoring — the pros and cons from a social and commercial perspective

Off-shoring — ethical and socially responsible

How does offshoring affect your customer service?