SME Banker of the Year 2023 nominee: Julie Hall (Commonwealth Bank)

SME Banking
08/05/2023 Article
profile picture of Julie Hall

Julie Hall

Commonwealth Bank

Veterans Business Banker

Julie Hall is a resilient, energetic, self-driven and customer-centric SME Banker at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia well-known for a combination of robust leadership capabilities, superior communication, and interpersonal skills. As a first in Australia, Julie is the creator of CommBank for Veterans, a newly formed industry segment assisting Australian Defence Force past and present to transition successfully into their own business. Julie has operational management, customer management and stakeholder management gained from more than 15 years working as a business owner, and manager across Hospitality, Banking and Finance industries. Julie is a proud Veteran Spouse and mother to daughter currently serving in the Royal Australian AirForce.

"Business owners also need to know that we have their back. Yes, we’re looking out for their business, but we’re also caring for them as people – because disruption takes a psychological toll."

In the course of your career, what have you seen change in terms of demands/needs of SME clients? And what role should a bank play in meeting these demands?

Over 14 years I’ve supported Australian SME banking customers through economic turmoil, volatile consumer demands and rapid technological change. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for many business owners, and I’ve seen business needs evolve in these two ways:

SMEs need help to navigate rapid and disruptive change
In more stable times, if an SME had a successful business model, the owner could expect the business todeliver solid, sustained performance.

Now, even the strongest business models can be significantly disrupted by unexpected forces. Sharply rising inflation and supply chain pressures are recent examples. SMEs are now more anxious about cash flow, cash spending and cash saving. They’re aware that the waves of change will continue to hit them, so they’re needing to constantly reshape their business model to accommodate new challenges.
SMEs want highly relevant solutions
Each SME experiences its environment differently. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses boomed while others floundered. And while industry category is very important, we’ve seen other factors drive differences in SME needs. These include geography (metro versus regional) as well as the individual experiences, capabilities, and emotional drivers of SME owners. That’s why SMEs demand solutions that arerelevant and tailored to them – delivered in the context of a customer- first banking relationship.

These challenges require us, as a business bank, to be an increasingly adaptable and empathetic businesspartner. This means:

  • We mentor businesses to help them adapt to volatility. Showing SMEs how to tune their business model to their environment and how to plan and manage cash flows is now a key role for banks. For example, I offer financial literacy seminars online through organisations such as the Prince’s Trust Australia Charity (the Founder and President is His Majesty King Charles III).
  • Banks must also look beyond lending and educate SMEs on how to accumulate savings, so SMEs have the cash reserves they need to weather storms. And because challenges are multi-faceted, we must solve SME problems in creative and empathetic ways. Sometimes that means bringing in knowledge and support beyond banking and finance. Business owners also need to know that we have their back. Yes, we’re looking out for their business, but we’re also caring for them as people – because disruption takes a psychological toll.
  • We provide technology that supports changing business needs: business planning, payments and capital raising. SMEs need to know they are being supported 24/7. That means giving them resources and technology in a fast response time – including access to real-time personalised insights. I’ve seen how supportive technology has made life so much easier for SME owners, helping them to feel more confidentand in control of their business.
  • We tailor services to specific SME demands. We’ve established banking teams and solutions that are designed for the needs of specific industries – CommBank for Veterans is just one example of how niche SME needs require a tailored response. We also develop solutions to meet the demands of businesses at different business maturity stages – whether it’s start-up, running a business or growth. And our on-the-groundbankers tailor services to geographic differences.

What have you found to be effective in leading your SME banking team/in your leadership position?

As a leader, I’ve found it’s important to identify the most pressing needs of SMEs and to deliver customer-centric solutions to these needs. That means:

  1. We appoint bankers who understand their SME segment. Each industry – health, agribusiness, hospitality or trades – has specific needs, challenges and opportunities. That's why we have specialised teamswith deep industry expertise, in both metro and regional locations. When I established the team of bankers to support CommBank for Veterans I chose business bankers with a personal connection to the AustralianDefence Force. For example, one is a current serving Army Reservist and others are spouses of people serving in the Defence Force.

  2. We provide valuable and timely insights. SMEs find it hard to monitor their risks and opportunities in the midst of business pressures. That’s why we as bankers stay across industry data, such as IBISWorld Reports, and examine industry trends. That way we can mentor our SMEs with knowledge, expertise and empathy.

  3. We help SMEs get the most from new digital services. By helping our SME customers implement CommBank’s technology into their businesses, SMEs are able to achieve operational efficiency and maketimely, informed decisions. CommBank is Australia’s leader in digital banking, winning Canstar digital banking award for the 13th year in a row in 2022. Useful, data- driven business insights help SMEs manage cash flow, take advantage of growth opportunities and spot potential risks.

Briefly describe, what would be your top 3 achievements/ projects delivered by your bank for SME customers?

  1. CommBank for Veterans is an Australian first, offering former Defence Force personnel mentorship, financial education and funding for their SME business – whether it’s a start-up or existing business.

    Approximately 600,000 people in Australia are considered to be military veterans with about 60,000 in full-time military service. Each year, about 6,000 enlisted personnel transition out of the Australian Defence Force.
    Despite having the capability to start a business, many veterans face challenges, mainly because business knowledge isn’t part of their military experience or training. Tasks such as creating business plans, exploring business finance, and planning income and expenses can feel overwhelming. Many do not know where tostart.
    Seeing the opportunity to solve this problem, I worked tirelessly across CommBank and government agencies to develop a robust Australia-wide proposition. CommBank for Veterans delivers financial literacy via online seminars through charitable organisations and is supported by special offers and support from adedicated national team.
    As mentioned, I also mentor veterans in how to run successful businesses through my charitable work forthe Prince’s Trust and my volunteer work as Vice President of the Wounded Heroes Australia charity group. My aspiration is to provide a meaningful pathway for veterans to transition to civilian life while nurturing successful businesses that contribute to Australia’s economy.
    Through CommBank for Veterans, I‘ve given CommBank, Australia’s largest bank, the opportunity to thank veterans past and present for their service to the Australian community. I’ve had a tangible impact on the lives of Australian veterans and I have a vision to implement banking services for veterans worldwide.

  2. Establishing the Defence Community Specialist Business Bankers team. Veterans are supported by a national team of dedicated bankers. I make sure that each banker has a personal connection to the Defence Force and expertise in supporting veterans. In the six months to April 2023, this team has helped over 100 veterans set up new businesses. We’re told that we’ve provided veterans with the hope of a new career and placed value on their Defence Force experience. Our faith in veterans has changed veterans’ lives. We walk alongside veterans and show them how to make their dreams happen.

  3. Partnering with community organisations to increase impact. I’ve established relationships between CommBank and the Veteran Community Business Chamber and the Prince’s Trust to provide resources to help veterans (and their families) transition to business ownership. Thinking outside traditional banking, I deliver online financial literacy seminars on how to establish a business. This enables veterans to understand the importance of business acumen, business planning, cash projection forecasting and the power of business development.

"Having been a small business owner myself in the past, I’m able to easily put myself in my customers‘ shoes and genuinely love helping people. I use my personal insights to design solutions to meet my customers‘ needs and inspire and organise others as they join me."

What would be the most significant business case that you've applied and learned the most out of it? Both positively or negatively?

Developing CommBank for Veterans has been the most significant business case that I’ve proposed andimplemented. The important things I’ve learned from the initiative include:

  1. Listening to the voice of the customer. The key to success is putting an SME’s emotional, practical, financial and social needs at the centre and building a strong foundation of empathy and deep understanding. Only then can transformational banking solutions be developed. As a proud veteran’s wife and mother of adaughter currently serving in the Royal Australian Air Force, I understand the unique needs of veterans in pursuing their business goals. My genuine care for veterans enabled me to identify a unique market opportunity for CommBank to become the first bank in Australia to actively support veteran SME businesses. Drawing on my banking and personal experience, I know that veterans’ incredible resilience and determination can provide a strong foundation for business success. In Australia, there are between 50,000 and 75,000 veteran-owned SME businesses.
    Military service can foster the fundamental entrepreneurial capabilities that underpin business success. Service strengthens leadership skills – both through formal training and on the front line. Veterans are accustomed tostepping up, taking the initiative and adapting to change.
    Yet veterans generally leave military service with very little business knowledge. I saw the opportunity to closethis gap. Having been a small business owner myself in the past, I’m able to easily put myself in my customers‘ shoes and genuinely love helping people. I use my personal insights to design solutions to meet my customers‘ needs and inspire and organise others as they join me. In particular, I empathise deeply with the challenges many veterans and their families experience when they return from service.

  2. While systems and processes are important, it’s human relationships that drive real change. It was by influencing numerous decision makers across CommBank and government that I was able to muster the collective passion needed to get this complex project off the ground. Since the launch, I’ve promoted CommBank for Veterans across Australia, forming personal relationships with key stakeholders within the defence community, and educating and mentoring veterans about how CommBank can help them start abusiness.

  3. Big things happen through persistent and hard work. While good ideas can be fascinating, it’s only through hard work that ideas get implemented. CommBank for Veterans took a year to set up as I tirelessly nurtured my idea through development and approval. I overcame the obstacles in my path and did muchof the work in my personal time. My unwavering belief and commitment will benefit Australia’s veteran-owned SME businesses for years to come.

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