Purpose in the COVID-19 era: An interview with ANZ Bank CEO, Shayne Elliott

1 minute read + 40 minute listen  30.08.2020

Does our pathway to the ’new normal’ offer business an opportunity to reshape the future through a purpose-led lens? This episode features MinterEllison’s CEO and Managing Partner, Annette Kimmitt in conversation with ANZ Bank CEO, Shayne Elliott.

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As economies adjust to the coronavirus and business considers what ‘normal’ might look like in the future, Annette Kimmitt, talks to Shayne Elliott on the role purpose can play in the COVID era.

They discuss existential questions such as: Why does our organisation exist? What is our purpose? Does our pathway to the ‘new normal’ offer business an opportunity to reshape the future through a purpose-led lens?

To Shayne Elliott, purpose was something that ANZ Bank had ingrained in its DNA, it just needed to be rediscovered. And during this time of crisis purpose came to light. It shapes the decisions, behaviours and the things we care about in our local communities.

Purpose in a time of crisis

Shayne Elliott’s priority when COVID-19 first threatened Australia was for ANZ Bank to protect its people, customers and banking services while preparing for the future. This involved adapting the bank’s workforce to engage with customers within the restrictions imposed by the lockdown.

He noted that purpose is foundational, and it shapes everyday decisions;


What people want in a time of crisis is clarity. We are acting and behaving to the crisis differently and our customers appreciate that. We are not working with purpose in order to make more money or make a higher profit, but we don't believe that the pursuit of purpose comes at the cost of running a good business.


He also noted that at a time of crisis with good culture, people bind together. “They become more supportive of each other and more respectful and empathetic of their team members' situation. We are seeing an increase in collaboration, care of people in the team and respect to each other."

Stakeholder expectations

Prior to COVID-19 most CEOs were grappling with navigating increasingly divergent stakeholder interests.

"Divergent interests were already there but they have been accelerated" said Elliott. "There has been an accelerating conversation about the role of business and whether it is around the single pursuit of shareholder returns.”

The crisis has brought forward other parts of the ESG conversation. "I think people will be asking more questions about what the role of the company in the broader community. What is your role around environmental sustainability? What is your role around health and hygiene and a host of other factors? There will be more demand around social purpose and social licence. I think there is going to be a big debate in Australia and globally about social responsibility of business and social licence,” he added.


Elliott and his team are using a framework of protect, adapt, engage and prepare, to prioritise decisions and actions to support customers and staff.

"The first thing you have to do is to look after yourself. To protect your assets, customers and people. You then have to move quickly to adapt. You have to adapt to the new reality, like working from home, changing needs of customers, staff and suppliers. Third, you have to engage. Engage with your customers at a geometric rate compared to what you used to. People's lives are changing fast. They want to know more about what's going on, and we need to understand them more. And finally it is about preparing for the future. The world is going to be different and we need to prepare for that. It is a framework that is resonating not only with the business but also with people, in their personal lives," he explained.

Thematic shifts and impact

Shayne Elliott sees three significant changes to the bank's business model coming out of this crisis. They are; digitisation, strong and connected customer relationships, and the value of ANZ’s network to customers. He said:


We have been through crises before. What we know is the way you treat your customer through a crisis will never be forgotten. There is an amazing opportunity to stand behind your people and customers.

Season 2, Episode 1 of our podcast series, Transforming Business with MinterEllison: ideas and challenges that are shaping our future.

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Transforming business: ideas and challenges shaping our future


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