An Interview with Fiona Thompson, Chief Risk Officer, Suncorp

"The saying ‘good news is bad news told early’ has never been more relevant – the sooner we can identify issues, the sooner we can act to contain their impact and prevent them from occurring again."
 

Fresh off the back of her featured Royal Commission wrap interview at the FST Future of Financial Services Sydney, we speak with Suncorp's Fiona Thompson on how the financial services giant has embraced the challenges and opportunities of a post-Hayne world.

------------------------------------------------------------

FST Media: Take us through some of your reflections on the Hayne Royal Commission report. What has it meant for financial services as a whole and for Suncorp?

Thompson: Financial services play a critical role in the lives of all Australians – we only have to look at the current bushfire crisis across the country to see how crucial the insurance sector is to our communities.

The Royal Commission reinforced the importance of financial service providers – everyone needs access to fair and valuable banking, insurance, and superannuation. It is because of the importance of our role that we can have a significant impact on our customers’ lives when things go wrong. The Royal Commission highlighted that, as an industry, we don’t always get it right and we need to do more to meet evolving community expectations. For Suncorp, we embraced the opportunity to continue to improve how we do things and to drive better outcomes for customers.


FST Media: How has Suncorp approached the post-Royal Commission era?

Thompson: At Suncorp, we are approaching the current regulatory climate not just as a set of compliance changes, but as an opportunity to make improvements that genuinely enhance customer outcomes. Ultimately, this is about getting the basics right, most importantly around culture and conduct. It will continue to be a journey, but one that we should embrace as an industry, and it is part of Suncorp’s commitment to continuous improvement.

For example, in responding to the Townsville floods earlier in the year, we took on board feedback from our customers and insights from managing previous events, and made a number of important improvements; these included having a stronger presence in Townsville by establishing a customer service centre hosting a series of community forums, and by making sure that our people are on the ground to see it through until every customer is back in their home. This continuous improvement mindset means that we will take these leading practices that we established in Townsville and apply them more widely, particularly as we respond in the coming weeks and months to support the communities impacted by the devastating fires and storms.

 
FST Media: Aside from the Royal Commission, what do you think is having the biggest impact on the behaviour of financial services organisations? 

Thompson: Whilst there has been a particular spotlight on the Royal Commission, there is a lot of activity in the regulatory space more broadly.

The Banking Executive Accountability Regime is particularly relevant, as it is prompting organisations to clarify accountability at an individual level. Furthermore, new codes of practice will drive better outcomes and improve standards for customers, and we are seeing regulators becoming increasingly active.

All of these are making us more resilient as an industry and better able to deliver on community expectations.


FST Media: Conduct risk is a topic that has been getting a lot of focus, particularly following the Royal Commission report. Is it a fad or is it here to stay?

Thompson: At the heart of the recommendations to come out of the Royal Commission was the question of an organisation’s culture, and culture is at the core of how an organisation manages conduct risk. It is at the forefront of the minds of boards, regulators, and management, and it is here to stay.

Importantly, as an industry we need to ensure that our people are empowered to speak up and escalate when they see things that go wrong. The saying ‘good news is bad news told early’ has never been more relevant – the sooner we can identify issues, the sooner we can act to contain their impact and prevent them from occurring again.

The risk culture we are driving at Suncorp is around being committed to continuous improvement, caring for our nine million customers, and supporting our team members to speak up where something doesn’t feel right. This is the type of culture that will support good conduct and, ultimately, build trust in the industry.

 
FST Media: With public trust in financial services taking a substantial hit of late, what can the sector do to regain and retain customer confidence?

Thompson: Building customer trust starts with keeping our promises. Importantly, we need to be conscious that this is not only about the promises we think we have made to customers, but what they think we have promised.

An important consideration is education and building financial literacy– customers cannot trust what they don’t understand. The need for simplicity and clarity of information around financial services and products is paramount. Simplifying our products and the literature that supports them will require an industry-wide approach with the support of regulators and government; however, it is not something that we should shy away from.

The other aspect of being able to deliver on promises and rebuilding trust is operational resiliency – that is fundamental to be able to provide what customers expect, when they expect it. And, key to that is having stable, robust, and secure systems.

Technologists have never been more crucial to the financial services industry, and there is an opportunity to step up and work with the risk and compliance teams to ensure that we are able to support our customers when they need us most.

------------------------------------------------------------

Fiona Thompson was a featured on-stage interviewee at the Future of Financial Services Sydney conference last November.