The below is an edited transcript of an interview between 3AW Mornings’ Neil Mitchell and NAB CEO Ross McEwan held on 16 November 2022.
3AW MORNINGS HOST, NEIL MITCHELL (NM): Ross McEwan of the National Australia Bank. Good morning.
NAB GROUP CEO, ROSS McEWAN (RM): Good morning, Neil.
NM: What are you hearing from your customers? How serious is this staff shortage?
RM: Well, it’s major. You’ve just been calling it out. About 38 to 40% of our business customers are saying they just can’t get people for them to work, and it’s really inhibiting the growth of their businesses. I’ve been calling this out for months and months now. It’s the biggest issue we’ve got.
NM: What’s it doing to these businesses? I’ve heard people are working reduced hours. Shane Delia, who’s one of these successful restaurateurs, just told me he’s going to have to review his restaurants in the new year.
RM: Well, what you’ve seen is a lot of the restaurants only working five days where they’d love to be working seven days. They’re reducing to shorter hours. You just need to walk the streets and find the little signs on the windows saying, “help needed for labour”. It’s everywhere. We’ve just got to get people back into this country.
I was interested in your topic this morning on getting retirees back into the workforce. I was out cycling at the weekend and the chap helped us find our way out of a situation we were in. He’d retired at the age of 62, been involved in the airport. Lovely chap. He said, “no, I retired off, took the package and I’m not going back to work”. If we can get some of these people back in for even a day or two, it would be hugely helpful.
NM: I’ve been lobbying the Labor government on that since before they were in government to try and get some relief for pensioners, because they effectively get taxed at double rate once they earn over a certain amount. Surely there has to be some allowance there. I mean it was brought up at the job summit, but it’s sort of a piecemeal answer.
RM: Yeah, I think there’s quite an expense in it, but I think it’s worth having another look at for a short period of time while we get these visas working because the government has extended the number of visas. But one of the interesting things around the visas, you can get a visa then it’s the cost of getting, say from the UK down to Australia or to New Zealand. The cost of getting here is so expensive. As the airlines get themselves going again and there’s less airlines coming in, the costs are up.
NM: The airlines are certainly trying to make up their money. Do we bring back the Ten Pound Pom?
RM: Something of that nature. One of the great things that I’ve been calling for is to let people know overseas we are open and we want them down here because this is a great country. We’ve got jobs.
NM: Surely we’re out there advertising.
RM: I’m not too sure we are doing enough of it, to say to people “come on down”.
NM: Do you think we should look at assisting passengers though? Seriously?
RM: I think so. I think employers, particularly the larger ones, should be offering that up as part of the package. Pay for the passage to come on down.
We’re having to find labour offshore and in places that we would not normally go. We ourselves have got an operation now in Vietnam – technology people – because we just can’t get enough of them here. So I think there’s an opportunity here for Australia. Let people know we’re open, encourage people down, get the 195,000 visas working, and get the casuals back into the country. They were a great help.
NM: Get the international students back.
RM: Yes, absolutely. That’s starting to happen though, to be fair. The students are starting to come back. But we also need the backpackers and temporary migrants in as well.
NM: You’ve got a what, over 30,000 employees? Do you need more?
RM: I’ve got 35,000 and as I said, we’ve got about 600 vacancies at the moment. So we’re a good barometer for other industries as well. Mainly technology, digital type people. Yeah, but it’s across the board.
NM: Cyber attacks, scams – I notice you say you’ve had 50 million attacks on the NAB each month. What do you mean by attacks? What are they? Are they attempts to hack or what?
RM: Yes, attempts to get into our systems. We have now 24/7 shields up to block the attacks coming into a business like ours and there’s say 50 million attacks on our digital channels. People are trying to electronically get into the systems. So you can imagine, push that across all the other banks and then put it into other organisations – this is not going away. I call it a Team Australia moment where we all have to work together. A lot of it is education as well, stopping people connecting onto a site and giving their details to people. Even though it looks like NAB or it looks like the tax office, or it looks like somebody that’s authentic. Stop giving your details please.
NM: 50 million a month is staggering. There’s also a report in the Herald Sun today that some of it has worked. There’s a spoofing scam involving the NAB. What does that mean?
RM: Well, that means that they’re portraying to be us with an email or a text that comes through portraying to be NAB and it actually isn’t. When you’re dealing with us, we are not going to ask you for your details. Please stop giving it. We’re not going ask you for your passwords and these sort of things…stop giving them. Trusted brands like the ATO, we’ve got a lot of scams coming through from there about moving money to the ATO. A lot of these scams are just using trusted brands as false fronts and it’s just not us behind the scenes.
NM: Under this system, they actually take legitimate texts from you and put their dodgy one at the bottom, so it looks legitimate because there’s a line of legitimate texts before. That’s really smart, isn’t it?
RM: It’s also why Neil, I say to people “stop putting your details, your confidential details into these emails”. If you want to go and have a look at a site, go to nab.com.au/security and have a look at all the tips and the alerts that we are giving people, and little webinars on what to look for. It’s just worth spending 10 minutes on. We’re doing a lot of education at the moment – for customers, non-customers and business customers – on what to look out for. Can I just say to your listeners, don’t give your details away. We are not going to ask for your passwords and your security numbers. Go inside the mobile app if you want to change details, do not do it outside.
NM: Talk of recession. Is there a danger of recession? There’s a lot of talk around the world…
RM: I don’t think so. Well for Australia…let’s start with Australia. I think we’re in a very good position. It will be slower. You’re going to see a slower economy next year, 2023, but at the moment I don’t see, we don’t see a recession coming. We see it being slower because we actually have to slow the economy down to get the inflation levels down. It’s a consequence of higher interest rates. We’re seeing higher prices on petrol and energy. Everything we touch at the supermarkets going up. We actually need to slow the economy down a bit to actually get the inflation out of the system.
NM: When does the interest rate pain really hit? I noticed the CBA is saying about middle of next year. Do you agree with that? The pain from interest rates is ahead?
RM: By the middle of next year, a lot of customers will have moved from what they were on – a fixed rate say at 2% – and they will have moved on to a new rate. That’s probably more looking like having a five in it or a standard variable in the high fours. So it’s going to be midway through next year. And look, we know that this will create concerns for customers. If they have concerns, ring their bank early please. We’re finding that if they ring early, we can be really helpful. If they leave it too late and they’re in difficulty, it just makes it harder.
NM: If I can be parochial, are you worried about the level of debt in Victoria, which is significantly ahead of the other states? Is that a concern?
RM: Well I think we’ve got to watch debt right across the country at a federal and a state level. It’s like the household, you’ve got to make sure your income’s really covering the debt and we’ve got to be a bit careful about where we spend our money. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re state or federal.
NM: How do you attack it without increasing taxes and cutting spending? We’re not going to grow our way out of it in this environment surely?
RM: Well, given that Australia is still growing, we can grow but we need to constrain the increase in costs – at state level and at business level and at household level – when our own expenditure is going up, we need to constrain where we’re spending our money. Unfortunately, that’s at all levels.
NM: All very bright today. We’ve got hacking and a shortage of people and interest. Have we got anything bright to finish with?
RM: Well, what I’d say Neil is the Australian economy, compared to other economies in the world, is in pretty good shape and we shouldn’t forget that. Yes, it’ll feel a bit more difficult next year, but I believe we’ll still be growing. We’ve got really good prices being paid for our resources that are going offshore. Our agricultural products are still really good. Our mining products are still very good. So there’s a lot to be very pleased about Australia, but it’s feeling as though it’s getting a bit slower and that’s the reality.
NM: Thank you very much your time. Ross McEwan, Chief Executive National Australia Bank.