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Sharpening our focus on the ‘prime of life’

2 April 2014

 Recognising the vast social and economic implications of Australia’s rapidly ageing population, Westpac Group is stepping up its focus on the challenges and opportunities created as more of its people and customers enter their ‘prime of life’.

Westpac has proactively supported mature aged employees for many years through initiatives such as the introduction of grandparental leave, a targeted campaign to recruit employees over 50 years, and initiatives championed by the 400-strong members of Westpac’s Prime of Life Employee Action Group.

Earlier this year, the bank strengthened its Prime of Life agenda with a refreshed internal program, accessible to employees through a united web hub, Your Experience, Your Future. The program includes a comprehensive suite of training and resources, all based around a holistic framework of identity, money, career, relationships and health.

It also supports people managers across the Group who play a key role in retaining and engaging this cohort of experienced employees to make the most of their full career span.

According to Tony Fiddes General Manager, Group People Capability, Westpac’s commitment in this area is fundamental to the bank’s future success and to the ongoing health of communities and the national economy.

“If we fail to look at new ways of retaining our older employees, we’re not only at risk of losing key knowledge, experience and skills, but it will become increasingly harder to find the right people to fill these roles,” Tony said.

“People in Australia are living much longer than they ever have and the proportion of people aged 65 and over is projected to reach nearly 25% by 2050, up from 14% today.

“Yet the average retirement age has remained relatively flat.  In fact Australia’s mature age participation rate lags that of comparable countries, which means our economy is not fully benefiting from the skills and experience of older Australians,” he said.

“We’re starting to experience the highest ratio of job market retirements to new entries in Australia’s history. As ‘baby boomers’ are reaching retirement age and exiting the workforce en masse, fewer young people are joining reflecting declining birth rates.

“At the same time, Australians are saving less, we owe an unprecedented amount on our credit cards – estimated at more than $50 billion - and very few of us have an investment plan or have consulted a financial planner.

“All these factors clearly point to the need for employers to find new ways to engage and retain mature aged employees and be able to effectively manage the most multi-generational workforce we have faced, and for more people to stretch post-work income streams further,” Tony said.

More than 20% of Westpac Group's employees are currently aged 50 and above.  This is on par with the Australian financial services industry average but lower than the Australian workforce as a whole.

Westpac has a publicly stated objective to raise this proportion, and to lift the average retirement age of employees to 62 years by 2017, up from 60.6 years at 30 September 2013.

“This is all about extending the length and quality of our people’s working lives,” Tony said.

“It means keeping our employees engaged for longer, and proactively supporting them to meet their goals, whether they are seeking more flexibility, career development roles, promotion opportunities or a gradual transition to retirement.  And for our people leaders, it’s about helping them to plan for the needs of the workforce and consider the diverse requirements of our ageing workforce,” he said.

“Early feedback from our employees about our new training and education program is very positive, a symbol that we’re heading in the right direction.”

Having a larger cohort of mature aged employees is also enabling Westpac’s workforce to better reflect the demographics of its customer base. Tapping into this group is one of the ways the bank works to evolve and improve the products and services on offer to meet the needs of an ageing population.

An initiative rolled out last year was the introduction of a contact centre dedicated to Prime of Life customers aged 50+ years.

Darryn De Kock, Senior Manager Prime of Life, Westpac Retail & Business Banking said the initiative has enabled Westpac to have richer, more productive conversations with customers aged 50+.

“Our people are trained and experienced in understanding the financial problems typically faced by people at their particular stage in life. As they’re paying down debt, moving to an accumulation phase and preparing for retirement, we can offer access to specialist wealth capabilities and products to help them plan,” Darryn said.

“We’ve seen a stark lift in satisfaction from these customers, also translating through to greatly improved product uptake, which demonstrates the value they see us delivering,” he said.

Working in partnership with Westpac’s financial education school, the Davidson Institute, further initiatives will be introduced aimed at anticipating the future needs of ageing customers.