Westpac compliance and legal set sights on 2020

Jan 24, 2019
Why Australian bank won the Corporate Governance Award for best overall corporate governance – international

Westpac group secretariat, which is part of the Australian bank’s compliance, legal and secretariat (CLS) division, has set itself a tough challenge in implementing the CLS 2020 project. This includes focusing on the following strategic objectives: creating the ‘workforce of the future,’ enhancing operational excellence, innovating through technology and data, delivering trusted advice and independent governance, and supporting the group to deliver its growth strategy.

As part of the CLS 2020 initiative, the secretariat team is keen to find ways to improve its own tools and better serve both internal and external clients.

‘Our vision relates to all of our supporting functions,’ including for external stakeholders, says senior company secretary Lisa Dounis. As part of this, the team has analyzed its processes to see which are suitable for digitization and automation. For example, it has found a way to update a previously ‘clunky’ manual process for getting approval for services from Westpac’s auditor PwC by ensuring it is independent of its audit, Dounis says.

In addition, the team this past year launched a CLS chatbot that provides self-service features. These features are now accessible to all 35,000 Westpac employees, making it easier for them to get information and the approvals needed to do their jobs. 

The company also uses technology as a key to shareholder engagement. For example, shareholders are encouraged to attend and participate in person at the AGM, but the event is also webcast live and made available later online. Shareholders who cannot attend can lodge a direct vote or their proxies through various channels, including online. All presentations relevant to shareholders are also webcast and made available online.

In addition, Westpac Wire, the bank’s news website, has taken off this year, according to Dounis. The bank’s chair and CEO use the channel to communicate with shareholders in blog-type notices. Elsewhere, the secretariat has recently conducted a board and committee paper template revamp in subsidiary companies to guide writers through the process by focusing on readers’ perspectives and key matters for the relevant board to enhance management’s communication with the various boards and committees.

The team has further devised a series of board strategy seminar workshops aligned with the group’s strategic priorities, and team members have taken part in thought-leadership events such as roundtable discussions on the future direction of governance practice.

At a broader level, the secretariat team is charged with ensuring the boards of roughly 170 subsidiary entities are statutorily compliant and use international best practices in corporate governance. It also ensures compliance with the legal requirements of regulators including the NYSE by making the correct regulatory filings.

To make matters even more challenging, the team has had to do all this over the last year against the background of increased regulatory scrutiny of the Australian financial services industry.

This article originally appeared in the latest Corporate Secretary special report. Click here to view the full publication.


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