When St.George, who had long prided itself on small-town charm, merged with Westpac in 2008 in a deal valued at $17 billion, it struggled to hold on to its customers, who feared the days of hands-on, personalized service were over. Thus came the controversial slogan “Small Enough, Big Enough,” which it carries to this day.
The accompanying commercial showed a rig speeding through a rural road, but stopping in time to let a small echidna cross safely. The lesson: having power doesn’t mean you have to wield it. The goal was to rebrand themselves as the only bank that could offer services on the same level as the Big Four (which includes Westpac) while staying community-oriented, friendly, and accessible. “Strength with soul,” as they put it, was their edge over the competition.
A step up, or a step backward?
Reactions to the repositioning were mixed. One the one hand, there were those who were wary of the big banks’ practices, from miles of red tape to unfair lending terms. Often, these were the same people who lobbied for credit reforms, kept their money in credit unions, and were happy to have access to top-of-the-line services without the guilt. It was the Diet Coke of banking, if there ever was such a thing.
On the other hand, you had the sceptics, who claimed, for instance, St.George wasn’t as small as it would have you believe. As the fifth largest bank in Australia and one of the country’s top publicly listed companies, it’s not that far from the Big Four in terms of size and scope. They were also quick to point out that the company spent over $10 million in the campaign, which, although not overwhelmingly huge, was hardly characteristic of a “small” bank. Issues were even brought up with the Advertising Standards Bureau against the truck commercial, which was said to promote bad road practices, although the complaint was dismissed.
St.George Credit Card
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Such matters aside, St.George is no doubt closer to the people than its four superiors. A year after the merger and repositioning, the bank continued to have the highest customer satisfaction rating both among individuals and small to medium businesses. CEO Greg Bartlett said their existing customers have also started doing more banking with them, as shown by an increase in the number of products for customer. Credit cards, business financing, and wealth management were among the most popular in its expanded product line.
In a Choice survey in 2010, St.George topped the Big Four in the transaction accounts sector, with the fewest customers asking for better terms on their accounts. Only 59 felt it necessary to call the bank for a better deal, while complaints to the other banks ranged from 97 to 157.
What comes after
Australians seemed to have taken well to St.George’s repositioning, and the bank plans to leverage that satisfaction by offering even better services. According to Mr. Bartlett, they plan on continuing the “disciplined investments” that have enhanced the customer experience and strengthened the brand in the last two years. Among the improvements are nine branches in fast-growing locations, over 290 new customer service staff, and a range of electronic products that will make their services more accessible.
And the campaign? It looks like they’ll be wearing the “Big Enough, Small Enough” sticker for a while: Mr. Bartlett said they’ll also be investing more in the campaign in the next few years. They may be big enough to pour millions into publicity, but small enough to reach the average Australian—and confident enough to compete with the Big Four.