Euromoney, September 2017
“There is a statue of a man on a bench reading a newspaper in Australia Square. Meet me there.” It is a suitably clandestine way to get together with Eric Wilson, a man who wants to shake up his industry. At a time when Australia’s biggest banks are under increasing regulatory and margin pressure – none more so than the biggest, Commonwealth Bank of Australia – he is launching a new bank with a vision to do things differently.
On a chilly Sydney morning, founder Eric Wilson tells Euromoney of two influences that prompted him to go it alone and form Xinja (a name with no clear provenance that we can figure out).
One was during his career at National Australia Bank, when he became chief executive of one of the subsidiaries, National Australia Trustees. “The position of a trustee is the highest form of legal obligation you can get,” Wilson says. “We managed about A$1 billion of vulnerable people’s money, people who have been hit by a truck or had a brain injury and couldn’t manage it themselves. I spent two years making life-and-death decisions for people. I learned more than I ever had before about how important banking was.”
The other was his father-in-law, a bank manager for the Bank of New South Wales in small bush towns 40 years ago. “He told these stories about bank managers being good people, the centre of the community,” Wilson says. But he saw little resonance for either experience in the modern world of banking. “Over 20 years, my industry has not behaved well,” he says.
This realization coincided with a changing regulatory environment and the advent of digital technology through which it became possible, for the first time, to launch something new. “I was on the phone to an old friend saying I felt uncomfortable. He said: ‘Stop whingeing and start a bank.’”