MAJOR financial services providers such as Suncorp Group (ASX:SUN) arguably have entered a brave new world, with its insurance business facing a rising tide of natural disasters and its banking division managing the threats to cyber security.

These challenges also come amid increasing consumer and regulatory scrutiny.

Michael Cameron has been tasked with steering Suncorp Group through the uncertainty as it gears up for its next phase of growth.

He left the top job at diversified property investor GPT Group to replace Patrick Snowball as managing director and group CEO last October.

Cameron has more than 30 years' experience in finance and business, including senior leadership stints with St George Bank, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, MLC and Lend Lease. He has also served as a non-executive director at Suncorp since 2012.

Cameron shares his plans with Business News Australia, as Suncorp overhauls its business model to forge stronger relationships with its nine million customers.


How has your time at the helm of Suncorp Group been so far?

It's been a very busy first six months leading Suncorp through its next phase and implementing our new operating model which was announced to the market in February.

During my transition, I met thousands of employees and other stakeholders which helped validate my views around the group's future direction. I'm pleased to say these meetings reaffirmed much of what I knew when I was on the board, that Suncorp is an impressive business with great brands, systems and people.

There's no doubt in my mind that Suncorp's people are its greatest asset and it's a really exciting time for the group as we move towards elevating the role of the customer and building our capability to creating value for our customers.


How would you describe your leadership style?

I like to think that I am balanced in everything I do. I have a conservative approach and spend a lot of time analysing risks and opportunities, as well as seeking views which are different to mine. I truly believe that the worst situation is one where everyone agrees. Instead, I aim to create an environment where people feel safe to disagree, challenge and even argue. That's where you tend to find the most robust solution and produce the best work because you examine an issue from every angle. It also creates greater conviction for a particular path.

I'm also an advocate for creating work-life balance and, while it takes discipline, the results are worth it. I've always believed that it's easier to get a new job than a new family. For me, my wife and five sons are my foundation and the basis of my success. I tend not to think about work when I'm at home and I admit don't think about home when I'm at work. There won't always be a perfect balance but being very clear about what is most important really allows me to figure out where my attention needs to be.

As the CEO, I am very conscious of the impact my leadership has across the organisation. I believe that clarity and consistency is fundamental to good leadership and I always try to be purposeful about the way I lead and think.


What are some of your biggest influences in business?

It's impossible to ignore the influence that the technology industry has had, and will continue to have, on business.

What's important to remember though is that it's not about the technological innovations themselves. It's about how we connect and use them. The latest and greatest invention won't create a great deal of change on its own. The difference will be in how it's used and the value it brings.

The opportunity we have is how we use technology to understand better and meet our customers' needs more fully and solve their problems.


What do you consider to be your professional highlight?

I have been very fortunate to work for some great companies, in some great cities and with terrific people, so it's fair to say that there have been many highlights.

One thing that really does stand out though is my very first role as a trainee accountant at a building society. For the first six months, I was put on the front counter to serve customers and, looking back, it was possibly the best introduction I could ever have had to understanding customer needs and challenges. I can clearly see that it was at that point that I developed an immediate passion for the customer and that experience continues to shape my thinking today.

Generally, I have enjoyed creating environments for people to do their best work. Providing clarity, strong capability and making sure individuals and teams are highly motivated has delivered significant value to stakeholders over time. This has been very satisfying, proving that employees, customers, shareholders and the community can all share in the benefits of a successful operating model.


What challenges do you see in the future of your industry, and how do you plan to overcome them?

The financial services industry is under continued public scrutiny and is grappling with the threat of disruption and rapid change. While challenging, these factors provide an enormous opportunity. Our customers are demanding a financial services provider they can trust and engage with in a way that makes sense for them and provides them with 'non-price' value.

Earlier this year, I announced Suncorp's new operating model which is focused on delivering value for our customers and driving future profitability and growth. I see the new model as the next logical step in achieving our strategy.

My plan is to deliver a customer experience that hasn't been seen in financial services before. The Suncorp Customer Platform, or marketplace, is a concept similar to that of the Apple platform with its app stores and iTunes. It will allow our nine million customers to satisfy their needs by accessing any of our products and services, any brand, via our stores, our contact centres, via intermediaries and increasingly through digital channels. This will include products and services from selected third parties currently outside of Suncorp.

I know that by focusing on the needs of our customers and enabling them to manage their own financial journey seamlessly, we will deliver greater value for them while supporting business growth and sustainable returns to our shareholders.


What are Suncorp Group's goals for the remainder of the financial year?

When establishing the new operating model, I wanted to make sure it happened fast and I'm confident we will have it fully complete by July 1. The focus of the new model is on building our capability to deliver our customer strategy and there will be natural efficiencies that are also achieved.

We are also focused on delivering our market commitments. We were impacted by some external challenges and operational issues that resulted in our half-year result being short of what the group is capable of delivering, but I am confident that the strategies we have put in place will restore our performance. I am looking forward to providing more information on our strategy at our May Investor Day.


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