Why NAB CEO Ross McEwan is optimistic about Australian businesses


Australia is the luckiest country in the world, Ross McEwan CBE, Group CEO and Managing Director at NAB, told ABGF CEO Anthony Healy at ABGF’s recent Banker Recognition Evening.

Together, they discussed the resilience of the Australian economy, how businesses and banks overcome challenging times and how equity capital is helping SMEs grow.

Hear from Ross and Anthony as they share their insights.

This video was recorded at ABGF’s recent Banker Recognition Evening in Melbourne.

Good businesses will flourish through challenging times

Anthony Healy (AH): ‘It’s obviously been a challenging few years around the world. We’ve had COVID and we’ve now got high interest rates, inflation and softer consumer demand. So it’s been tough for all businesses, particularly for SMEs that don’t necessarily have the resources of big companies. I’d be interested in your observations around businesses that have been successful, and businesses that haven’t thrived through that period. What do you think have been some of the characteristics of those that have thrived and those that haven’t thrived?’

“It’s been tough for businesses, particularly for SMEs that don’t necessarily have the resources of big companies.”

– Anthony Healy

Ross McEwan (RM): ‘We’ve got bankers in the room who have cradled customers through some of the most horrific times and some of the most amazing times in the last three years.

It started coming on in February 2020, and then by March, I think we’d lost 900,000 jobs in a month in Australia. And I said to the team, “I have no idea what’s coming next. So let’s just work on one very simple thought: that a good business before COVID will be a good business after, and we will support them.”

And it worked out to be absolutely brilliant, because pretty much all the businesses that came through COVID and got support, came out the back end in pretty good shape. And Anthony, this is where I think the industry is so wonderful: Because we gave the support as an entire industry. It wasn’t just us, it was everyone.

I think what’s happening at the moment is it’s getting tighter. It is actually getting tighter, it has to get tighter, to get inflation down. But I truly believe good businesses are going to flourish again, and they’re doing very well.

In banking, the industry is in really good shape. The banks are really well capitalised and have good liquidity. We’ve got really good regulators. And I think as long as we all stay very focused on customers and their needs, and having the tough decisions when there’s a problem, not shirking away from it, this industry will go from strength to strength.’

“There is resilience in this economy that you’re not seeing in other economies around the world.”

– Ross McEwan

There is resilience in this economy that you’re not seeing in other economies around the world. This is the luckiest country in the world.

The Australian economy is in pretty good shape, but it has to slow down. Therefore it feels more “crunchy”. It feels harder and individuals are struggling with interest rates up, cost of living up – everything’s up.

And we just need to get them through it, because in another nine months I think this economy will kick again.

Good businesses will flourish with growth capital

AH: ‘Ross, we’re all here tonight because your bank and the other banks represented in this room back this idea of the Australian Business Growth Fund. What inspired you to support it? And why did you think it was a good idea?’

RM: ‘We saw it as a real opportunity for businesses that were on their way to get good levels of capital, but more importantly, real support. Not just money, because I reckon you can find the money. It’s the real support, and the expertise that comes with it, that is what most small and medium businesses are looking for. And sometimes they do need just that level of equity, but they want to hold on to their business and their dreams for these businesses.

“It’s the real support and the expertise that comes with it [ABGF] that most small and medium businesses are looking for.”

– Ross McEwan

There’s a great purpose here for private equity investment with people who have soft hands and gloves that actually help businesses move. It’s a great cause, and a great business cause. And both the banker and the customer will learn a heap by bringing them in and just having a conversation.

They may learn they don’t need any capital. That’s fine. They may realise that they actually aren’t ready for capital. They might realise that actually debt will fix it up, but that’s okay, and wait for a couple of years to get capital.

But the conversation will be great for the customer and the banker, and the banker will learn a lot as well with every customer. You become the hero of the customer.’

Can ABGF assist your business?

The Australian Business Growth Fund (ABGF) is an active provider of patient, minority growth capital for Australian businesses with over $2 million in revenue and a proven business model.

It only takes a conversation to understand if your business is ready for growth capital with ABGF.