BOQ Newtown: Banking on people

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The Indian Sun looks at what makes the Newtown branch of Bank of Queensland a success

Working in a bank in north Sydney, Yogini Patel and Mark Ely used to joke about owning their own bank. One day in 2005, Yogini came across a Bank of Queensland (BOQ) ad looking for owner managers. This was just the opportunity Yogini and Mark, colleagues for 10 years, had been waiting for. Mark had been in banking for two decades, and Yogini had been his colleague for 10 years in a major bank in Sydney. They both had the experience and knowledge that made them yearn for more than just a regular career in banking.

Mark’s two-decade long career had made him something of a financial services whiz, and Yogini was an ardent believer in customer service. They believed that the big banks were impersonal, faceless institutions unable to provide real customer service. Mark’s impressive knowledge of financial products and services often left him feeling that customers were missing out on the best services the banks had to offer, because the banks had no way of reaching out to the real people behind each customer. For these owner managers, a winning combination was in the making: financial knowledge, industry experience and a real commitment to people. Right from the start, Mark and Yogini knew clearly what their bank would be all about.

Through all the changes in Yogini’s working life her passion for people and customer service remained the motivation behind her business ventures. From a boutique handbag business to perfumes, to a beauty saloon and then the first boutique bank in Sydney’s Newtown, connecting with people and working to meet their needs has been the constant in Yogini’s work.

So when BOQ, in its expansionary phase in NSW, opened its doors to franchisees, Yogini and Mark got down to work immediately. After a successful initial interview with BOQ in 2005, where their professional credentials and abilities were assessed, Mark and Yogini worked on the business plan for their branch. Yogini’s husband Pravin, a businessman himself, joined the team. Pravin had been well established in his gaming sales business, but he was open to a new challenge.

A well-researched business plan drafted by Mark, Yogini and Pravin was approved by BOQ in January 2006.

The local factor

If people are the products of the places they live in, Mark is a classic example of a Newtown resident. The people of Newtown, as everyone knows, make Newtown the place it is; their lives, activities, interests and habits make up the culture of Newtown. Mark breathed this culture and its rhythms; he also sensed the changing demographics of the suburb. And in the changing demographics Mark, Yogini and Pravin spotted their opportunities. The strength of Yogini and Mark’s business plan would be their intimate understanding of Newtown backed by research and a strategy for the local BOQ branch to tap into these trends while serving the community. The business plan dealt at length on the several local avenues to promote BOQ. In Mark, BOQ had found a true local. Yogini and Pravin brought to the table their previous experience running businesses.

In March 2006 when the business opened, the three of them had completed a month’s training with BOQ, and were ready to implement their business plan “to a tee” says Pravin. “We still follow our original business plan, it’s our bible,” says Pravin.

In the first days, weeks and months, the team was busy meeting local residents and businesses trying to convince them to switch to BOQ. The Newtown festival, Mardi Gras, open days at the local Sydney University campus were all perfect places for them to promote BOQ and win support for their branch. Mark had always known that several “Newtownians” were disgruntled with corporations and the big banks. Yogini believed that her charms would make a real difference to people who wanted a different experience with the banks. She says that unlike other banks, her clients can call her any time of the day to discuss their banking needs. She says that personal relationships with her clients helps her understand their needs and provide better solutions on an ongoing and long-term basis.

Yogini says that it is important to keep in mind that BOQ offer the same products and services as any other bank, often at more competitive rates, and with personalised service.

How the team works

As the Newtown BOQ branch stands today, Yogini is proactive on the customer service front; the customers can rely on Mark’s expertise with financial products; and Pravin grows the business through sales and other promotions. But the owner managers don’t have any well-demarcated roles.

BOQ Newtown waited for two years before it took on its first employee, a part-time teller, Thuy Ngu, who was a uni student at the time. After completing her university degree, Thuy was interested in joining the bank full time. Yogini says they were delighted to employ someone they had worked with for a while.

Pravin and Yogini’s son Kunal joined the business after university. Pravin says that it was meant to be a trial, but Kunal liked the place and the work, and he has now become a part of the team.

The success of this business is a mix of the opportunities that presented themselves, and the skills, dedication and work of the owners and their team. A belief in connecting with people and offering them a genuine alternative is what motivated Yogini and Mark to set out on the path of owning their own bank. Their ability to rope in the expertise and support of friends and family has resulted in a bank that reflects the needs of the locals. As Pravin says, “the business plan has been the guide in letter and spirit”.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Australian Magazine)