In a Nutshell: As Australia’s first SME-focused challenger bank, Judo Bank offers quality business banking services geared toward Australian-owned businesses. And in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank is doubling down on its mission to support those businesses by offering flexibility and personalized services to help them weather the storm. The institution’s focus on relationship banking sets it apart from larger institutions with an approach that forges a strong connection between the bank and its customers.
We’re only half-way through 2020, but it has already proven to be one of the most momentous years in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe in the early months of the year and is still surging in many countries.
In Australia, the daily cases peaked in mid-March and recently began to climb once more.
As in other developed countries, the challenges the pandemic has brought to the healthcare industry and small and medium-sized businesses have been unprecedented. Many businesses have seen a sharp drop in customer activity that threatens their livelihood as people stay home to help contain the spread of the virus.
Of course, everybody wants to get back to business as usual, but it won’t be possible until it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, businesses must find ways to stay afloat while they face challenges they could never have foreseen.
Thankfully, they are able to turn to institutions like Judo Bank. The organization was established with small- and medium-sized businesses in mind so it only makes sense that it is stepping up to the plate to help them during these challenging times.
“Judo Bank is a SME challenger bank purposefully built to make it easier for Australian businesses to get the funding they need and the service they deserve,” according to the Judo Bank website.
We recently spoke with Frank Versace, the bank’s Chief Relationship Officer, to learn more about the institution’s mission and how it is working to support its customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An SME Challenger Bank Built to Serve Businesses
Judo Bank was founded in 2016 and is Australia’s first SME-focused challenger bank, according to the company.
“At Judo Bank we’re determined to give Aussie businesses a fairer go,” according to the bank website. “We believe that, in business, relationships matter; it’s why our business bankers take the time to truly understand you and your business, face to face.”
This means that, right down to its name, Judo Bank is ready to prioritize its customers’ needs and take on the biggest institutions.
“Judo Strategy is the art of using size and agility to outwit larger opponents,” according to the website. “Judo Bank is built to be fast and nimble, helping our customers capitalize on the right opportunities, opportunities they might otherwise have missed.”
While Australian-owned businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy, many SMEs don’t have access to the funding needed or the services they deserve, according to Judo Bank. But that’s where Judo steps in.
“The idea for Judo was really a response to the evolution of the Australian banking sector over the past two decades towards heavily industrialized operating models which focused on a one-size-fits-all decisioning framework,” Versace said.
The result of this approach was a progressive deskilling of bankers away from what should be the core capabilities of business knowledge, risk assessment, and relationship management, he explained.
“Judo’s has established itself as a purpose-built SME business bank that has looked from the outset to differentiate its offering on the quality of its people and the reintroduction of the empowered banking professional,” Versace said.
He said empowered banking professionals will take the time to understand the customer circumstance and customer needs on an individual basis rather than looking to offer ever more generalized solutions to broader and broader customer groups.
“This approach has appealed to a wide array of business customers across the Australian market with a wide spread of industries, business profiles, and geographies currently forming our growing customer base.”
Meeting Needs for Its Customers to Help Them Stay Afloat During Unprecedented Challenges
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on economies around the world, Judo Bank’s strategy to step up to do what it can to support Australian businesses makes sense.
Versace said Australians are seeing an unprecedented crisis for which there is no historical reference point on which to base decisions.
“What is absolutely certain, however, is how critical the small business sector is to the Australian economy and to the livelihoods of so many Australian families. And the collective response of government, the finance sector, and the broader business community is going to be fundamental to our ability to navigate this crisis,” he said.
To that end, the bank’s team of Relationship Directors has been actively talking to all customers to see what help they can offer, according to Judo Bank. They are working to ensure business clients have access to the funds they may need in the coming weeks, months, and beyond.
“Judo’s approach has been to remain very close to our customers from the very onset of the pandemic and to tailor individual relief to the unique circumstances that each customer has found themselves, and this has been an ongoing and evolving dialogue and response,” Versace said.
This approach has involved the use of payment deferral measures, provision of additional working capital assistance, working with the government to provide hybrid lending solutions, and in some cases, a combination of some or all of those tactics, he said.
“As a society, we may be temporarily distanced from each other, but at Judo Bank, we remain close at hand,” according to the bank website. “We want to reassure all our customers we are here for you, strong, stable, secure.”
A Variety of Business Lending Solutions for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses
Judo Bank offers the same kinds of business banking services one can expect from the bigger institutions — it just comes with a stronger focus on customer needs.
Versace said Judo’s greatest differentiating factor comes in its depth of understanding of customer requirements and its common-sense approach to customer credit assessment, transaction structuring, and forward planning.
“Whilst product features are obviously important, we see them as one component of the broader relationship offering, and it is the overall quality of that relationship proposition which will always be our primary focus,” he said.
This holistic relationship view and the manner in which, for example, products are deployed as part of a wider solution is what has customers most excited, Versace said. The bank’s approach — and the speed of those solutions — are materially quicker than what is available elsewhere in the market.
In short, it’s called relationship banking.
“We provide business lending solutions starting from $250,000 for small to medium-sized businesses,” according to the bank website. “Our team of experienced business bankers are currently located in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with many more locations to come.”
Commercial costumers can expect customer-focused and reliable business loans, lines of credit, equipment loans, and finance lease options, according to the company.
Versace said the bank also relies on its customers to provide valuable feedback to help guide future decisions and offerings. In the meantime, Judo Bank will continue to progress even in the face of the pandemic.
“Judo plans to continue its national expansion, which includes a Perth-based office opening in July and plans afoot to launch in Adelaide this calendar year,” Versace said. “We also have an ambitious agenda in terms of our product expansions which includes plans for the development and enhancement of our trade and supply chain and transactional banking offerings.”