Assessing the risks: Stewart Mantell CA on banking audits
Chris Sheedy interviews Stewart Mantell CA to find out why understanding external environment is essential to a well-functioning audit role in banking and protecting customers.
Stewart grew up in Banff in Aberdeenshire and qualified as a CA in 1995, spending the earlier parts of his career focused on technology risk with PwC in Edinburgh. He moved to Australia with his wife in 2002 when a new opportunity arose at their Sydney PwC office and the move to Westpac, one of Australia’s big four banks, came soon after.
“I moved away from traditional audit and got involved in broader technology risk management and reviews,” he explained. “It was early on in the days of computer technology and we’d analyse the risk that technology introduced to an organisation.
“If your computer systems didn't work, your accounts were not going to be correct, so initially it was more about the financial records being produced on computer systems and the risks that would have an impact on financial statements. Obviously, the risk around technology is a lot broader these days.”
As well as being a CA, Stewart is a Certified Information Systems Auditor (ISACA), and he became Westpac’s Head of Technology Audit in 2003. He is now their Head of Audit, Consumer, Business and Operations.
“I could say I’m an auditor,” he said, “but sometimes people have too narrow a view on what that means. More generally I’m a risk management professional. A lot of what I do requires an understanding of broader business risk and strategy, and that is what comes from my training as an accountant.
"That is what interests me. That broader view of the way banking is changing and the risks those changes introduce are fascinating.”
What are the major opportunities in your role at Westpac?
Westpac is such a large company and the variety is enormous: from technology risks to the way we sell to customers, the way we manage the selling process and the way we look after people who bank with us.
Moving away from technology and looking more at the business side and the way we interact with customers, is really the thing that keeps me interested. There's a different focus when you're looking at technology risks compared to when you're looking at real customers at the end of a transaction.
It wasn’t so long ago that branches were closing as banks guided customers online, and now those branches have opened again. Is it difficult to keep up with customer expectations?
It’s a good challenge. We have a lot of people working hard to provide the very best service. But that doesn't necessarily mean talking to the customer. It could be just about making it easier for the customer to spend less time in the bank. Just to see the changes in the way that customers interact with the bank and go online and use their mobiles, over a fairly short period of time, is fascinating.
We need to keep up with it and respond to it. My team then reviews what is put in place, looking at it from a risk perspective rather than a customer experience perspective.
Do you also look at external risk?
Absolutely. A classic one is technology and cyber security risk, and having to understand the types of cyber security incidents or data leakages that other companies have and whether that can happen here. Understanding the external environment is key to working in audit functions in a bank.
Australian banks have had a hard time recently and a royal commission into banking was recently announced. Is audit suddenly being taken a lot more seriously?
It was always taken seriously and Westpac itself has always been very supportive in taking internal audit very seriously. What we do in terms of providing strength and protection to the bank and its customers is very much in line with what is being expected by the wider community. Recent events haven’t changed our focus – it will always be on making sure we protect the bank and its customers. That doesn't change.
How do you remove risk from a process, for the bank and the customer?
The simpler, more efficient and more automated processes are often the ones that are better controlled and on which you can place more reliance. When we have more manual intervention in a process it's risky because people can make mistakes, and it's also risky in terms of consistency of customer experience.
How are you enjoying living in Australia?
When you're bringing up kids in Australia you’re able to be outside all the time and have a strong focus on sport. That’s very different to my younger life in Scotland. It seems we have a much healthier and more active lifestyle. That's one of the things keeping us here, even though most of our family is back in the UK.
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.