The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Extreme pastime antidote to banking

Long-distance swimming, and family, is the downtime for SBS boss, writes Christopher Adams.
Wayne Evans is ambitious aboutt he future of the Invercargill-based SBS bank, backing the marketing campaign to make its presence felt in the North Island. Photo / Dean Purcell
Wayne Evans is ambitious aboutt he future of the Invercargill-based SBS bank, backing the marketing campaign to make its presence felt in the North Island. Photo / Dean Purcell

Running a bank starts sounding like a walk in the park when you consider what Wayne Evans gets up to in his spare time.

Forget golf, or other pastimes commonly associated with the executive lifestyle. It's long-distance swimming that floats the SBS Bank boss' boat.

And he's taken the pursuit to its extreme.

In 2013 Evans became the seventh person to swim Foveaux Strait - the fearsome, great white-shark infested stretch between Bluff and Stewart Island.

The 34km swim, completed during an event held to commemorate John van Leeuwen's first crossing in 1963, took him nine hours and 20 minutes to complete. Conditions were tough, including a rip that forced him to "battle through concrete" for the first three hours.

Not satisfied with that experience, 49-year-old Evans is gearing up to swim Cook Strait in February with a training regime that involves notching up 30 to 50km a week in the pool.

With perfectly good ferries available on both Cook and Foveaux straits, what drives him?

"When the body's hurting, and things are going awry, you find out a bit about yourself - your personality, determination and resilience," Evans explains. "The job I've got is quite a cerebral one and it's great to be able to relieve some stress through a physical outlet."

It's a wonder Evans, who was appointed chief executive of SBS in August 2014, finds any time to swim at all, given the demands of his professional life.

Invercargill-based SBS - which is owned by its customers, referred to as "members" - is a little bank with big ambitions for growth. It has just unveiled a rebrand and national marketing campaign aimed at expanding the lender's presence outside its Southland home base. As part of the push, SBS recently announced a market-leading, 3.99 per cent, one-year home loan rate, which grabbed headlines up and down the country. The media coverage was just what the doctor ordered, as SBS - which is a household name in Southland - is virtually unknown in the North Island, despite having 80 Auckland-based staff, including five mobile mortgage managers.

"It [brand recognition] dissipates very quickly the further north you go," Evans says.

A branch presence in Auckland could help address that challenge, and he says SBS may open outlets in the city within the next couple of years.

"What we're toying with is whether it's big-format stores or smaller micro-stores."

SBS, which reported a net surplus of $19.4 million for the year to March, is looking to capitalise on the point of difference offered by its mutually-owned structure.

"We want to emphasise that we're a member organisation - everything we do is designed to deliver member benefit," Evans says. "What we hope to do in the years to come is actually have people wanting to join us because we're a mutual organisation, we're New Zealand-owned and we have their best interests at heart."

The bank's loan book rose 14 per cent in the six months to September 30 to $2.7 billion. Evans says SBS aims to pass "dividends" to members through offering higher rates on investments and lower rates on loans.

It's a different approach to that taken by Wellington-based The Co-operative Bank, which shares profits with its growing "customer shareholder" base through annual rebates.

"They [Co-op] have actually taken a co-operative structure very much like our own and started to behave like a listed entity," Evans says. "That's something they're happy with, but for us we're taking a different tack."

Invercargill-born Evans first joined SBS as an insurance clerk in 1984 after leaving high school. He worked at the bank by day, while studying towards his commerce degree extramurally in the evenings.

Evans moved through a range of roles in his first, nine-year stint with SBS, ending up as assistant accountant, where he designed the banking system the lender still uses today.

He then took up a business analyst role with the local health board, before going back into finance as ANZ's Southland district manager. Evans ended up as head of marketing, a role he left in 1998 to become chief executive of GE Money.

His path back to SBS was provided by Finance Now, a joint venture with the bank he co-founded in 2000. He was Finance Now's chief executive before being appointed to the helm of SBS in 2014, where he replaced long-serving former CEO Ross Smith.

Outside of swimming and banking, Evans has four sons, aged from 14 up to 24, with wife Nicola.

"If you think about life's achievements, something I'm immensely proud of is my boys - they're resilient, self-reliant, intelligent and articulate people who engage with people quite readily," he says. "I think I've done my job."

Wayne Evans

Role: CEO of SBS Bank

Age: 49

Education: Commerce degree in accounting, University of Otago; post graduate diploma (with distinction) in psychology, Massey University

Family: Four sons, aged 14 to 24, with wife Nicola

- NZ Herald

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