Finance is not just bookkeeping


7 minute read

Rod Jackson



Having personally experienced the world of Finance evolve from simply bookkeeping to a strategic toolset, Westpac International’s CFO Rod Jackson reflects on his 40-year career. 

Ranging from his humble beginnings to the challenging days of 2008 GFC, Rod shares his toughest challenges and excitement for aspiring entrepreneurs.




Q. From your experience in Finance, could you identify the most significant change to world of Finance?

Finance was regarded as the bookkeeper or scorekeeper profession, where at the end of the month Finance departments generated reports and figures. However, Finance has evolved enormously from that perception and technology has been at the forefront of that change. Automating the world of Finance, technology has significantly enhanced the timeliness and quality of Finance today. Providing several capabilities, where bookkeeping is a baseline, Finance has become a business advisor to companies. Finance is more actively involved in developing, integrating and strategising businesses. Contrary to its earlier perception, it is now a broader brief. Both typically and naturally, Finance has become the sweeper for companies today.

Q. From managing Finance, risks and people, what would you regard as the toughest challenge that has enhanced your learning curve?

In my 40 years of experience, I have witnessed and experienced several macro-economic cycles that have affected numerous businesses. Cycles such as the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the Australian recession that brought Westpac to its knees and even the Bird Flu. However, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the 2015-16 Commodity Collapse are two of the obvious and toughest challenges from the lot. Both those scenarios collectively tested leadership and companies’ mindsets.

Leading up to those points of history, there was rapid growth. Companies were set up to ‘grow-grow-grow’. And suddenly there were external shocks and businesses went down. Finance teams then, behind their Chief Financial Officers, would have to step up to the occasion and reset the goals of productivity agendas. Companies were compelled to shift their mentalities from growth to consolidation.

At those junctures, leadership in the affected companies was tested. As leaders had to bring their Business and Finance teams together to understand the problems and collectively solve it. This was a challenge for most businesses, since these economic cycles tested leaders in how they brought their teams together and kept aside their vested interests.

Even in the late 1970s ANU was a very international university...My ANU experience at ANU really expanded my horizon and opened my eyes to the world.

Q. How crucial is global experience to drive outcomes nowadays compared to the previous decades?

This is a vital criterion nowadays. The world is very connected because of the changes in technology. Moreover, this has significantly affected businesses. Since there are on-demand video conferences and instant communications. Unlike the previous decades there is immediate action, including in the world of Finance. Because of the interconnected nature of the world businesses needs to be connected globally or else they could be caught out badly.

The world is very mobile and so are its professionals, who are connected with the world by travelling. It is important to have that experience because professionals need to understand the cultural nuances. While diversity is in abundance, be it in Singapore, Australia or at ANU, it is still important to travel to gain more worldly experience that aids in delivering outcomes.

Q. Singapore desires to be the world’s first ‘Smart Nation’. What implications do you think this will have on being one of the world’s best business hubs?

The Singapore government is very progressive with a long-term outlook. Their ambition of being the world’s first smart nation is helping them attain new heights. The government is very supportive and provides abundant incentives to boost its businesses and trade. Accordingly, the city-state has risen to this challenge and has seemingly established itself as a leading business hub. Singapore puts a lot of effort, money and incentive to support its various sectors to develop. For banks, including Westpac, this is an exciting journey, as Singapore is pro-actively promoting tech-enabled entrepreneurship. This has given Westpac an opportunity to develop its own corporate labs, where we are collaborating with various think tanks and start-ups and offering them space to develop their ideas.

Singapore has also broadly enabled future travel, where it has integrated transportation with business locations. Public transport, driverless cars and the fifth terminal at the international airport, this is a whole revolution. What Singapore also efficiently, encouragingly does, is supports small businesses as it recognises that small businesses are the future. This has been the city-state’s mantra and its works, where it develops and supports ideas.

Q. After graduating from ANU with a degree in Economics, you have travelled the world in various capacities. In what ways do you feel your experience at ANU can be linked to your success as a Chief Financial Officer?

There is no doubt that my experience can be linked to my success. I grew up on a dairy farm in Victoria and was fortunate to go to ANU. I learnt many things from my time at ANU. While I did a double degree in Economics and Accounting, which laid the foundations for my future in Banking and Finance, ANU gave me an international experience. Even in the late 1970s, when I was studying at ANU, it was still a very international university with many students from overseas. My experience at ANU really expanded my horizon and opened my eyes to the world. In fact, ANU had sparked my interest in an international career. 

Rod Jackson will be speaking at an event in Singapore on 18 June, 2019. Click here for more details.  

The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs in Economics. Click here for more details.