Gail Kelly either has extraordinary self-confidence, is starting to plan for her retirement as Westpac chief executive or, more likely, both. The return of former ANZ banker Brian Hartzer to Australia fundamentally changes the dynamics at the most senior level at Westpac.
Hartzer, who is currently chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland's retail and wealth management businesses in the UK, was John McFarlane's preferred successor at ANZ but missed out, partly because of his relative youth and the brevity of his hands-on bank management experience – the former consultant on banking strategy was only 40 in 2008 when ANZ elected to appoint the vastly more experienced Mike Smith to spearhead its drive into Asia.
The very personable Hartzer, who shared McFarlane's preference for a 'soft' management culture, found it difficult to adapt to the far tougher and more demanding culture Smith imposed. McFarlane had joined the RBS board in 2008 when RBS was reeling in the immediate aftermath of the eruption of the global financial crisis. His protégé Hartzer was recruited by RBS the next year.
An American by birth, Hartzer is an Australian citizen and retained his citizenship despite the move to the UK. Nevertheless, it is improbable that he would have returned and relinquished such a senior and powerful role in one of the UK's biggest banks unless he believed there was a realistic opportunity to end up with a chief executive role.
While there has been considerable speculation about Kelly's future, Westpac has been performing well in an increasingly tough banking environment and neither she nor her chairman, Ted Evans, have provided any indication of an imminent change. Indeed, quite the opposite.
With Hartzer having to work out his notice period with RBS he won't take up his new role as head of the Australian financial services division until sometime well into next year in any event, and he will then have to put his stamp on the aggregated Australian financial services business before any further move could be considered.
That would suggest Kelly isn't going anywhere any time soon, but Westpac now has in place a very clear succession plan for when she does.
The first casualty of Hartzer's signing is Rob Coombe, currently head of Westpac's retail and business banking, who will leave the group. Coombe had been seen as a potential successor to Kelly. The new head of retail and business banking, Jason Yetton, will report to Hartzer.
That the creation of the Australian financial services division – essentially all Westpac's banking and wealth management units in Australia – will report to Hartzer once he arrives is a major structural change. Kelly has also created another new division to group all Westpac's service functions. It will be headed by the group's newly-appointed chief operating officer, John Arthur.
The changes create, on paper, a simpler structure for the group to pursue Kelly's new agenda. Having completed the integration of St George she wants to develop deeper relationships with customers, to promote more cross-selling, and to get more costs out by simplifying and standardising the processes within the multi-brand portfolio and by better exploiting its regional brands strategies.
*This article initially appeared on Business Spectator