Our current graduates embark on a structured learning program that exposes them to different facets of our business. From business unit rotations to one-on-one mentoring with agribusiness specialists, the graduate program aims to provide real work experience to talented graduates who want to join us in supporting and enabling farmers to build vibrant businesses across Australia.
Meet our graduates and read about their experiences as part of the Ag Achievers graduate program:
- Joe Boyle
- Nathan Stark
- Daniel Toohey
- Brittany Bickford
- Anthea Healy
- Benjamin Gebert
- David Swain
- Joshua Thunig
- Michael Curtis
It’s been a very quick six weeks, but (I think) I’ve found my feet here at Rural Bank. How I got here, though, is a different story.
Growing up in the Riverland of South Australia, I’ve been surrounded by agriculture most of my life. When a career as an engineer didn’t appeal to me after completing my mechanical engineering degree, I decided to see what my other options were.
I knew I was looking for a graduate program, as this provides a great opportunity to get started in your career. After a lot of searching, I discovered the Ag Achievers program at Rural Bank. Initially, I just assumed I’d clicked the wrong field in my job search: why would a bank want an engineering graduate? However, a quick check showed the program took graduates from a huge range of fields, engineering included – so I read on.
The focus on agriculture really resonated with me, and the more I researched the more great things I found. Between the flexibility to tailor the program to suit my needs, the opportunity to work across so many areas of the business, and the community involvement activities run by the Bank, I figured, why not give it a shot?
While you always focus on giving the best first impression to a potential employer, it’s so important to consider the first impressions they give to you. The people at Rural Bank are what really make it stand out, and from the first email I received after I applied for the program, to an assessment centre that felt completely relaxed (trust me, that didn’t happen anywhere else) I was immediately struck by how friendly everyone was. After six weeks I can safely say that’s just what it’s like here.
If you’re reading this and thinking about the graduate program, no matter what your background is, just apply. You really do have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Six weeks seems to have flown by so fast, but that’s how long it’s been since our first week induction with the bank. From that point on I’ve felt so welcomed by the business that it’s hard to believe I have only been a part of it for such a short time!
I came to Rural Bank from an agricultural background in South Australia. After leaving school, I worked for Elders and other companies in various roles before deciding that university would be a good way of broadening the opportunities available to me. So, as a mature aged student, I made my way to the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy Campus and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Animal Science.
On completion of my degree I found myself at a bit of a cross roads, I knew a lot of the things I liked or didn’t like in a job, but I still had no career path. Luckily, I stumbled across the advertisement for the Rural Bank program a couple of days before it closed.
I already knew of Rural Bank from my time at Elders, but a bit more research showed me that the business aligned with so many of my personal values. Not only by being Australia’s only Australian owned and operated agribusiness bank, but by advocating for more women in ag, supporting local communities and assisting in such a fundamental way to drive the future of Australian agriculture.
The recruitment process only reinforced the idea that Rural Bank was somewhere I wanted to be. I’ve had a few interviews in my time and I can safely say that the interview and assessment centre with Rural Bank has been the nicest I’ve experienced. If I hadn’t already been convinced this role was for me, that would have sold me.
My first rotation has seen me in the credit department, which has given me a good introduction to the foundation of our business. As I write this, I am sitting in an Elders branch where some of our sales force operate. I’ve just spent a week here seeing how the information I’ve been reviewing in credit is collated and how our people operate in the field. This has demonstrated just how important our relationships to our clients are.
I’m very excited about the next 18 months, and the opportunity to test out so many areas within the business. There are so many more directions to explore than I realised, and I can’t wait to see where the program will take me.
A new routine
I joined the 2018 graduate cohort after studying a Bachelor of Law (Hons) at the Queensland University of Technology. Having grown up farming and working in the agricultural industry for most of my life, I wanted to continue to pursue a career within the industry I’m passionate about. As the only 100 per cent Australian owned dedicated agri-business bank, Rural Bank was a logical choice where I could leverage my practical experience and university education to assist Australian farmers and our regional communities.
The best part about being an Ag Achievers graduate is the diversity I get to experience in my day-to-day role. Rural Bank supports everything from hobby farmers up to family corporates, meaning everything I do is always different – from gearing up a client with some new equipment for harvest or to improve farm efficiencies, to supporting business expansion with the purchase of a new property – the work is always different.
One of the highlights so far has been attending the ‘Go to Market’ meeting held down in the Riverina region. At the meeting I met most of the Sales team from New South Wales and Queensland and learned about the sales strategy for the upcoming year. We also managed to fit in a couple of farm visits, which included visiting cotton, wine grapes, pistachio, and peach enterprises. This was a good opportunity to understand the job of the front-line staff and gain an insight into our customers and the various commodities they produce.
Back in the office I’ve spent the bulk of my time working alongside credit managers and one of our internal valuers. Coming from a non-numbers background, wrapping my head around financial statements and cashflows during the process of assessing credit applications has been a good challenge. I’ve also really enjoyed learning about valuation theory and the broader agricultural economic concepts that make up a sound valuation, which effectively influences the cost of capital to the bank.
I think the goal of the Ag Achievers program is to find out where you (or I in this case) fit best in the bank. Not only is this best for the bank, it’s best for our clients – which is what makes this job feel like much more than just a job in banking and finance.
Having grown up on a family farm in the Mallee, agriculture has always been a key interest of mine. Before I was fortunate enough to be offered this position, I studied a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of Melbourne. The economics subjects in this course spiked my interest in this aspect of the industry, and pushed me to apply for Rural Bank’s graduate program. Learning about the support systems that Rural Bank offers to farmers, as well as their connection with the Community Bank network, is what made me feel like the bank was the ideal location for me to start my career.
The first few weeks of the program went by so fast. From travelling to Adelaide to meet the other graduates during inductions, to working with the Ag Answers team back in Bendigo and Melbourne, I feel that I have already gained an understanding of how different parts of the bank work. The inductions were great, as they gave me a snapshot of how each individual area of the bank interacts with each other, and how important each link of the lending value chain is to the success of the bank.
The next few weeks will be spent working with the valuations team, where I will be involved in assisting with internal property appraisals, as well as organising and tracking external valuations.
Throughout the 18 months of the program I plan to keep this blog updated with where I am and what part of the business I am working in. I am really excited to see where this program can take me.
From student to Ag Achievers Graduate
I began my journey in the Ag Achievers Program this year. As a student, I was looking for a graduate program which would give me:
A month into the program and I’ve already been involved in finalising a launch of a first-of-its-kind product, which will help famers achieve their goals. I’ve attended the 2018 Thriving Women in Ag conference to gain greater knowledge about diversity, and educating and promoting young people to become farmers (which can keep community alive in parts of Australia). Even as a graduate you have the chance to make a real difference to people, families, or communities.
Despite being here such a short time I’ve been exposed to several parts of the business:
For the next three months I will be a part of the customer and partner solutions team, working with key internal stakeholders to enhance the customer experience and facilitate business growth by calibrating with our distribution partners.
While a lot has happened in my first month as a graduate, the friendly culture has allowed me to quickly build a great support network and help is always there when I ask for it. I’m already experiencing everything I wanted out of a graduate program so it really excites me on what the future has in store for me at Rural Bank.
If you’re thinking of applying to the program I definitely recommend it and wish you the best of luck.
10 months in...
Wow… where have the months gone? It feels like only yesterday that I finished my head office rotation and began my six month stint with the sales force in Shepparton, Victoria. For most, moving to a new office, starting with a new team and beginning a life in a new town would be somewhat daunting. However it was evident from day one that my colleagues in Shepparton and the North East region are an exceptional team who welcomed me into their lives and communities.
From the get go, I immersed myself into the roles and responsibilities that the Rural Bank sales force carry out on a day to day basis. Although this has been a steep learning curve at times, it’s been exciting, as I’m learning something new nearly every day.
For me though, balance is key. One of the best aspects about the sales rotation thus far has been the variety from one week to the next. From farm visits to property auctions, field days to dairy discussion group meetings: every week provides variety and the opportunity to meet many experienced and genuine people within the Ag industry.
On top of all this, in the last fortnight I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the Vic Nth East sales half yearly meet up in Milawa, Victoria. Here, I caught up with my current team, discussed the year to date and enjoyed a few rounds of bare foot bowls with the crew at the local Milawa bowls club.
Following this I had the opportunity to go to Sydney to meet the NSW and QLD team, who I’ll be working alongside in 2018 when I commence my next sales rotation in Wagga Wagga, NSW. It was a fantastic two days that not only included some great workshops, but it also gave me the opportunity to help coach and facilitate the banks resilience training program for my fellow colleagues which was a truly uplifting experience. And to top it all off, I still found a little opportunity to take in the sights of the big city.
I can’t wait to see what other amazing opportunities are to come and I’m excited to take them all in my stride.
Until next time....
My graduation from the Graduate Program
In the 10 months since my last blog post I have continued to move around the country with the Graduate program, seeing the different offices we have in Rural Bank. Since jetting off to Perth in May 2018, I continued to work as an Agribusiness Relationship Assistant (ARA) until the end of July, after which I flew back home to Victoria to work in the Wodonga office for six weeks while they were short staffed. I then accepted a role in the Swan Hill office that had become available through a maternity leave vacancy, so I commenced my current position as an ARA in mid-September and officially finished my graduate program at this time.
I have loved my time as a graduate for two main reasons. The first is that I got to move to locations around the business and see and live in these mostly rural communities. I now have the record in Rural Bank for the most offices worked in (a total of eight) which is exciting and means I know a lot of the people in the business nationally. Along the way I learnt a lot about different farming systems around the country and how they manage their banking requirements.
The second reason is the way the graduate program allowed me to grow and mature into my working career. Coming fresh from university and entering the workplace was a bit of a challenge at times; it’s fair to say it was a bit of an adjustment from the university lifestyle I had been enjoying for the previous four years. Being part of a program that was specifically designed to help graduates start their working career was fantastic because of the extra support it provided to me, and the opportunities to learn and ask as many questions as I needed to become fully adjusted into the next stage of my life.
Figure 1: A few of my favourite memories of the Ag Achievers Graduate Program
The start of summer
Without a doubt, summer is my favourite time of the year. Christmas and New Year provide the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and family. For many of our clients, harvest was in full swing; long days, late nights and a keen eye on the weather horizon. In my last blog I mentioned how good the Mallee crops were looking. I couldn’t be happier to report that by all accounts, the yields lived up to expectations.
I spent the Christmas period at Rupanyup helping the family with harvest, which is always more enjoyable when you have the rainfall of 2016. Last year was full of new people and new learnings for me, so the routine of harvest was a welcome break, with the exception of a few breakdowns here and there!
I’m moving to Warrnambool at the end of this week to explore the South West region. It is incredible that in 400 kilometres the landscape can change so quickly. From the Murray to the Ocean, I fully intend to enjoy the new scenery and people.
Cereals grow in dairy country too!
The summer months of the year have always meant a handful of key things to me; golden paddocks, >45 degree days and plenty of mozzies. I didn’t expect to experience much of the former two in Gippsland, but knew that I wouldn’t be able to escape the latter. Much to my enjoyment, one of my colleagues and I were invited to trek around the district with one of our sponsored organisations, Southern Farming Systems, to judge their inaugural Crop Challenge. Whilst broadacre cropping in this neck of the woods isn’t overly common, there’s a tight-knit group of passionate, talented cropping farmers who have a real crack nonetheless. Most of the grain grown here is sold locally as feed due to the higher moisture content rendering it unsuitable for bulk storage.
I had a bit of a break over the Christmas period and headed back to the Wimmera Mallee to enjoy the last of the grain harvest there with family. Seasonal conditions have meant phenomenal yields and paddocks full of straw – a welcome change to the years prior.
My tenure in Gippsland has been extended, allowing me to further focus on developing relationships within the region and strengthening my knowledge on the dairy and beef industries. I’m pleased to be spending more time with the Gippsland/Tassie team, and look forward to many exciting developments within the Rural Business over 2017.
What can we learn from Graduate alumni?
I interviewed Mark Hodge and Kate Hemphill who are working as Agribusiness Relationship Managers (ARMs) in Rural Finance’s Shepparton office.
1. When did you start as a graduate
Mark Hodge: I started the graduate program with Rural Finance in April 1999 before the business became part of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group. I was the first to go through a formal graduate program at Rural Finance and have been here since, working in different locations around Victoria. I’m currently located in the North East of Victoria at the Shepparton office.
Kate Hemphill: I joined the organisation as the first group of Ag Achiever Graduates in February 2013. My program was for 18 months and I spent time in Bendigo head office, as well as Shepparton and Swan Hill.
2. What did you enjoy most about your time as a graduate?
MH: I enjoyed the variety of work I was exposed to – at the time, with Rural Finance being government owned, I was involved in the “Land Aggregation Program” after land around Omeo in Victoria’s high country was flooded following successive years of drought. I also spent some time in the old head office in Melbourne doing rotations with the finance, treasury and legal teams where I also got to work with a lender. During this time I also did relief work for lenders in the Horsham, Bendigo, Leongatha and Traralgon offices.
KH: The best part of the Ag Achievers Grad Program was the variety, with the opportunity to spend six months in three different locations. In head office, I did rotations with the different parts of the organisation, including working on a project I presented to the Board. I worked with lenders in Shepparton and Swan Hill and was on farm more days than not. The highlight of Shepparton was working on the Farm Finance Scheme where I learnt a lot about maintaining client relationships and communicating effectively with the customer. I was in the Wimmera Mallee for sowing time and had never been exposed to the scale of farms, having come from the Goulburn Valley – some client visits we had were spent sowing the crop with the client in the tractor.
3. What roles have you held since and describe your current role?
MH: I took on a lending role as an ARM in Shepparton after completing the graduate program (Please refer to David Swain’s blog “Around the town” to learn about what an ARM does with Rural Finance). I then spent some time doing a similar role in Warrnambool and Colac before returning to Shepparton where I am currently based.
KH: I graduated from the Ag Achiever Graduate Program working as a lending assistant to Mark Hodge and another lender in the Shepparton office for 6 months. I moved into an ARM position in Shepparton in early 2015 and now manage my own portfolio of clients. I’m really enjoying working with my customers and becoming an integral part of their business.
4. How did your time as a graduate help you progress to where you are now?
MH: As part of the graduate program, I was introduced to diverse agricultural practices in different regions of Victoria. I was also exposed to the different facets of the organisation through my rotations in head office and roles in the regional offices. This has proven to be really beneficial for me in working with the customer, understanding the resources of the organisation that are available to me, that will assist their business and help to develop the client relationship going forward.
KH: The Ag Achiever Graduate Program significantly assisted me with enhancing my organisation skills leading into the ARM role I am currently working in. I worked with colleagues in valuations, loans administration and credit which assisted with prioritising work flow management to ensure I maintain a good relationship with my clients. The best thing about the Bendigo rotation in head office is getting to know everybody so there is someone to call if I need assistance.
Risk, put simply, is the effect of uncertainty on objectives; and for banks, risk is unavoidable.
It’s how banks do business.
So understanding risks and applying appropriate controls is the best way to keep the business running efficiently. Trying to avoid all risk just isn’t possible and is actually counter-productive!
Following an 11 month stint in the Credit team, my next rotation took me to the Operational Risk team. It was great to start in a new area of the business, an area that was of particular interest to me. Operational Risk focusses on ensuring the business has the appropriate safeguards in place against any adverse risks that could happen. For example, Rural Bank has developed plans for when a natural disaster affects our ability to service customers. By doing this sort of work before the actual event happens, the Bank helps to lower the chance of disruption to the customer’s banking needs./p>
So far, I have been tasked with researching potential data risks that exist in the business, helping facilitate business unit risk meetings where we identify and document risks, conduct daily fraud checks, and assist in reviewing policies. And while it might sound dry as you read it, and at times it can be, I am finding the work rewarding and quite enjoyable!
During these past 12 months I have looked at loan applications, improved the bank’s Hindsight Review process, provided market analysis for Relationship Managers, managed valuation requests, and so much more.
Doing risk tasks is very much a group effort, you’re relying on subject matter experts, Risk Business Partners and execs for guidance and specific information about how their business unit operates. Working in team environments really resonates with me, it’s a great way to see different perspectives and helps you to understand why people do what they do.
My Risk rotation continues until late May.
Interview with past graduate Greg Kuchel.
1. When did you start as a graduate?
2. What did you enjoy most about your time as a graduate?
3. What roles have you held since and describe your current role?
4. How did your time as a graduate help you progress to where you are now?