As companies feel the squeeze on profits, it's jobs that will get squeezed out. Leonie Lamont and Stuart Washington report.
Last week Suncorp's about-to-retire chairman John Story and chief executive Patrick Snowball walked unhampered through a group of protesters outside the company's annual meeting in Brisbane.
Perhaps no one wanted to confront Snowball, who still has the physical presence and bearing forged during more than 20 years with the British military.
''I found it unusual no one in the group recognised the chairman or the CEO,'' remarked Story, as he played down a shareholder's query about a pamphlet he'd been handed warning of the offshoring of jobs.
Snowball took the query from the floor, telling shareholders ''we have to look at the best place to do different jobs''.
He reminded them Suncorp was about to commit to a new $300 million processing centre in Brisbane, which would house 5000 Suncorp staff in the CBD.
''I know there's been a certain amount of speculation about the numbers [in the offshoring strategy] and quite frankly that is something we have a dialogue with all our people,'' he said.
''So yes, we are looking at it, [but] we are very sensitive to the customer face and the interface.''
For the Finance Sector Union, Suncorp is one of a growing list of banks and insurers trimming costs, either by a stealthy pattern of white-collar redundancies, wage freezes or shipping jobs offshore.
Geoff Derrick, secretary of the union's NSW and ACT branch, told Weekend Business that 1000 jobs were in the firing line at Suncorp, ''and there's potential for more''. He identified World Network Services and Genpact, business process outsourcing companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, which were ''trawling over [Suncorp] jobs … it's predominantly the back office areas, finance department, settlement department''.
Suncorp is Queensland's biggest company, the country's largest general insurer, with its NSW presence centred on GIO.
According to Derrick, the 5000 Suncorp jobs in NSW are more vulnerable because the Queensland government guarded parts of the local operations from job losses when it privatised it 15 years ago.
Suncorp spokesman Jamin Smith rejected the figure of 1000 jobs. ''We don't know what the ultimate outcome will be and the FSU sure as hell don't know.''
He said Genpact and WNS were examining back-office operations, duplication, technology and greater use of automation.
When asked whether NSW jobs were vulnerable, he rejected the union's argument. ''We are looking at all areas of the back office and it's not geographic specific.''
The pressure on financial services firms to cut jobs comes down to cold, hard cash for shareholders, if you listen to the banking analysts.