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Wilson, Edward James Gregory (1897–1972)

by D. T. Merrett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Edward James Gregory Wilson (1897-1972), banker, was born on 22 October 1897 at Terang, Victoria, third child of Arthur Edward Wilson, hairdresser, and his wife Mary Jane, née Bran, both Victorian born. Greg spent most of his childhood near Lilydale. Qualifying at a Melbourne business college, he took a job as a junior bank clerk in 1914. Folklore has it that this red-headed youth quarrelled with his general manager and left after a week. He joined the English, Scottish & Australian Bank Ltd, where he worked in the general manager's department from 1917.

At the Methodist Church, Auburn, on 6 September 1922 Wilson married Hazel Janet Feore; they were childless. In 1925 he was promoted to general manager's accountant. He became a fellow (president 1947-55) of the Bankers' Institute of Australasia, and an accredited accountant and company secretary. After some months in London at the head offices of the E.S.& A. and the Westminster Bank Ltd, he was appointed manager of the Royal Bank branch of the E.S.& A., Melbourne, in 1938. He was promoted the E.S.& A.'s chief inspector in 1939 and its general manager in 1946.

Wilson's elevation occurred at a time of deteriorating relations between the banks and the Commonwealth government that culminated in J. B. Chifley's attempt to nationalize the industry through the Banking Act (1947). With (Sir) Leslie McConnan, Wilson was a member of the executive-committee of the Associated Banks (Victoria) which campaigned against the measure until the Federal election in 1949. Having won the war against nationalization, he lost the peace in his dealings with a central bank whose authority he never accepted. In an attempt to build market share and profitability, he engaged in brinkmanship with the authorities by making more loans than his holdings of liquid assets permitted.

Equally bold in handling the E.S.& A.'s internal affairs, Wilson pioneered modern personnel-management practices in Australian banking. E.S.& A. staff, who addressed one another on a first name basis, were better trained and paid than their peers. While all the banks were beginning to mechanize, the E.S.& A. led the way, using a closed-circuit television link to centralize functions in its two largest city branches. The E.S.& A. introduced the country's first drive-in branches, adopted a modern style of architecture for its buildings, and became the first private bank to start a hire purchase business. Wilson's innovations to balance-sheet management, aborted in his own day, anticipated the ingenious 'financial engineering' of the 1980s.

Although Wilson chaired the A.B.V. in 1953, by the following year he was losing the support of his board in London. Its directors had, until then, been largely ignorant of his failure to conform to the dictates of Australia's central bank. Under increasing pressure from without and within, Wilson resigned unexpectedly on the grounds of ill health in May 1955. He had been Australia's most daring and innovative banker of his generation. In his retirement he continued to be involved with Rotary, the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust; for his community service he was appointed C.M.G. (1957). Survived by his wife, he died on 30 June 1972 at Hawthorn and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $36,906.

Select Bibliography

  • A. L. May, The Battle for the Banks (Syd, 1968)
  • D. T. Merrett, ANZ Bank (Syd, 1985)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Oct 1946, p 582, June 1955, p 253
  • ANZ Newslink, Aug 1972.

Citation details

D. T. Merrett, 'Wilson, Edward James Gregory (1897–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-edward-james-gregory-12045/text21609, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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