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National Bank customers walk in face of ANZ bid

By Jock Anderson

Friday 5th September 2003

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The National Bank yesterday played down a claim it was suffering an exodus of business customers fleeing the prospect of being bought by ANZ Bank.

A well-placed Auckland commercial lawyer, quoting a senior National Bank source, said business customers had started taking their business elsewhere rather than have to deal with ANZ as the bank's possible new owner.

The lawyer, who asked not to be named, said business customers ­ including some who had previous dealings with ANZ ­ did not want a repeat of their bad experiences.

The lawyer said one deserting customer's business was worth $2 million a year to the National Bank, which British-based owner Lloyds TSB has on the market for $6 billion.

"ANZ has a poor management culture and does not have a good name for looking after its customers. There are fears that if ANZ succeeds in its bid for the National Bank, poor management will be imported," the lawyer said.

A banking analyst, who asked not to be named, said he would be surprised if customers left the National Bank before knowing who its new owner was.

"I doubt if a large corporate customer on the whim of a potential acquisition by ANZ or Westpac would pick up their toys and go," the analyst said.

"Ultimately the cultures could be important at the National Bank compared to ANZ or Westpac but there's not going to be change overnight. Long-term there is a risk some big customers might move but I don't see that happening now."

National Bank media communications manager Cynthia Brophy doubted whether the customer "desertion" claim was correct.

"If there is an exodus I haven't heard of it and I would have," Ms Brophy said.

Banking sources consider the ANZ has the best chance, of Australian bidders, of acquiring the National Bank.

Applications for clearance to buy the bank are being considered by the Commerce Commission.

ANZ consistently ranks in customer satisfaction surveys as the most, or one of the most, unpopular banks, while the stronger branded National Bank rates highly.

ANZ, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, HSBC and wildcard Waikato-based businessman and accountant Phil Verry and son Martin's Black Horse Holdings are all known bidders for the National Bank.

The National Business Review reported sources saying in August the ANZ name could disappear if its purchase was successful.

Act New Zealand associate commerce spokesman Stephen Franks this week attacked the likely sale of the bank to Australia as another Qantas/Air New Zealand deal, targeting Australia's Banking Act, which requires Australian depositors to be paid out first in the event of a bank collapse.

He said Act New Zealand opposed the National Bank sale until New Zealand customers had equal footing with their Australian counterparts.

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