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Customer focus key to assisting business growth

By S V Venkataraman

Friday 6th October 2000

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PHIL DOAK: Services designed to work through most corporate firewalls
Sophisticated computer technology may have ushered in an era of speed to banking but many complain it has lost the personal touch.

Bankers who read the indicators and forecast emerging trends will obviously be in a better position to structure products and services to match the changing needs.

"Those changes are the same issues as those facing our customers. The increasing impact of globalisation, technology and increased competition mean that all businesses are becoming increasingly customer focused and banks are no exception," says Paul Clark, of Bank of New Zealand.

"The success of the bank in the business market [almost four of every 10 business customers bank with BNZ] has been driven by our customer orientation. This is something we have been focused on for a considerable period of time and during the past five years in particular," he says.

As a part of the National Australia Group, BNZ has the benefit of quick access to a critical mass, which in turn permits it to seek and develop new solutions that can be adapted to local conditions.

Mr Clark said the ability of the bank to simplify the use of sophisticated financial instruments, including interest rate and currency risk-management products, was indicative of such benefits.

"We believe we are dynamic in trade finance. We worked in partnership with Trade New Zealand and the government as they investigated the need for a government-sponsored export credit- guaranteed scheme.

"That investigation, together with our own market research, resulted in the launch of TradeCare, a trade-credit insurance product in partnership with HIH Casualty and General Insurance in June.

"Appropriate trade finance solutions are dependent on the customer's appetite for risk. The BNZ approach is about identifying and differentiating between credit, performance and currency risk and helping customers understand the options for managing these risks," Mr Clark said.

Most banks offer online services - internet banking - but this has raised security issues. ASB Bank's chief manager, electronic banking and cards, Matthew Bartlett, said: "While awareness to the online services grows, customers will realise the ease and comfort with which they could transact almost all types of normal banking transactions sitting in the comfort of their own offices or homes.

"A few minutes in front of the computer would enable them to know their account balance, transfer funds between accounts, pay most bills and so on.

"Our service [Fastnet] was launched in July 1997. We have seen its base double roughly six monthly over the last year, with total users for internet banking, ASB Securities [sharebroking] and BankDirect in excess of 80,000."

BNZ's Mr Clark said the internet was a major driver of change in business practices. "The banking industry has a pivotal role to play in this as suppliers of both payment mechanisms and credit enhancement or payment guarantee functions.

"That's major within the corporate market. We see the opportunities that are part of this new horizon and, quite simply, we are embracing them," he said.

At WestpacTrust, Phil Doak, general manager online services, said: "Our online banking is primarily used by personal customers but we have designed our service to be able to work through most corporate firewalls.

"The bank has 50,000 registered users. We believe it will be increasingly popular for small- and medium-sized businesses as we offer greater functionality.

"Enhancements planned for this year that will particularly suit business include grouped bill payments and downloads to common money management software."

Companies would expect more tailored online banking solutions to meet their complex banking, transactional and accounting needs.

"WestpacTrust is the largest player in the transactional, card services and remittance processing businesses and we believe this puts us in a strong position as larger businesses and corporates will increasingly want to integrate these services with their internet services, as well as the ability to trade and exchange value online," he said.

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