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A point of difference

AUSTRALIAN businesses are renowned for being unhappy with their banks but not doing much about it.

This reflects “the uncertainty of switching providers and the potential costs associated with that switch”, according to research by the Small Business Development Corporation.

It also reflects a perception that all banks are the same and that a long-term relationship makes it easier to access debt, according to Macquarie Equities.

The ‘sameness’ argument is understandable, especially as all banks have moved towards centralised processing and management of their small business customers.

Loanscorp manager David Stannard-Brown believes this has contributed to a breakdown of the traditional relationship between bank managers and their small business customers.

Despite the broad similarities, there can still be differences between the service levels, products and prices offered by the big banks.

BankWest has made a concerted effort to differentiate itself since last year’s launch of its Business Express service.

A notable initiative was the commitment by BankWest managers to stay in the same job for at least two years, so they achieve some continuity in their customer dealings.

“Every time they [customers] call BankWest Business Express they will speak to the same person, rather than an anonymous call centre person,” BankWest Business Express director Gary Johnson said.

“No other bank in Australia is offering this pledge.”

The Commonwealth Bank has taken a different tack in its effort to achieve greater continuity in its customer relationships.

Guy Burdon, general manager Business Banking WA, said the Commonwealth had introduced a remuneration structure that rewarded managers who performed well in their existing position.

Another trend among the banks is for managers to specialise in specific industries.

BankWest, for instance, has established a national healthcare banking unit.

ANZ has targeted the franchising industry, with a team of specialist franchising managers and a franchise business loan.

ANZ’s risk assessment takes account of the track record of the relevant franchise system, meaning borrowers qualify for a lower interest rate than would normally apply to a start-up business.

Mr Burdon said new products introduced by banks were quickly matched by their competitors.

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