BankWest acts on its research

DISENCHANTMENT with the service, resentment at the fees, laments about never being heard. Research into banks and their customers often ends up as an exposé of the grief felt by customers, repeated by commentators and felt by employees.

But rarely is the same research spoken of in the same way by the institutions themselves.

This week, however, BankWest delivered the rhetoric of customers and social commentators, launching a national service for those “whose needs have been ignored for far too long”.

In a marketing move directed straight at small business, BankWest has launched a fee-free cheque account and direct manager access service through its BankWest Business Express division.

BankWest Business Solutions chief executive Peter Jackson said the bank had listened to the complaints concerning the multitude of fees and lack of personal service for small business accounts and decided the small-to-medium business sector was an opportunity.

The opportunity lay not only in chasing the market of the larger banks, but also afforded BankWest a chance to brand itself in the national mainstream market.

While BankWest has 20 per cent of the small business market share in WA, there are 1.2 million small businesses in Australia, and only 10 per cent of these are in WA.

In differentiating itself with products such as the fee-free small business service, BankWest would be able to position itself as a viable competitor, Mr Jackson said.

In particular, BankWest had listened to those who said: “In the old days we had bank managers who knew us and who knew our track record, but now we never talk to the same person, or we just talk to a machine and there’s no-one who understands the business we’re in”.

Mr Jackson said BankWest realised the solution was not complicated and looked at small business custom banking models tried in North America and the United Kingdom.

Over the past five months, BankWest had conducted a pilot program with 1,000 businesses in three Australian States, one that confirmed BankWest was right in what it thought the market was asking for right now.

The trial had not only bolstered the confidence BankWest had from the start, Mr Jackson said, but also delivered a better-than-expected risk outlook.

BankWest has now established a 40-strong mobile banking manager system in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, and expects to grow this to 100 during the year.

Mr Jackson verified the small business initiative and BankWest’s open recognition of the sector’s “great unhappiness” with banks signified a new provocative approach.

During the past 12 months, BankWest has established regional business banking centres in Orange, Dubbo, Tamworth and Wagga.


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