Editorial: BankWest vote no shock

THIS week’s vote by BankWest shareholders to agree to a takeover by UK-based HBOS should come as no surprise.

Faced with the prospect of the bank becoming a lame duck with a parent that might refuse to invest, shareholders had little choice.

I should at this stage declare a beneficial interest in BankWest, a parcel of shares held on to since the float.

I would also like to note the fact that the Scots from HBOS have inherited Western Australia’s best brand, as voted by the advertising industry.

To me the takeover of BankWest is a thorough disappointment. Not because of this week’s vote but because the bank failed to carve out a big enough niche in Australian financial services to be considered a success by the Scots that took the majority stake when the WA Government, quite rightly, decided to dispose of the old R&I.

That failure is more about the nature of the market than any real missed opportunities by management.

There simply isn’t a role for a major Australian bank operating out of Perth, at least not one without the will of a big owner behind it.

Of course, the big owner was there. But without full ownership, it really is hard to get full commitment.

BankWest has succeeded in its home territory in the basic retail-banking world but outside that it appears to have struggled to lead the market in traditional or new areas.

Business banking is tougher and much less brand related. Even specialist areas such as BankWest’s foray into interstate mining and wine were not without the odd disaster, even though these were industries that it should know well.

And some other, more innovative, schemes – such as the teaming up of pharmacies – went nowhere.

So it tried, and failed.

The best question now is what will the Scots do?

There is no doubt that, from a WA point of view, the HBOS takeover is preferable to BankWest’s consumption by one of the Australian banking majors.

Fingers crossed, the UK institution chooses to make BankWest a platform for a well-backed push into Australia. We might then have lost any notion of sovereign control but at least the Australian-based decision makers for the bank will remain here rather than Sydney.

In the long run, it simply shows the tide cannot be stopped – and yet another WA institution falls into hands controlled from elsewhere.

Which one will be next?

Brand endures

AND still on BankWest. As I mentioned it has won the title of top WA brand for the second year in a row.

The survey asks the advertising industry to rank the State’s top brands.

It is a fascinating process and we are already seeing movement within the brand selections.

Naturally, most of these names are those that seek a public profile as a way of driving business.

However, something did catch my eye at the recent Sheraton Wine Awards where the hotel made me aware of the development of another big WA brand – one that doesn’t rate in our survey because it doesn’t really aim at consumers.

Apart from the innovative chef-cam which showed diners the food being prepared for their meal on the big screens, the awards night crowd was also offered a bit of nostalgia with pictures of the construction of the Sheraton which is celebrating its 30th year.

Featured strikingly in the photographs of what was then to be Perth’s tallest tower at 23 storeys was the big signage of the builder Multiplex.

The banner, in large block capital black letters on a white background was exactly as you’d see it today on many construction sites in Perth, Australia and even abroad.

Funny things brands, aren’t they.

Over the horizon

Looking ahead for the next couple of weeks, we have a number of big issues on the horizon.

Next week, we have the Engineering Elite survey results, a project we conducted with the WA division of Engineers Australia.

The survey has unearthed some terrific stories and it will be well worth reading.

Also in next week’s paper we hope to bring you a report on a round table panel discussion on State taxes and charges.

This a pressing issue that deserves our attention.

The following week’s edition of WA Business News will feature our annual total shareholder return survey of WA’s listed companies conducted by management consulting firm Trudo.

In that edition we will also have a major expansion of our Trade section to review the major issues facing exporters.


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