SERVICE is the lifeblood of non-bank financial institutions, says Home Building Society general manager Jim Freemantle.“Service is probably the single greatest distinguishing factor we have,” Mr Freemantle said.“There has been a steady decline in personal contact from the bigger institutions. That opens the door for smaller institutions such as ours.”Mr Freemantle said one way that Home had been pushing its service was through encouraging people to come into its branches.He said banks’ charging of over-the-counter fees and removingmanagers from many branches were a disincentive for customers.“We have managers in our branches that can make actual decisions on the spot,” Mr Freemantle said.“In terms of abstract service, the availability of Internet and phone banking service is important in terms of the convenience factor but it is no substitute for personal service.“There is a perception that those are replacements for service. It may be tough but it is there.”While Home prefers to rely on personal service, it also offers phone and Internet banking services because there is a demand for them.Mr Freemantle said call centres were another thing alienatingcustomers.“There is a real perception out there that call centres are just a substitute for real service.”Health Services Credit Union general manager Brian McNamara agreed commitment to customer service was the main differentiator between banks and NBFIs.“There is a lot of product similarity when you compare us to the banks so it’s the way we deal with people that makes the difference,” Mr McNamara said.“We don’t just treat them as numbers – and that’s not just a throwaway line.“We rely heavily on repeat business. If you are doing something wrong, word gets around quickly.“Conversely, if you are doing something right, people hear about it. We try to generate new business within our existing membership.”Mr McNamara said NBFIs provided more personalised financial advice than banks.“At every available opportunity, we try to educate members on how to handle their money better,” he said.“We advise them to be frugal wherever possible and encourage them to seek our help if in trouble.“This allows us to nip the problem in the bud rather than waiting until it gets out of hand,” he said.
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