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Bank branches make a come-back

Bank branches make a come-back

The return of the bank branch to the landscape of New Zealand financial institutions was one of the features of the banking and finance sector during 2002 according to KPMG’s annual banking and finance survey.

Releasing the annual KPMG Financial Institutions Performance Survey, the firm’s Banking and Finance Group Chairman Andrew Dinsdale said the number of branches in New Zealand had increased for the first time in the survey’s 17 year history.

“The expansion can almost entirely be attributed to the newcomer Kiwibank commencing the roll-out of its retail branch network in February 2002. From February through to December, Kiwibank opened 279 outlets.

“By April of this year, they had 310 branches nation-wide and had been joined by Superbank which began opening ‘branches’ in February of this year. By the end of April, Superbank had access to the vast majority of New Zealanders through its 474 ‘branches’.

“In 2002, the total number of bank branches increased by 272 or 32 percent compared to a decrease of 15 branches or two percent in 2001. Those numbers will certainly increase again in the current year.

By contrast, Mr Dinsdale said: “the fact that AMP was unable to record a profit after four years of trading has cast serious doubt on the viability of virtual banking and the argument that virtual banking enjoyed significant cost advantages over the more traditional, branch-based model.

“While technology-based channels may be more effective in meeting customers’ routine transactional banking needs, there appears to be an increasingly high value placed on quality financial advice and personal service,” he said.

Mr Dinsdale noted that ANZ has also announced a possible branch expansion on the basis that customers still want “face-to-face”, human service. He said that for banks to differentiate themselves from their competition, they are becoming increasingly innovative in the way they use their branch premises.
“For example, branches are now changing their opening hours to incorporate evenings and weekends to suit the needs of customers. Banks no longer see their branch network in isolation but as part of a broader distribution strategy whereby traditional and electronic distribution channels are packaged to meet varying customer needs.”

Paradoxically, while branches have burgeoned, staff numbers for registered banks decreased – by 597 or 2.7 percent. However these numbers were distorted by the sale of AGC Finance by Westpac and the fact that Kiwibank branch staff are not employed by the bank itself.

While the survey notes that the institution of the branch is on the way back, it says another is seemingly on the way out. Mr Dinsdale said cheques are becoming increasingly hard to use.

“Many retailers now refuse to accept them due to the uneconomic cost of processing and recognition that other methods of payment are safer.”

He said that while banks do not have any public plans to phase them out, it will ultimately occur.

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