Westpac raises heat on mall landlords
26 Dec 2012 THE AGE - CAROLYN CUMMINS
WESTPAC is increasing pressure on retail landlords to come to the party with rent relief and flexibility for its new-look branches, or risk losing them as tenants.Bank branches are among the many tenants of malls that will be making big changes in layout and shop requirements in the next few years. The changes will be driven by department stores, which plan to reduce floor space, and food outlets, which will expand.To cater for the changes in demand, landlords are already being flexible with opening hours and shop layouts.Space is also being allocated for pop-up shops and shorter leases, as well as for different trading times.A spokesperson for Westfield shopping centres said discussions with tenants and their needs took place daily and, where possible, changes were made.Westpac plans to invest an initial $240 million to upgrade its network of 680 branches throughout the country.Each branch will shrink from an average 350 square metres to about 230 sq m. That is a result of the moving of tellers into open-plan "kiosks" containing couches and meeting areas. Automatic teller machines will be upgraded to allow customers to do most of their banking without speaking to a teller. In these instances the bank is looking for street-frontage access.As an initial step, Westpac is planning to refurbish a third of its branches in the next three years in its "Bank Now" format. The remainder of the network will progressively be upgraded as leases expire.According to Westpac's property managers, discussions are under way with all landlords, including Westfield, CFS Retail and Stockland.If no solution can be reached, the bank branches could move from shopping centres to suburban strips when leases expire.CFS Retail said malls were conscious of the changing needs of tenants and landlords were trying to accommodate them.Jason Yetton, group executive of Westpac retail and business banking, said the introduction of Bank Now branches was a direct response to the technological changes sweeping the banking industry."The advent of mobile banking, first through smartphones and now tablets, has completely altered the way our customers bank with us," Mr Yetton said."As a result, they want more advice from our staff about how to get the most out of their finances and how to plan for the future."