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Westpac raises pressure on mall landlords

26 Dec 2012 SYDNEY MORNING HERALD - CAROLYN CUMMINS COMMERCIAL PROPERTY EDITOR



WESTPAC is increasing the pressure on retail landlords to come to the party with some rent relief and flexibility for its new-look branches, or risk losing the bank as a tenant.

Bank branches are some of the many tenants in malls that will undergo significant change in layouts in the next few years. These changes will be driven by department stores, which plan to shrink the floor space, and food outlets, which will expand. To cater for the shifts in demand, landlords are already being flexible with opening hours and shop layouts.

New space is being allocated for pop-up stores and shorter-term leases, and landlords are being flexible on different trading times.

A Westfield representative said discussions with tenants and their needs occurred daily and, where possible, changes could be made.

Under its new plan, Westpac will invest an initial $240 million to upgrade its network of 680 branches across the country.

This will result in branches shrinking from an average of 350 square metres to about 230 sqm as tellers are removed and replaced by open-plan "kiosks" featuring couches and meeting areas.

Automatic teller machines will be upgraded to allow customers to do the bulk of their banking without having to deal with a teller. In these instances the bank is looking for street-frontage access.

In a first phase, Westpac plans to refurbish a third of its existing branches over the next three years in its "Bank Now" format. The rest will be upgraded as leases expire.

According to Westpac's property division, discussions are under way with all landlords, including Westfield, CFS Retail and Stockland, on the new formats. If no solution can be reached the bank could move out of centres to suburban strips.

CFS Retail said malls were conscious of the changing needs of tenants and landlords were trying to accommodate these.

The group executive of Westpac's retail and business banking, Jason Yetton, said the introduction of Bank Now branches was a direct response to customers' needs."

"The advent of mobile banking, first through smartphones and now tablets, has completely altered the way our customers bank with us and as a result they want more advice from our staff about how to get the most out of their finances," Mr Yetton said.