Westpac focus on reluctant clients

Westpac is pushing ahead with its controversial plan to draw on its wide range of brands to target customers who don't want to bank with one of the majors.

Westpac is pushing ahead with its controversial plan to draw on its wide range of brands to target customers who don't want to bank with one of the majors.

With credit growth slowing, Westpac's strategy of promoting a large number of brands has drawn criticism from some analysts, who say it risks being inefficient and expensive. The strategy is also opposed by credit unions, who argue it hurts competition.

But the head of the Australian Financial Services division, Brian Hartzer, defended the "multi-brand" approach, saying it was a key plank of its plan for growth in a slower environment.

In his first analyst briefing since starting at the bank last year, Mr Hartzer said its stable of brands including St George, Bank SA, Bank of Melbourne, and RAMS played a key role in the bank's response to a "challenging" external market.

"We know from research that there's a good chunk of the population that for whatever reason doesn't want to bank with a big bank," he said. "Our view is by having [alternative] brands ... we're able to put an offer in front of a bigger portion of the potential profit pool than we would if we were limited to just the one brand."

Mr Hartzer, a former head of ANZ's retail bank who has been tipped as a likely successor to chief executive Gail Kelly, said the bank was defining each of its brands so they did not compete with other Westpac offerings.

"The trick is to make sure that as much as possible those brands are complementing each other rather than just competing head to head with each other," he said.

Mr Hartzer said Bank of Melbourne, which Westpac launched to expand its presence in Victoria, was proof the strategy was paying off. In the year to December, he said, Bank of Melbourne's deposits had grown at more than four times the pace of the market, while credit had grown at twice industry pace.

The St George franchise was also targeting business lending - it has a market share of 8 per cent, compared with the bank's consumer market share of 12 per cent.

Mr Hartzer also said the bank would continue to chase customer deposits aggressively.

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