By Gareth Vaughan
A joint venture between a bank and social networking behemoth Facebook could be a feature of the new banking digital age, according to auditing and financial advisory firm PwC.
PwC financial services partner Sam Shuttleworth told interest.co.nz in a Double Shot interview that adapting to the digital world is the major challenge looming for banks today.
Shuttleworth was speaking ahead of today's launch of the latest PwC bi-annual Banking Perspectives report entitled NZ banks go from strength to strength despite global uncertainties.
A shift to digital banking was being driven as digital native Generation Y enters the workforce expecting the world at their fingertips, now. It also comes with the banks covered by PwC's report - ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Westpac and Kiwibank - operating in a low, or no, growth environment. In the second-half of their 2011 financial years the five's combined lending portfolio slipped slightly to NZ$276.3 billion from NZ$276.4 billion.
Their net interest margin growth and tumbling impairments on loans which drove 2011 profits to record levels at ANZ and ASB and delivered strong profits at BNZ and Westpac won't continue, PwC says, meaning cost cutting and efficiency gains are in focus. And here, as well as wooing young customers, digital technology can lend a hand.
So what can we expect to see from the banks?
"Basically anything is open," Shuttleworth says. "It could be as simple as, every transaction for example, is sent to your Facebook or Twitter account so you know when something's being used."
"It may mean, for example, loyalty cards. Instead of swiping at the eftpos terminal, the banks have sophisticated tools that can identify you've just bought petrol from this petrol station, (and) that it's (a member of) a loyalty programme. Instantly that updates your account."
One existing example of what Shuttleworth says we might see more of is BNZ's GlobalPlus credit cards and home loans. When a customer buys something with their GlobalPlus credit card, they earn Air New Zealand airpoints dollars. And with a GlobalPlus home loan, borrowers earn one airpoints dollar for every NZ$1,000 outstanding per year.
Facebook to muscle in on the banks?
But Shuttleworth suggests, things could go further than that as banks move to embrace the threat - or opportunities - of social media. Because the likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft are just so big - Facebook has more than 800 million users - they could move into bank territory.
"They won't set up a bank to lend and do residential mortgages, but they could facilitate payments between members," says Shuttleworth. "And so therefore the bank as an intermediary could be left out of the equation. They've got the technology and the deep channels to do that."
To combat this threat, banks could align themselves with one of the big technology companies and establish a joint venture.
"To find innovation in this new age, you may need to look outside of the core bank. There's a lot of smart people who think differently in these technology companies," Shuttleworth added. "We're in this tipping point where digital technology will change the way that we've become accustomed to doing things."
Shuttleworth notes investment in key technology systems is required to ensure banks can progress their digital ambitions.
“Investment in and replacing key infrastructure systems will be costly, yet is vital if the banks wish to retain today’s technology savvy customers who expect banks to offer a 24-seven digital banking service."
"The traditional nine-to-five hours of the branch are increasingly incompatible with modern-day lifestyles," Shuttleworth says.
"However, we don’t believe this is the end of the Main Street branch as it’s still highly valued by many customers, and has an important role to play in attracting big-ticket business such as signing new mortgages, as well as increasing brand visibility."
Meanwhile, Shuttleworth points out the lack of lending growth means the banks have been able to self fund since the second-half of 2009 with their increase in retail deposit funding greater than their increase in lending.
"With no significant growth in lending likely, we expect the New Zealand majors to be able to continue to self fund in their 2012 financial years as deposit growth continues to outpace lending growth," Shuttleworth says.
PwC is auditor for ASB, Kiwibank and Westpac NZ.
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