Disappointing first half for Westpac saw 788 staff cut and a new chatbot

It also reported a 24% drop in profit to AU$3.17 billion.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Westpac has reported a 24% slip in profit to AU$3.17 billion for the first half of the financial year, with CEO Brian Hartzer calling it a "disappointing result" for the bank.

"The past six months has been a turning point for the bank. We are proactively addressing legacy issues while improving our products and services to ensure they deliver the right customer outcomes," Hartzer told shareholders on Monday.

Cash earnings were AU$3.3 million, a drop of 22% compared to the same period a year prior, as the bank touted cutting costs by around AU$146 million over the six month period, including a reduction in staff. 

The bank said it cut 788 full time equivalent staff during the period.

Hartzer said Westpac is on track to deliver its target of AU$400 million in productivity savings over the full year.  

"Despite our 202 year history, we know we still have to win back customers' trust," Hartzer said. "We have improved complaints handling, removed all teller incentives, and introduced new digital initiatives."

Read also: Westpac considers itself Australia's oldest startup  

New digital initiatives include a virtual chat assistant for Westpac and digital mortgage applications for subsidiaries St George, BankSA, and Bank of Melbourne.

"Our Customer Service Hub is now live and the first mortgages have been originated on the platform. This platform will significantly improve the experience of getting a home loan, free up banker time, and help reduce the costs and time of loan origination.

The consumer banking segment accounted for AU$1.5 billion in cash earnings, business banking accounted for AU$1 billion, its BT Financial Group made a AU$305 million loss, institutional banking contributed AU$543 million, and the New Zealand arm of the bank made AU$555 million.

"We are dealing decisively with a difficult commercial environment for banks, delivering productivity savings while we continue to simplify our products, digitise our business, and modernise our platforms," Hartzer continued, pointing to the Banking Royal Commission.

"We are implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission and other industry initiatives, while continuing to invest in technology and digital platforms."

For the 2018 financial year, Westpac announced a full-year net profit of AU$8.1 billion, up 1% from a year prior, on revenue of AU$22 billion, an increase of 2%.


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