Westpac reports AU$4.02b in cash profit as customers go digital

Westpac has reported interim cash profit of AU$4.02 billion, following busy six months in digital transformation efforts.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

Westpac has reported interim cash profit of AU$4.02 billion for the six months ended March 31, 2017, up 3 percent from the AU$3.9 billion reported in the previous corresponding period.

Net profit after tax was AU$3.9 billion, up 6 percent on the half.

The bank credited its financial growth to a rise in lending and deposits, though results are partially offset by contracted net interest.

Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer echoed one of his previous statements, saying the bank has delivered a "solid result" in a "complex operating environment".

He added that Westpac had digitised a number of processes -- including implementing mobile personal loan applications and auto form-filling for service agents conducting business customer reviews -- to improve the customer experience while bringing operating costs down.

Westpac said digitising manual processes contributed to it generating AU$118 million productivity savings from September to March.

The bank's total software amortisation expenses for the six-month period reached AU$303 million, up 11.8 percent from the AU$271 million reported a year earlier, and representing 52.2 percent of its AU$580 million investment spend.

Digital transformation has been an ongoing priority for Westpac, with Hartzer citing the launch of a number of new systems including Samsung Pay -- Westpac was the first bank in Australia to launch Samsung's digital wallet -- and SuperCheck, a tool that allows customers to locate lost super and transfer it to their BT Super for Life account.

The bank also launched the Westpac Keyboard, a secured payment keyboard developed by fintech startup PayKey that prevents customers from having to exit a social messaging or SMS screen to log into Westpac Live to make payments or send their account details to others.

The development of Panorama, Westpac's AU$600 million effort to provide its customers with a consolidated view of their wealth, is also "largely complete" after four years in the making.

The Avaloq-based platform integrates a range of investment options including managed portfolios, managed funds, term deposits, BT cash and listed securities, as well as SMSF administration. It now has the capability to support financial advisers manage their clients' superannuation.

Together with a recently launched self-managed fund, Panorama now has AU$3.9 billion in funds under administration and around 3,000 registered advisers.

As it continues working towards creating a single-view of customers across systems, the bank recently appointed Oracle as the vendor for its planned customer service hub, which is moving from "design phases into development".

Westpac said the hub will connect all the data scattered across Westpac's product and customer-facing systems in one central location to give service agents a full view of customers.

Westpac also enhanced its online lending platform (LOLA) for small businesses, and invested part of its AU$62 million "other technology" spend on programs to strengthen the bank's cybersecurity capabilities.

The number of Westpac's "digitally active customers" increased by 7 percent to 4.33 million in 1H17 from the 4.05 million reported in 1H16.

The number of digital transactions made by Australian consumer and business customers from September to March was 287 million, up 8 percent from the 4.05 million reported in the previous year.

Customers' move to digital channels has seen branch transactions fall 11 percent from 26.9 million reported in 1H16 to 23.9 million in 1H17.

"Further digital adoption has enabled the Group to continue its network reconfiguration," the bank said in a disclosure to the Australian Securities Exchange, resulting in the closure of 45 branches across Australia and New Zealand over the last six months.

Westpac reported AU$7.4 billion in net profit after tax for the 12-month period ended September 30, 2016, a 7 percent drop year-on-year.

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