Tamsyn Parker

Money Editor for NZ Herald

Transparency talking point in new ASB headquarters

Bank's new home features open plan offices, desk sharing and eco-technology

Barbara Chapman says she is looking forward to tapping into the office "buzz" at the new open plan and environmentally friendly ASB headquarters at Wynyard Quarter, Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson
Barbara Chapman says she is looking forward to tapping into the office "buzz" at the new open plan and environmentally friendly ASB headquarters at Wynyard Quarter, Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson

When Barbara Chapman walks into work on Monday, July 8, she will trade in a dark-panelled 28th-floor office for a new light and airy sixth-floor view of Auckland's waterfront.

The head of ASB bank will be one of the last of 1400 staff to move into its new North Wharf head office in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter.

Two years in the making, and many more in the planning, the six-storey office block includes the latest environmentally friendly technology and embraces open plan design as well as hot desking principles.

Even Chapman's desk, which includes a motorised feature allowing it to move up and down so the user can sit or stand, is open to other staff members - although she admits the probability of others using it is low.

ASB property manager Derek Shortt says everything about the building has been designed to promote a collaborative working environment and take the formality out of its business structure.

"This building will bring people together. At the moment we are siloed. People are going to be more transparent," Shortt says.

The building is based on "bump" theory - that moving around to different places encourages people to bump into those they might previously have had to email or call to set up a meeting.

Each part of the business has its own "home neighbourhood" which has a specific colour attached to it.

But workers don't have a specific desk - they must put all their work and belongings away in a locker each night before heading home.

Chapman, who has been boss at the bank for just over two years, admits some people will just sit in the same place every day.

"Realistically some people do do that."

But she will be encouraging her staff to move around - something she is very keen to do herself to help tap into the "buzz" of the office.

"What I find now on level 28 is that doesn't happen much. In the old building there was nowhere to go," she says.

Shortt won't say how much the lease for the new building, which is owned by Kiwi Income Property Trust, is costing the bank but says operating costs - such as power and rates - will be much cheaper.

At the bank's previous block operating costs were $149 per sq metre, while at the new building it's $95 and Shortt reckons he can drive that lower.

The building features opening windows and a traffic light system telling staff when it is suitable to open the windows and cut off air conditioning.

Each of its light fittings can also be individually adjusted allowing for maximum use of natural light.

Metal deflectors on the outside of the building help prevent the glass from transmitting heat inside while it will also collect rain water to be used in the toilets.

As well as useage cost savings the bank is hoping to make productivity gains.

Already Shortt says some staff are claiming it has halved their email traffic. "Being in proximity allows people to catch-up and talk about other things."

Chapman says the bank is also in the process of trying to cut meeting times from an hour to 45 minutes.

"It sounds like small things but they can make a big difference."

Some would question whether it is a good look for a bank to be moving into a flash new office in such times of austerity but Chapman says it is the sensible thing to do.

"Where we were we had the lease expiring in three years' time. We needed as a business to do something."

That meant either refurbishing the tower on Albert St or moving into new premises.

"We had to do something. We would have had to have spent a lot of money doing up our old building. When we added up the business case in terms of costs it was the sensible thing to do."

The bank isn't a frequent mover. It has been in the Albert St tower for 22 years. North Wharf will be its eighth home.

ASB isn't alone in upgrading its head office. All of the major banks have either moved into new offices or refurbished their existing office space in the past five years.

Last year ASB and its competitors made record profits despite the economy growing at a snail's pace, raising the ire of the public.

This week the first test case was filed against the ANZ by a legal group representing 13,500 ANZ customers claiming the bank has been charging excessive penalty fees.

More than 32,000 people have registered to join the Fair Play on Fees campaign and lawyer Andrew Hooker has said all of the major banks as well as Kiwibank are in its sights.

Chapman says: "It's something that our bank is giving a lot of consideration to - regardless of who the first case is against. It's something we have all got good experience in dealing with through our parent companies."

A similar case in Australia is also being taken against the ANZ and 11 other banks including ASB's parent the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

It has been running since 2010 and has yet to be resolved.

Chapman doesn't want to predict how the New Zealand case will play out but says penalty fees are avoidable.

"They are very well explained. We are very open and transparent and that is the right thing to do."

But she says banks can always be better at transparency. "Everyone would say that is something more we could work on."


Loan restrictions risk for accord CEO

Restricting banks from lending to low equity property buyers could create a disconnect with Auckland's housing accord, warns ASB bank boss Barbara Chapman.

The Reserve Bank is keen to introduce "speed limits" on high loan to value ratio (LVR) lending - a move that would potentially restrict the share of a bank's lending able to be given to borrowers who have a deposit of less than 20 per cent.

But Chapman says that could clash with the recently signed agreement between the Auckland Council and Government to build another 39,000 homes over the next three years.

The agreement aims to help speed-up development, including low-rise apartment building, in line with plans by the council to encourage the city to grow upwards rather than outwards through its unitary plan.

"My concern is if apartments are being built with first-home buyers or investors in mind and if you have restrictions on LVRs, who is going to fund the home buyers?" she says.

"It has got to be thought through how it works. There is a concern there might be a disconnect."

The Reserve Bank wants to introduce the LVR restrictions to help cool the rampant Auckland housing market. Chapman says it could potentially do that but she doubts house prices would fall dramatically as a result.

"What I expect is that the rate of price growth will slow."

Even after the first year of the housing accord there will still be a 40 per cent shortfall in supply, Chapman says.

Around 9,000 houses are being targeted in the first year but the city needs 13,000 new homes a year to cope with growth.

"It will take until 2028 for supply to equal demand," she says.

Chapman says she also has concerns about the perception that high LVR lending is risky when her bank's metrics suggest that is not the case. The cashflow of those borrowing the money is more pertinent, Chapman says.

She says often low-equity buyers have higher levels of uncommitted money. A young couple buying a first house often had a double income with no children. "What troubles me is the misconception of high LVRs is more risky."

Chapman says in her view employment is more important when it comes to being able to pay a mortgage and employment levels are "pretty good" at the moment.

Chapman says if bank lending is restricted it would mean existing customers would be put ahead of newcomers to the bank.

"Will that change the dynamic of the first home buyer market? Potentially."

- NZ Herald

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