Money Editor for NZ Herald

'Banks want to be seen as good'

Richie McCaw in the new Westpac ad campaign. Photo / YouTube
Richie McCaw in the new Westpac ad campaign. Photo / YouTube

Banks are pulling out all stops to encourage people to be better with their finances but one expert believes it's more about boosting their public image than forcing any real change.

Westpac bank last week launched its latest advertising campaign featuring All Black rugby great Richie McCaw telling Kiwis "it's time" to be decisive with their money.

The slick marketing adds to calls by others banks including BNZ's Be Good with Money campaign and Kiwibank which wants to encourage financial independence through its indepen-dance ads.

Claire Matthews, a retail banking expert with Massey University, said banks had always been involved in financial education but she had noticed a much bigger push in the last few years.

It would be nice to say banks are doing it because they care for us.But I think it's more about image and how people perceive them.
Claire Matthews, a retail banking expert with Massey University

"It has certainly picked up a huge amount."

But she is cynical about the benefits of the slogans and celebrity appeal factor.

"It would be nice to say banks are doing it because they care for us."

"But I think it's more about image and how people perceive them."

Banks have taken a bad rap in recent years with much of the blame from the global financial crisis pointing back to greedy banking practices.

Locally in Australia and New Zealand there have also been court cases against the banks claiming they are ripping off their customers by charging excessive fees.

Matthews said banks wanted to be seen as good corporate citizens.

"They are trying to counter the poor publicity banks seems to get."

Matthews said while Richie McCaw had a strong appeal factor to the general public Westpac had also taken a risk by hanging their campaign off one person.

"There is a bit of a risk in using one person - the worst thing to happen would be for that person to end up bankrupt."

There are no suggestions that will happen to McCaw.

Simon Power, Westpac's general manager of consumer banking and wealth, said it's decision to base its ads around McCaw was about encouraging others to follow his example.

"This is someone who from a young age has deliberately set goals and achieved them. Richie has taken a different path...and faced into his hurdles.

"What we are saying is that is a message he and Westpac want to make sure others can learn from."

Power said financial education was nothing new to the bank and it had been a long time advocate for compulsory financial education in schools.

For us it's an enlightened self-interest. There is a mutual self-benefit.
Regan Savage, head of marketing communication and content at Kiwibank

In 2011 it also began sponsoring Massey University's Fin-Ed Centre.

Power said given the role banks planned in people's financial lives there was also a bit of responsibility on them to help boost literacy.

While encouraging people to pay off their mortgage or credit card debt early might seem contrary to improving a bank's bottom line Power said banks were not just about debt.

"It's about being there through a customer's whole life-cycle, into their savings' phase and retirement phase."

Regan Savage, head of marketing communication and content at Kiwibank, said it had moved towards a financial education focus in the last few years after it re-defined its core purpose to making Kiwis better off.

Savage said it was hoped that a more financially savvy population would help grow New Zealand's economy and in-turn Kiwibank's share of the pie.

"For us it's an enlightened self-interest. There is a mutual self-benefit."

While paying off a mortgage faster might not be as profitable Savage said it could lead to a customer being able to save with the bank sooner.

Savage said the independence campaign had appeared to shift perceptions of the bank but it was much tougher to change financial behaviour.

"It's pretty hard to shift the needle with financial capability with one campaign."

"I have not seen anything to suggest our campaign or any bank's has shifted the needle on national financial capability."

Savage said it was very much a long game.

Financial behaviour research undertaken by Colmar Brunton on behalf of the Commission for Financial Capability points to some improvement between 2011 and the end of 2014.

It found more people were living within their means, reviewing their insurance on an annual basis and shopping around before making a major purchase.

- NZ Herald

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