It's a very competitive home loan market out there at the moment, but Westpac is hoping it can put a bit more of a gap between itself and the rest of the field with what it's calling a New Zealand-first for homebuyers, a comprehensive online tool called www.homeclub.co.nz that enables users to collect, compare and store properties they are interested in by importing TradeMe watchlists and aims to smooth the often-frustrating purchase process by providing information like QV valuations, comparative sales in the area, multiple views of the location with Google maps, mortgage calculators and easy contact with Westpac loan specialists.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UT4GoN3KiEWestpac's general manager of marketing Martine Jager says this initiative is quite possibly more than a New Zealand first, but, perhaps wisely, it's kept that label off in case it's not. But it is most definitely in keeping with the bank's strategy of making it easier for customers to deal with their finances—and in keeping with a global trend where marketing is increasingly about creating something that offers utility rather than just pretty ads.
"For us it started with the question what are our customers doing and how are they behaving and how can we help them be more successful with their money," she says.
But it's not just for its existing customers. Anyone can use it, and, given New Zealand's obsession with property, it will probably also appeal to those hoping to see how their current property compares to others on the market in the same area, or looking to see what their next move might be.
More than 80 percent of New Zealanders search for property online according to Nielsen and over the past two years Westpac has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of home loan enquiries coming via its website, which was recently relaunched. And, given it has relationships with the two biggest property sites in the country, Westpac appears to be in pole position. The app it made in conjunction with realestate.co.nz has been downloaded more than 100,000 times and, while HomeClub was an in-house project created with the help of Clearpoint, Jager says it also worked closely with TradeMe to ensure they were on the right track (she says the average time spent searching on TradeMe Property is around 30 minutes, which is much more than the main auction site).
Although you wouldn't know it judging by the record profits being announced by most of the big boys recently, banks have been getting squeezed on rates by savvy borrowers recently. And, when all the banks and offers are relatively similar, creating add-ons is an important factor in getting them to sign up. So with up to five free QV reports to show whether the price stacks up, plenty of calculators to show customers how far they can extend themselves and, soon enough, pre-approval of loans, the HomeClub offering is fairly enticing. And, with the other banks innovating as well, Jager says it's also about trying to stay ahead of the curve, as it's tried to do with apps like CashTank and Impulse Saver.
During the recession, there was a perception that the banks had shut their doors. But Jager says Westpac made a point of telling everyone it was very much open for business (it also offered loans at five percent finance, vs. ten percent for most others) and this appears to have paid off, with some of its competitors now having to play catch-up in that space.