Image Source: The Giving Network PTY Ltd
The advent of electronic banking in Papua New Guinea has the potential to significantly modernise and expand the country’s financial system Greg Pawson, General Manager of Westpac Pacific tells Business Advantage PNG.
Pawson says that technology advances, which have resulted in greater use of internet platforms and mobile phones, have made it possible for PNG to catch up quickly.
‘From a banking perspective, we’re probably 20 years behind more developed markets like Australia and New Zealand with respect to the use of electronic transactional banking,’ he says.
‘So clearly there is a mandate for us to get customers in the Pacific seeing the value and convenience of these electronic platforms and (have them) actively use them.
‘That will give people back the time they spend visiting branches or managing their financial affairs. It will also help to the pressure off the volume, the sheer volume, in cash and cheques that are in the banking systems in both (the PNG and Fiji) markets today.
‘Regionally, many Australian corporates that operate in PNG are relocating their headquarters from Australia to Singapore.’
‘It causes us more concern in PNG because the security cost of moving cash around is significant.’
Pawson identifies a number of trends at the regional, corporate, mid-level and micro level. Regionally, many Australian corporates that operate in PNG are relocating their headquarters from Australia to Singapore in an effort to integrate more into the Asian region.
‘If you look at the upper end of the market, we are making sure that we’re connecting our PNG and Fiji corporate and commercial customers to the trade and capital flows to and from Australia and New Zealand. And, clearly, connectivity into Asia is really important for business in PNG.’
‘At the smallest level there are barriers.’
In the small business, mid-market, commercial and corporate customer base, Westpac has ‘some fairly significant technology investments’ that have been made to help the SME sector, says Pawson.
‘We’ve got our corporate online platform, and last year we launched the new generation EFTPOS terminal, which has revolutionised many businesses with its speed, usability and first class security.’
At the smallest level there are barriers, says Pawson. He says Westpac as an organisation does not ‘have the risk appetite, nor the capability’ to deliver microfinance. But he does see its importance to the economy and is keen to play a role. Westpac’s strategy will be to offer wholesale support to local micro-financing firms.
‘We won’t do microfinance, but we will partner with microfinance companies to support them from a wholesale funding perspective and to bank their customers through our mobile banking platform.
‘We’re not quite there yet, but we think that’s probably a better space for us to play.’
‘We would look to potentially, with our mobile banking platform, partner with a company to support them from a funding perspective.’
Microfinance based on electronic banking has been used effectively in Africa and South East Asia, but Pawson says PNG has some way to go. ‘Unfortunately most of the micro-finance companies, unlike in Africa and South-East Asia, just can’t get the scale to make the operation profitable enough.
‘We would look to potentially, with our mobile banking platform, partner with a company to support them from a funding perspective to roll out their microfinance programmes. But it is early days. We are just looking at the moment in terms of what we think we might be able to do.’
Pawson says the bank has a ‘big focus on gender’, with its Pacific Women In Business website helping women to set up and run their own businesses and flagship awards programs like the WOW awards celebrating women’s professional achievements.
‘We want to do all we can to help women thrive, and we know that entrepreneurialism is often a way to boost household income.
‘So we are providing the resources and support that is within our areas of expertise, and will be able to link women with a microfinance provider that has that specific lending experience and expertise.’
Westpac’s targets for its electronic banking are ambitious. Pawson tells Business Advantage PNG that the bank is aiming to have a million retail customers by 2020, as part of its Everywhere Banking Proposition.
‘The thing with that, though, is that we don’t want a million customers transacting through 50 odd branches. That would overload our branch network and waste people’s time in queues.
‘We know that, more and more, people will start to use and prefer electronic platforms, especially as internet and smart phone usage increases.’
‘The key to success with this platform is when you start to connect value-added services.’
Pawson says Westpac has 130,000 users on its mobile banking platform, which it is expecting to increase substantially.
‘People are activating it and using it, and it’s good for account balances and transfers and domestic remittances. But the key to success with this platform is when you start to connect value-added services, so the customers can top up their mobile phone.
‘They can prepay their utility bills, they can buy insurance services and a whole bunch of other things–all from the palm of their hand.’