Earlier this year iSky Researchers set about creating business banking profiles with Australia's Big Four banks. The intention was to access the SME banking platforms of each bank, based on a customer operating as a 'sole-proprietor' (i.e. an individual, as opposed to an incorporated entity) that was overseas (outside of Australia) at the time of application.
What we encountered were four very different systems, that yielded mixed customer experiences.
The following is a brief account of each experience, and some commentary that explains our assessment of each's bank's processes.
The National Australia Bank (NAB) - NAB Connect
The NAB has long billed itself as the bank of choice for SME customers, and iSky Research encountered a simple and straightforward process that would reinforce that perspective.
Due to our customer profile we were unable to complete an application online. On the phone we encountered a very helpful customer service representative (CSR) who explained the processes, and our account options. In under 15 minutes we had provided the necessary details to the CSR, who had entered them into our application forms - which were later emailed to us for signing. We also found it very helpful that the CSR provided us with their direct contact information, including email and telephone in case we had any follow up questions.
The CSR was also able to immediately create an online banking profile for us, and we were able to access the bank's personal banking channels immediately thereafter. In the following week iSky Research applied to upgrade our online banking profile to NAB Connect, the bank's SME digital banking service. This second step was very simple, completed entirely online - in the .COM space - and actioned 48 hours later, by the bank.
There were some emails from the bank to our new customer, and one phone call to confirm some application details, otherwise - other than the initial application forms - there was no need for iSky Research to provide further physical or digital documentation; other than a visit to the branch to confirm our identity when next in Australia (which was also necessary to lift the outbound transaction restriction placed on the account at the time of creation).
The need to visit a branch was perplexing, as the applicant was already a bank customer, though that step - in the branch - was again, quite straightforward.
Unlike CBA and ANZ, NAB uses an app based authenticator for NAB Connect customers which also enhanced the setup and access process.
iSky Researchers regarded the NAB's processes as the most straightforward we encountered, based on our somewhat unusual customer profile.
ANZ - Internet Banking for Business
The ANZ process was not dissimilar from that of NAB, the difference really being the CSR we encountered on the phone when seeking to apply.
Like NAB, we were unable to apply for ANZ's SME products or Internet Banking for Business, due to our customer profile. When calling ANZ to complete an application process, we encountered a couple of differences that were frustrating to our experience. First, despite calling at approximately the same time of day, the wait times on the phone for ANZ were such longer than NAB. Secondly, the CSR we encountered was at first reluctant to assist us in submitting an application - instead they asked us to initiate an application online but not submit it; and then print out the information in the application and email it to them.
They indicated that this was their preference, because it would 'take much longer' for them to enter the information via the phone - a fact we though was dubious, but nonetheless we adhered to their request.
Thereafter, the process was again straightforward, if not more straightforward than that of NAB - due to the ability to combine our product application, and request for Internet Banking for Business into a single form; after which we received a security token in the post (which was later activated online), and emails providing the information we required to access our new business online banking profile.
Like NAB, ANZ also required our customer to attend a branch in person in order to complete customer identification verification, and thus enable outbound processing of payment - despite the customer already being an account holder with ANZ.
Were it not for the CSR we encountered with ANZ, we would likely have rated the ANZ process as high, if not higher than that of NAB.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) - Commbiz
CBA, Australia's largest bank, offered two digital banking platforms to our new business banking customer - Netbank for Business and Commbiz.
Netbank for Business is essentially the middle tier of business internet banking solutions offered by the bank, straddling the divide between Netbank (personal banking), which would suffice the banking needs of most sole-proprietor account holders, and Commbiz - the bank's corporate digital banking solution.
Expecting not to be offered access to Commbiz, we were surprised when the option was made available to us during our online application.
Unlike its Big Four competitors, CBA did allow our applicant to submit an account setup request online (without breaching terms and conditions). However, whilst the process is initiated online, it is completed with the signing of physical forms - and unlike ANZ or NAB - those forms could not be emailed back to the bank. The result was a process that took around ten days longer to complete.
The bank also sent far more physical mail to our customer, including two security devices and seperate physical post for account information, cards, card PINs, online banking registration information, and online banking password and setup information. Not only did the volume of mail seem excessive, it was at times superfluous to requirements and in that way became confusing.
However, with all of the information in hand, the actual Commbiz internet banking setup was a straightforward matter and completed in a matter of minutes.
In all, the process felt more cumbersome than that of NAB and ANZ, and took longer to complete.
Westpac Banking Group (Westpac) - Westpac Live for Business
It is fair to say that iSky Researchers have had something of a love/hate relationship with Westpac Live for Business.
We love the end result, and Westpac Live for Business is arguably the most sophisticated, and streamlined business banking platform available to Australian customers today.
However, getting access to the platform proved to be a nightmare.
First of all, due to our customer profile we were unable to complete an account application online. Subsequent phone calls to the bank (yes, multiple) confirmed that we would also be unable to complete an application over the phone. Consequently, we were advised to visit our local branch - a difficult undertaking as we were not in the country at the time.
To ensure the process was a smooth one, we arranged with the bank to visit a branch on a specific day, and at a specific time - and advised that branch, via both the manager and CSR that our customer was a sole-proprietor seeking access to Westpac Business Live internet banking. We were assured the process would be a simple one. It was not.
Upon visiting the branch, and despite the multiple emails back and forth that preceded our arrival, we were advised that only corporate customers could access Westpac Business Live. For those readers with an understanding of Australian company setups, this meant the applicant required an Australian Company Number, as opposed to the Australian Business Number held by sole-proprietors.
Consequently, we were forced to incorporate a new company in order to access the platform.
Thereafter, we visited our local branch again, and thankfully the process was, from then on, a simple one. We left the branch with our customer profile and Westpac business Live login details in hand.
We have been advised that in the time since our application, the bank has instituted a new online application process that would have enabled us to submit our product application online - and that the process incorporate online customer identification steps. If accurate, this would make the new Westpac process one of the best, if not the best in Australia.