Business

Banks try weekend consultations to get clients

by Shigemi Kotaka

Kyodo News

Japanese banks and other financial institutions are trying to lure individual customers by offering weekend consultation services to make up for dwindling lending to corporate clients.

With such slogans as “Take your time,” these lenders are offering one-hour tailored consultation by special advisers on weekends to visitors who cannot afford time on weekdays but want to get advice on mortgages and pensions.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. launched an SMBC consulting plaza in March at six outlets in Tokyo and Osaka, which are open weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in addition to weekdays.

It set up another plaza at its Shinagawa branch in June and plans to open 36 more in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures by late September. The bank is a unit of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc.

Sharing client data by computer, the plazas can provide guidance on asset management, loans and other financial plans to any bank customer regardless of whether the client has an account at the branch visited for consultation, bank officials said.

Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in April extended its 3 p.m. closing time to 7 p.m. on weekdays. It also gives advice on mortgage and asset management on Saturdays at five outlets in Tokyo and Osaka.

The banking unit of Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group Inc. stresses services such as advice on banking and trust banking operations at each outlet, bank officials said.

Chuo Mitsui Trust & Banking Co., under Mitsui Trust Holdings Inc., started staying open on holidays mainly in branches within commercial establishments such as department stores.

It launched a counseling room for life planning that is open every day, operating beyond traditional banking hours, at 17 outlets in the Kanto and Kinki regions to provide visitors with advice on inheritance, testament and real estate as well as asset management and mortgages.

The 17 outlets “have produced better-than-expected results” in bringing in new customers, a Chuo Mitsui Trust official said.

Deregulation in the industry allowed banks to handle a wide range of financial products, including investment trusts, making it easier for them to advise individual customers about their financial plans, analysts said.

Facing fiercer competition, banks have been forced to morph into real service businesses that offer customer-oriented services.

“With growing uncertainties about their old age, users are seeking specialists with whom they can sit down and take counsel face to face,” a financial planner said.

Financial institutions being open on holidays have so far been concentrated in large metropolitan areas.

But there are emerging moves to offer nationwide services on weekends by giving seminars and consultations on specific dates.

BTM has organized personal consultations on designated Saturdays, Sundays and weekday nights at its branches across Japan since early July.

Daiwa Securities Co. of Daiwa Securities Group Inc. has designated the first Saturday of every month to hold seminars at all its branches in Japan, while Sumitomo Mitsui Banking has arranged a simultaneous live telecast of a seminar in Tokyo to allow its customers in other parts of the country to put questions to the experts.

Chuo Mitsui Trust & Banking is considering expanding transactions by mail or phone to Saturdays and Sundays to upgrade services for users at remote locations.

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