- Australia’s major banks have indicated they will support Sydney businesses with deferred loan repayments and waived fees as the city heads into a two-week lockdown.
- Westpac, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and ANZ have publicly stated they are open to support packages based on customer circumstances rather than blanket payment deferrals.
- The statements follow criticism from industry leaders that promised relief from the NSW government will provide insufficient support for Sydney businesses.
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Australia’s major banks have said they will consider deferring loan repayments and waiving fees for businesses that can prove hardship as a result of Sydney’s two-week lockdown.
Westpac, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and ANZ have also indicated they are open to assistance packages tailored to suit individual customer circumstances — as opposed to more generalised repayment deferrals.
Since the lockdown of Greater Sydney on Saturday, businesses have been forced to close other than to provide “essential” services, a halt to operations industry groups last week warned could cost $760 million in lost trade.
On Friday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a lockdown for four local government areas (LGAs); the City of Sydney, Waverley, Woollahra, and Randwick in response to rising COVID-19 cases, which on Saturday was extended to all of Greater Sydney, Wollongong and the Central Coast.
While the NSW government has said it will offer financial support for impacted businesses, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned any concrete plans may take days to come into force.
Workers impacted by the lockdowns, however, will have access to the federal government’s new COVID-19 disaster payment, which first came into force during Victoria’s recent lockdown.
The big four banks all indicated over the weekend they were considering relief for customers, including rescheduled payments for those who came under income pressure due to forced business closures.
The banks also said business customers could ask for various fees to be reduced or waived.
Chris de Bruin, chief executive for consumer and business banking at Westpac told the Australian Financial Review that the bank recognised the lockdowns would mean some small business owners would “need an extra helping hand to get through the latest restrictions.”
Westpac said it was open to reducing home loan or credit card repayments and reducing interest rates for retail customers and could also provide financial counsellors.
National Australia Bank pledged financial counselling support and said in public statements it could provide “a temporary payment break” and “where appropriate, restructuring a home loan or consolidating debt to suit different situations.”
The banks also said businesses needing credit could continue to access low-cost financing via the government-backed SME loan recovery scheme.
Matt Comyn, CEO of Commonwealth Bank (CBA) told the Australian Financial Review measures were in place to support customers, including short-term repayment deferrals.
“Our teams are here to help them and can tailor solutions to suit their different circumstances,” Comyn said.
“We know this lockdown will have an impact on the Sydney-based business community and we’ve been speaking to our customers to understand if they need assistance,” he said.
CBA also said it would look at options including refunding merchant terminal fees for up to 90 days and waiving fees and notice periods on cash deposit and farm management deposit accounts for eligible customers.
Westpac said it would consider reduced or deferred repayments on asset and equipment finance and eligible business loans and could restructure business loans without charging additional fees.
The banks also suggested that as long as Sydney’s lockdown did not extend past two weeks, their modelling suggested the economic impact of temporary lockdowns quickly fades.
David Plank, head of economics at ANZ, pointed to ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence data and ANZ spending data pointed to quick recoveries following shorter-term snap lockdowns.
“This has been the case with the latest Melbourne lockdown and we believe it will likely be the same for the Sydney lockdown if it only lasts a few weeks,” Plank said.