The royal commission looks at forged signatures and farming families forced off the land

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

The royal commission into financial services has again heard of bank customers having their signatures forged.

This time it was a customer at Rural Bank, which was acquired by Bendigo and Adelaide Bank in 2010, who found a loan increase document had also been improperly witnessed.

“Her signature had been forged by her husband on documents to increase the limit of their agricultural loan facilities,” Rowena Orr, senior counsel assisting the commission, told the commission.

“Rural Bank had advised the customer to report the matter to police but did not investigate the matter itself, relying on the police investigation.”

Bendigo also made admissions on fee overcharging, irresponsible lending practices and underpaying customers interest due on term deposits. This has since been repaid.

The royal commission is sitting in Brisbane hearing about cases involving borrowers in rural areas. Under the spotlight are ANZ, BankWest Commonwealth), Rabobank, Rural Bank (Bendigo) and NAB.

Between them these banks had forced hundreds of families from the land, the commission was told. Five farm families are due to give evidence this week.

Benjamin Steinberg, the ANZ Bank’s head of lending services, was with a taskforce in 2016 looking at high risk files from a group of loans acquired from Landmark Financial Services in 2009.

ANZ had brought over 7124 loans totalling $2.293 billion from Landmark.

Benjamin Steinberg, ANZ Bank. Image: Royal Commission webcast

Steinberg agreed with the senior counsel, Rowena Orr, that the acquisition was partly to allow ANZ to sell its products to farmers.

The ANZ had wanted to become a “super regional agribusiness bank”, according to boad papers relation to the acquisition.

The bank at one point told Landmark customers that it was reducing notice period required to make changes to the loans to 30 days from 60 days.

Orr told the hearing that 21% of submissions to the commission about agribusiness related to ANZ’s acquisition of Landmark loans.

“(The ANZ) accepts that some of its dealings with former customers of Landmark fell below community expectations, and that in some cases, it may have breached its obligation to act fair and responsibly towards Landmark clients,” said Orr.

She reference an internal ANZ document which saw more profit for the bank by increasing the loan interest rates for former Landmark.

Steinberg, asked about this, said: “There was a view at the time Landmark’s book was underpriced relative to ANZ’s portfolio and as a result of that there is an opportunity to have a revenue uplift by repricing the Landmark porfolio.”

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