Ombudsman: small businesses ‘disappointed’ with banking report

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Ombudsman Kate Carnell says many small businesses will be disappointed by Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s interim report into banking misconduct.

Ms Carnell says the banks’ behaviour affected many small businesses. But so far, she says, they have not received “adequate consideration” from the Royal Commission.

She said, “The interim report of the Royal Commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial-services industry does not address many of the issues that have been raised over a considerable time by small businesses affected by bank misconduct.

“This is particularly the case with regard to the businesses affected by the purchase of Bankwest by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).

“There were about 2,000 businesses with performing Bankwest loans whose loans were defaulted, using over-aggressive tactics, including revaluation of property, changes to loan-to-value-ratios, withholding valuation information, and applying exorbitant default penalty interest rates.

“It’s interesting that in the agribusiness part of the report, similar tactics in respect of the ANZ acquisition of the Landmark loan book were highlighted in the interim report.

“However, exactly the same conduct was seen in the CBA treatment of Bankwest loans and this has not been addressed. CBA used the same aggressive tactics to serve their own commercial interests.

Extending the timeframe

“We ask that Commissioner Kenneth Hayne consider extending the timeframe of the Royal Commission to give these small businesses an opportunity to explore this conduct beyond the agribusiness sector.

“We’re pleased that Commissioner Hayne supported our view that the small-business definition of a loan facility in the Code of Banking Practice should be $5 million, not the current $3 million. This was a recommendation from my Small Business Loans Inquiry.

“We agree the Code of Banking Practice is pivotal in addressing future protection of small-business borrowers.

“Additional regulation could have unintended consequences in tightening lending to small business even further. We agree that the application of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act should not apply to small businesses. Restricting lending or increasing the cost would not be good for the economy.

“If Commissioner Hayne is willing to hear from additional small businesses, it’s important that the process regarding their legal representation takes into account their financial situation, appropriate timeframes, and the scarcity of appropriate legal expertise.”