31 October 2018
Royal commission needs to examine both sides; let bank victims be heard
“In considering the interim report of the banking royal commission, thought needs to be given to the appropriate protections for borrowers caught in uncontrollable and unforeseen external events, such as the global financial crisis (GFC) or when a bank acquires another bank,” the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell today.
“The commission is yet to thoroughly examine how the self-interest of banks to maximise returns to shareholders was impacted in the wake of the GFC.
“This would have been further compounded under circumstances where during the GFC a bank acquired another bank and assessed the loan book, where their primary focus was to reduce their risk exposure to manage their prudential and financial risks.
“Was the bank’s consequential actions fair, reasonable and ethical to borrowers who were targeted as high risk due to these external events and entirely outside of their control when the bank had very little constraints in exiting the loan contract?
“The royal commission interim report focusses on why the CBA found it necessary to do what it did with the Bankwest commercial loan book, but there is very little on what Senior Counsel Rowena Orr in the round four hearings described as ‘the way’ risk reduction was conducted.
“The report briefly said that CBA did not always act towards the borrowers concerned as well as it should have acted, but fell short of identifying the specific nature of this conduct. Did it breach the code or fall below community expectations?
“We call for a more rigorous examination on CBA’s conduct in their treatment of Bankwest loans in risk reduction, to finally get closure.
“What we haven’t heard is both sides of the story. The information published to date appears very much from the position of the CBA/Bankwest.
“Many Bankwest borrowers who provided submissions to the royal commission have not been interviewed.
“Our experience is that banks’ submissions are written by legal experts. Small business owners lack this expertise and consequently their submissions can be less coherent, especially when they are traumatised.
“We also note for the few cases that appeared in the round three hearings, some did not have their own legal representation, whereas banks were represented by top level firms. So the appearance is the evidence has been presented in a one-sided way in favour of the bank.
“The CBA/Bankwest issue needs to be resolved once and for all. The royal commission is the one opportunity to ensure these bank victims are properly heard, otherwise disquiet on this issue will not go away.”