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Banks rally in aid of bushfire victims

Several banks have announced disaster relief packages for customers affected by bushfires in NSW and Queensland.  

ANZ, NAB, Suncorp and St.George Bank have announced disaster relief packages in support of Australians facing financial difficulties as a result of bushfires across NSW and Queensland.

ANZ

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ANZ has advised customers to contact the bank once they were able to in order to discuss how to access measures in its financial relief package, which include:

  • The ability to suspend repayments on loans, including credit cards, for up to three months (which may include interest capitalisation)
  • Temporary interest rate relief on lending for customers experiencing extreme financial distress in areas impacted by the fires
  • Waiving of fees associated with restructuring business loans considered necessary due to bushfire impacts
  • Access to term deposits early without incurring any fees
  • Assistance for affected customers with ANZ Home and Contents insurance as they may be eligible for measures such as emergency funds and temporary accommodation

ANZ general manager, retail banking, greater Sydney and ACT, Amanda Heath-Ogden said: “Dozens of fires remain uncontained at this stage and several areas have been advised to evacuate, so these are extremely dangerous conditions for the residents and the firefighters.

“We hope these relief measures help our customers with this confronting experience when the time is right for them to assess any damage and plan their recovery.” 

CBA

CBA has also activated its emergency assistance package for customers in NSW and Queensland and is encouraging anyone impacted by the fires to contact them so they can discuss their individual circumstances.

As part of the bank’s Emergency Assistance Package, CBA has said it can:

  • Offer emergency accommodation assistance for CommInsure customers whose homes have been damaged by bushfire, flood or storms
  • Expediate claims to CommInsure for customers seeking help through their home, contents and car insurance
  • Offer customised assistance for Commonwealth Bank home loan, credit card and personal loan customers who may experience difficulties because of the bushfire, flood or storms
  • Consider requests for additional loans including emergency credit limit increases (subject to credit approval)
  • Restructure loans for business customers with existing loans
  • Waivie prepayment charges for the month following the event, for affected customers wishing to access term deposits and Commonwealth Investment Bonds ahead of the maturity date
  • Waive other selected fees and charges

“Special arrangements are in place to provide support to Commonwealth Bank individual, business and CommInsure customers should they need it, and our staff are ready to assist them with any financial concerns or enquiries.

“Like our customers, many of our employees are members of these towns impacted by the fires and our thoughts and wishes are with everyone in these communities that they remain safe during this time.”

Commonwealth Bank branches in New South Wales and Queensland will also be accepting donations for Australian Red Cross in its efforts to support communities in those regions devastated by the bushfires as well as other emergencies as and when they happen.

NAB

NAB has also announced that it would provide relief to affected customers, which includes:

  • Credit card and personal loan relief where appropriate
  • Suspending home and personal loan repayments
  • Support to manage existing agribusiness bank facilities
  • Waiving costs and charges for withdrawing term deposits early
  • Waiving home loan and personal loan application fees
  • Support to restructure other existing bank facilities
  • Provision of support and counselling by making NAB’s Employee Assistance Program available to customers

NAB retail general manager, regional NSW/ACT, Jackie Connors commented: “We know this has impacted a lot of people – we are here to help, and the number one priority is to stay safe.  

“We are here to support all NAB customers, employees and the wider community. Anyone who needs assistance or advice can contact us so we can discuss their circumstances and work out the best way to help.”

Suncorp

Effective immediately, Suncorp Bank is offering the following relief assistance options to impacted customers:

  • An opportunity to defer scheduled loan repayments (including interest-only) on a case-by-case basis
  • Existing loan rearranging (for example, principal and interest to interest-only) with the waiver of establishment fees
  • Waive early withdrawal fees for customers wishing to withdraw from term deposits and/or Farm Management Deposits
  • Credit card repayment relief where necessary
  • Increasing emergency credit card limits
  • Working capital assistance
  • No interest rate increases

Suncorp Group has also encouraged customers of its insurance brands to lodge claims when it is appropriate to do so.  

St.George Bank and Westpac

St.George Bank and its parent company, Westpac, have both announced that they will offer the following assistance to affected customers:

  • Affected customers may apply to defer repayments for up to three months
  • Affected businesses with existing loans can request loan restructuring without incurring the usual bank establishment fees
  • Affected credit card customers may apply to defer repayments to their card for up to 90 days
  • Customers wishing to purchase replacement goods may apply for a personal loan at a discounted interest rate with no establishment fee
  • The banks may waive interest rate adjustments for affected customers wishing to withdraw term deposits
  • Customers experiencing severe hardship may also be offered a halt on all interest accrual on unsecured credit products for a period of up to three months.

General manager for St.George Bank Ross Miller commented: “Our thoughts are with those impacted by these devastating bushfires, and we’d like to thank the emergency services, including firefighters and volunteers for continuing to support their local communities during these challenging times.

“We understand that events like these can be extremely difficult – emotionally, physically and financially.

“By offering support to our customers, we hope to take away any concerns they have with their financial commitments so that they can concentrate on more important issues at hand like looking after themselves and their families.”

He added: “I encourage all affected customers to contact customer care or their local St.George branch manager as soon as possible to discuss their circumstances and the financial relief we have available.”

St.George's parent company, Westpac, has also announced it will donate $200,000 to The Salvation Army Emergency and Disaster Appeal to support communities affected by the devastating bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland.

The donation will assist The Salvation Army’s Emergency Services team with helping evacuees and emergency services, as well as support the rebuild and recovery phases to come. 

“We know this is a challenging and confronting time for the communities affected by the catastrophic bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland”, said David Lindberg, Westpac group chief executive, consumer. 

“While this situation is still unfolding, we wanted to show our support through backing the incredible efforts of The Salvation Army Emergency Services team, who are on-the-ground providing practical and emotional support for those who need it the most. 

“We hope the $200,000 donation from Westpac Group will go some way towards assisting The Salvation Army with their emergency response, as well as the long-term recovery effort to help get residents back on their feet,” Mr Lindberg said. 

Westpac and St.George are proactively contacting insurance customers in affected areas to offer assistance with making a claim. 

Newcastle Permanent 

The lender has donated a $25,000 relief package to the Salvation Army’s Bushfire Disaster Appeal, along with a package of financial relief measures for customers affected by the bushfires in Northern NSW.

Newcastle Permanent’s CEO Bernadette Inglis commented: “We are acutely aware of the distress and devastation these fires have already caused in our regional NSW communities, and hope this donation helps The Salvation Army to continue its emergency and recovery efforts which are already having a positive impact.

“We’ve also activated our relief measures and product concessions for customers affected by the fires, in an effort to help them and reduce the pressure they’re facing now as they assess the damage and rebuild their properties." 

She continued: “With communities throughout Northern NSW overcome by bushfires in the past week, and more threatening weather forecast, we thank our firefighters and local volunteers, and wish them the best for the battles they’ll encounter in coming days.

“Some of our local team members are among those affected, and we will continue to support them and our customers as the situation unfolds.

Ms Inglis noted that due to the impacts on the lender's local staff, its Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Forster and Taree branches will remain closed, adding that the lender would  continue to assess the operation of its branches in other affected areas, based on the availability and safety of its staff.

Newcastle Permanent's relief package is available immediately to customers affected by bushfires, particularly those on the NSW North Coast, and will remain in place until further notice.

The lender encouraged customers with insurance  to contact their insurer directly as they may be eligible for assistance with emergency accommodation or expedited claims for home, contents and vehicle insurance.

“The concessions include access to additional loan repayments or funds in Term Deposits, or restructuring loan repayments to help customers to restore their homes or replace damaged items. Any customers who need assistance should contact our local team or Customer Contact Centre on 13 19 87 to discuss their options so we can assist them to identify which options would help in their individual situation,” Ms Inglis said.

“This is a very difficult time for everyone in these communities, including our local staff, and we wish them all the strength and hope they will need to recover.”

CEO of the Australian Banking Association Anna Bligh has also said that banks’ hardship teams are ready to assist customers affected by the fires. 

“While the immediate concern for all is the safety of communities in bushfire areas, banks stand ready to help customers where needed across NSW and Queensland,” Ms Bligh said. 

“Any customer who has been impacted by these fires should contact their bank when they are able to do so to access a wide range of help, including deferring loan payments, waiving fees and consolidating debts.”

[Related: Loan relief provided to Victorian bushfire victims]

Banks rally in aid of bushfire victims
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