3 Sep 2021

Banks see less demand for assistance compared to previous lockdown

7:56 pm on 3 September 2021

Demand for financial assistance from banks remains low compared to last year's Covid-19 lockdown, but it's expected to grow if restrictions are prolonged.

Generic money.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Bankers Association said calls to banks are up 20 percent, but believed most were due to uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

Customers have been offered help on loans and mortgages on a case-by-case basis, chief executive Roger Beaumont said.

Major banks have also started to waive fees on contactless debit cards, to alleviate pressure on small businesses.

"While it's true there are some people experiencing financial hardship because of the current lockdown, we're not seeing the same demand for help we saw with the first lockdown in March last year.

"Last year, under the loan repayments deferral scheme agreed with the government, Reserve Bank and credit rating agencies, around $70 billion in household and business loans had repayments fully deferred or reduced for up to six months.

"We're not seeing the need to bring back the scheme at this stage but deferring or reducing repayments remain a potential option for people in hardship, on a case-by-case basis," Beaumont said.

However, he added that while people were faring better compared to last year, the situation could easily change.

"I think it's inevitable that if the lockdown extends in Auckland that will create more engagement with customers to ask about what the future might look like for them and what their bank can do to support them. So we would expect to see an increase in traffic if the lockdowns are extended," he said.

Beaumont said because of lower demand for services compared to last year, banks have been able to put more time into helping customers in need.

"Because there's not the sheer volumes of calls that were happening last time, banks can take the time to tailor on a case-by-case basis what the best thing to do is for an individual customer and [what] their particular circumstances may be," he said.

There were a number of ways that banks could help customers, and Beaumont encouraged customers to get in touch with their bank if they face difficulty.

Ways that banks could help include: temporarily suspending both principal and interest loan repayments, reducing or suspending principal payments on loans and temporarily moving to interest-only repayments, helping with restructuring loans and consolidating loans to help make repayments more manageable.

They can also provide access to short-term funding and refer individual customers to budgeting services.

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