11 Aug 2017

Tim Williams Opening Statement

Good Afternoon Senators,

National Australia Bank appreciates the opportunity to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers today.

I am the General Manager of NAB’s Group Strategic Business Services department or SBS as its known in the bank. We are NAB’s specialist work out and turnaround area responsible for dealing with business and agribusiness customers facing financial difficulties. Our goal is always to work with customers to manage them back to financial health. Alongside me is my colleague Geoff Green.

Also with me today is Khan Horne, the General Manager of NAB’s Agribusiness division. Khan has over 25 years’ experience in Agribusiness Finance.

By way of brief background, NAB provides approximately 30% of lending to all Australian farms. We have relationships with 28,000 agribusiness and farming groups. Our 540 front line Agribusiness bankers are based at 112 locations across Australia. We employ up to 60 graduates annually who are provided with significant training and a career path to become a NAB Agri banker.

NAB is Australia’s leading Agri bank. We have been proudly supporting Australian farmers for 155 years. The experience and expertise of our bankers’ means we are acutely aware of the importance of agriculture to the Australian economy as well as the challenges and unpredictability of life on the land.

When a farming business faces financial distress, NAB’s SBS specialists work with our customers and our Agri bankers. The local relationship banker remains involved, bringing their local knowledge and personal understanding of the situation.

NAB aims to understand the specific business and personal circumstances of each customer facing financial difficulties. We look for solutions for our customers. We want businesses to be sustainable. We want businesses to grow. We want to back farmers to move Australia forward. However, we acknowledge that not every farm can be managed back to financial health.

We have closely followed the Committee’s hearings in regional Australia. Among those farmers who appeared, four were either current or former NAB customers.

Any farmer who is unable to keep operating their farm is in an unfortunate and challenging situation. These four customer submissions are no different.

From NAB’s perspective some of the statements or allegations made were inaccurate or incomplete. For these four cases, we have provided a written response. We encourage the Committee to consider these responses.

We ask that detailed questions about individual cases or circumstances be responded to ‘in camera’. The information provided by our customers is personal and sensitive and it is important to respect their privacy.

I know one area of interest to the committee is the appointment of receivers. The decision to enforce and appoint receivers is the last resort. These decisions are not taken lightly. They are made at a senior management level and only after extensive consultation. NAB appoints receivers in only a very small number of instances, and only after all other viable options have been exhausted. In the context of NAB’s 28,000 farming customers, since October 2015, SBS has managed 319 farming groups in financial distress. Of these, only on four occasions was it necessary to appoint receivers.

In closing, I would like to reiterate NAB’s support for a mandatory, national Farm Debt Mediation framework. NAB has been a proactive and vocal supporter of this important reform since 2014.

Our experience of the existing farm debt mediation scheme is an independent mediator significantly increases the likelihood of a better outcome for our customers and NAB. Over the last 20 months farm debt mediation has resolved 86% of disputes where NAB has participated in mediation. A national farm debt mediation regime would give greater certainty and consistency in resolving disputes with our customers.

Thank you for the opportunity to make an opening statement. You have our submission; we look forward to your questions.

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