– With AAP
Letters sent just weeks after a heart attack, farms sold well under value and homes unprofitably sold are just some of the uncompassionate actions of ANZ the royal commission into banking has exposed this week.
This week the commission is focussing on banks’ dealings with farmers. Of the 268 submissions related to agricultural finance received by the royal commission, 32 relate to ANZ around the time it acquired farming lender Landmark in 2010.
Among the dozens of farmers who have been treated unfairly, or without compassion, were WA sheep farmers Stephen and Janine Harley.
When the Harleys received a letter from ANZ threatening they could lose their farm, it was just a few weeks after Stephen had suffered a heart attack, AAP reports.
The letter told them they were defaulting on their loan and had six months to pay off their entire debt, until March 2014. If they couldn’t, they’d have just one day to leave.
They received this despite Janine informing the bank her husband had been flown to Perth for heart surgery, in which she said, “I hope you can now understand the pressure we’ve been under… we ask that this is taken under consideration when a decision is made.”
The Harleys were one of many former Landmark Financial Services customers who ended up in financial difficulties and in ANZ's hands after its 2010 acquisition of the agribusiness loan book.
The Harleys managed to sell five of their nine land lots and livestock to pay down $1.6 million of the $2.5 million debt before the March 2014 deadline.
But ANZ rejected a request for a nine-month extension, which they hoped would have allowed them to reach their target.
Instead, the four remaining parts of their farm were sold by the bank - but for $570,000 less than they were valued, and at a much lower value than the Harleys had sold the first five lots for, ABC's correspondent Michael Janda reports.
Eventually, in July 2017, the bank decided it would not pursue the remaining $309,000 the Harleys owed. But the bank didn't write to tell the family this until February.
When asked why it took so long to inform them despite knowledge of Stephen Harley's heart condition, ANZ executive Ben Steinberg replied: "I don’t know."
He conceded that if the Harleys had asked for that nine-month extension today, it was more likely it would have been granted.
Farmers forced to sell home, machinery even though it would add no value to property.
Meanwhile, third-generation grain farmers were forced to sell their home, along with their farm, despite the house adding no value to the sale, the commission heard on Tuesday.
Elderly couple Arthur and Rhonda Cheesman and their son Reuben and wife Katrina were struggling financially, and agreed to sell their western Victorian farming property to settle their debts with ANZ.
However, they pleaded to keep the blocks with their family homes on it, as well as the farm machinery that would allow them to hopefully keep earning a living on leased land.
ANZ declined these pleas. That's despite advice that the homes would not add value to the property, and could be sold for more if sold separately to the rest of the farm at the very least.
ANZ has admitted that St Arnaud farmers Arthur and Rhonda Cheesman could have been given an opportunity to keep their home and farm machinery rather than being forced to sell up. The couple told the banking royal commission they were given little over a fortnight to sell.
— Jess Black (@JesseBlack39) June 26, 2018
Eventually, the bank proceeded with the sale of the farm machinery and Arthur and Rhonda's house. Rueben and Katrina were, in the end able to keep their home.
The bank has since recognised that although the loss of the farm was unavoidable, they could have left the customers with an amount of money to move forward and later awarded the Cheesmans $270,000 in compensation.
ANZ's Ben Steinberg said it their "sad" story would have been handled differently today.
"Looking back on it and the events that you've just described, I find it sad that that happened."
"I'm struggling with it."
Bank admits to unfairly treating farmer it kicked off property.
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) June 26, 2018
Charlie Phillott was aged in his 80s when he was forced off his station in central-west Queensland. This was despite never missing a mortgage payment.
ANZ devalued his property due to the drought, deeming in at "unviable" risk, and in March 2014, evicting him.
At the commission, ANZ's Ben Steinberg accepted the bank did not act fairly, reasonably or ethically.
Outside, Charlie told reporters he felt the bank staff were learning they had to change their ways.
"It's important that they treat people and their clients everywhere as human."
Banks wouldn't allow customer to reschedule meeting after cancer test results.
Elizabeth Handley had just received an "abnormal" test result - something that would later lead to her cancer diagnosis.
In this stressful moment, ABC reports, the Queensland cattle farmer contacted her bank, ANZ, to try to reschedule a meditation meeting she wasn't in the state of mind to attend.
This was just one of the examples where ANZ staff had poor relations with the Handleys, the commission heard. The bank also dishonoured cheques due to errors on its own part, and overcharged the farmers with fees and interest.
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