Australian Banking Association's Anna Bligh visits Dubbo

At the coalface: Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh in Dubbo to talk to banks and financial counsellors about changes in the industry and the impact of the drought.
At the coalface: Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh in Dubbo to talk to banks and financial counsellors about changes in the industry and the impact of the drought.

Australian Banking Association (ABA) boss Anna Bligh has offered assurances to the drought-hit Dubbo community that the industry has already started to change ahead of the Hayne royal commission handing down its final report.

During a visit to the city on Friday Ms Bligh said she expected “substantial recommendations” from the powerful inquiry’s final report and that putting those in place would be an “absolute priority” for banks.

Commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s interim report addressed the question of what motivated the conduct of some financial services entities revealed by the royal commission’s work, saying: “Too often, the answer seems to be greed.”

As Ms Bligh contested banks had learnt “a lot of lessons”, she encouraged customers to reach out.

“The royal commission will bring down the report that will have, I expect, a number of very substantial recommendations and implementing those will be an absolute priority for banks this year and beyond,” she said.

“But banks have already begun to change and I certainly want to encourage anybody in this local region who is either experiencing financial hardship or is worried that might be around the corner for them, depending on the season, to be talking directly to their bank at the earliest possible stage.”

Banks have set up hardship teams, which can help with practical things such as restructuring a loan or restructuring payments, “to help people get through a really tough patch and before the skies are kinder” again, Ms Bligh reports.

“So while we have seen some really distressing stories out of the royal commission, I can reassure your readers and the local community here that banks have learnt a lot of lessons out of the process,” she said

“They… really do understand that in the long-term, the best financial interest of the bank is best served when rural producers are helped through difficult times so that they can succeed again, then everybody wins.”

Ms Bligh is at the start of a tour to talk to people “at the coalface in regional Australia”. Her itinerary in the city included visiting two different bank branches, financial counsellors and Dubbo mayor Ben Shields.

“Even at this very early stage, it’s absolutely clear that the drought is having a big impact, but there is nevertheless a real appetite from banks to continue lending to the agricultural sector,” Ms Bligh said.

“And there is an appetite from rural producers to be growing their businesses so, it is important that the regulatory framework is balanced and gives rural producers an opportunity to continue to get affordable and reasonable access to credit.”​