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Big banks dodge fair trade questions

Big banks dodge fair trade questions

SSAA Victoria has contacted Australia’s big four banks seeking their policies on delivering services to law-abiding firearm owners and legitimate industry businesses.

It follows media reports that banks had ceased the services of people with links to the legal firearms industry because they ‘no longer meet the banks’ risk appetite’.

Several National Australia Bank (NAB) customers – including firearm retailers, ammunition manufacturers and employees – have received Notice of Accounts and Services Closure letters this year.

The letters say, “NAB regularly reviews the risks associated with providing banking services to customers involved in certain industries. As a result of these reviews, NAB has chosen to cease providing you with banking services”.

When pressed for an explanation, one customer was told the bank was “unable to provide any further information”.

A small business owner, who was given 45 days to move his accounts to a different bank, was refused service by the Commonwealth Bank, ANZ and Westpac for the same reason.

“At a time when small businesses across the country are hurting due to economic slowdown, a sharp drop in tourism and now COVID-19, it’s just another slap in the face for firearm owners who just want a make a living and support their families, same as bank executives.” CEO Jack Wegman said.

“These are law-abiding firearm owners who have been deemed fit and proper by the authorities and who are regularly monitored to ensure compliance. They just want the big banks to give them a fair go.”

Last year, Bank of Queensland (BOQ) backed down on similar policy changes that led to the denial of loans to firearm shop employees, after pressure from the then Federal Agricultural Minister Bridget McKenzie. The bank agreed to provide services to employees of all legalised industries in Australia.

In a poll last week, Weekly Times readers proved they also think banks should keep their noses out of people’s private lives, with 95 per cent agreeing that banks should not be able to ban legitimate business activity.

SSAA Victoria approached the big four banks for clarification on their policies regarding the delivery of services to firearm owners and businesses.

“We requested an official statement explaining each bank’s position so that we could share factual information with you, enabling you to make informed decisions about who you bank with,” Mr Wegman said.

“We pressed them to explain how ‘risk appetite’ was defined and how it applied to a standard retail business, such as a firearm trader.

“The PR machine managed our requests and, the banks that did respond at the time of publication, provided brief, broad and indirect responses – attempting to stonewall our enquiry.”

Westpac provided a link to its policy on lending to companies involved in the defence sector – not directly relevant to sporting shooters, hunters, farmers and collectors.

A further attempt to gain clear policy on providing services to civilian firearm owners and businesses has so far been left unanswered.

An ANZ spokesman said the bank had “no specific policy restrictions for retail firearms dealers, subject to our usual credit assessment, which takes in social and environmental considerations”.

SSAA Victoria is still waiting on an explanation as to what “social and environmental considerations” mean in this context.

NAB sent SSAA Victoria the same response that it provided The Weekly Times last week, which says decisions to close accounts have not been ‘gun store specific’.

“There are times that we determine that we can no longer provide banking services to some existing customers because of factors including our risk appetite as well as regulatory and legislative obligations,” said Executive, Consumer Banking, Anthony Waldron.

“We appreciate that in these cases it may be difficult for any customer required to find alternative banking arrangements. It is clear that we can manage this process with more care and respect.”

Mr Waldron said treating customers consistently and fairly was important to NAB and it would review its process to ensure customers were “always treated with care and respect”.

“While our members would appreciate, and rightly expect, to be treated with care and respect, they deserve to know where their financial institution sits on servicing firearm owners and businesses,” Mr Wegman said. “This is something the banks are not being forthcoming about.”

CBA in its response said “We deal with every customer on a case-by-case basis and incorporate environmental, social and governance considerations into our lending and business decisions.

In some cases, we may form a view that we no longer wish to continue a banking relationship with a customer based on risk factors.” Again, a vague response with no explanation of what the considerations actually mean.

SSAA Victoria will continue to chase the big four for clear information and seek assurances from lenders and financial institutions that its members will not be left in the lurch simply for not meeting their litmus test. The organisation will update members when more information comes to light.

If you have been denied a loan or had your bank account ceased because you are a firearm owner, please contact SSAA Victoria’s State Office at state_office@ssaavic.com.au so the team can monitor how widespread the issue is locally.