The major banks have agreed to set up a special hotline to give priority to businesses looking for bridging finance ahead of receiving JobKeeper payments.
Speaking after the Prime Minister called on banks to “step up” their turnaround times for bridging loans for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed yesterday (23 April) that he has been working closely with the banks to address the issue.
Mr Frydenberg, who reportedly met with the heads of some of the major banks this week, revealed that a new hotline will now be launched by the big four to help provide finance for these businesses and ensure that they can pay workers while they wait for the government’s $1,500 wage subsidy.
The first payments to eligible employers will commence in the first week of May 2020.
Mr Frydenberg said: “We’re very conscious of the fact that the banks are playing a vitally important role in bridging the finance that these businesses need to pay their staff ahead of receiving their first [JobKeeper] payment in the first week of May.
“Now, it was an integrity measure as part of the system that businesses had to pay their staff before receiving their first payment.”
Mr Frydenberg said he had a “telephone hook-up with the four bank CEOs and the Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan” yesterday, in which he “emphasised the need for the banks to provide the support to those businesses”.
The Treasurer outlined that each of the banks have now “agreed to set up a dedicated hotline for their customers to call and receive the bridging finance necessary to pay their staff ahead of receiving that money under the JobKeeper program”.
“Importantly, they have also agreed to expedite the processing of all of those applications to the front of the queue,” he revealed.
The Treasurer concluded: “If you are a business or a not-for-profit operation eligible for the JobKeeper payment, as required, you need to pay your staff ahead of receiving the money from the Tax Office.
“Go to your bank, ring their hotline, ask for that support, and that support will be forthcoming.”
Hotline details yet to be revealed
While the hotline has been announced, when contacted by The Adviser for further information, none of the major banks were able to provide further details on their new hotlines.
However, NAB CEO Ross McEwan told The Adviser that the hotline will be launched on the bank’s coronavirus support page today (24 April) for “customers needing support with JobKeeper bridging finance”.
“We’ll also expedite any requests we’ve already received from customers so far,” Mr McEwan said.
“We strongly support the actions the government is taking, and our bankers are working overtime to provide assistance to the thousands of requests for help we’ve received so far...
“We recognise this funding is critical to keeping businesses afloat, people in jobs, and food on the table for the many people who are doing it tough right now.
“We’re working as quickly as we can, with more than 350 people retrained to support customer-facing roles so far, so we can support as many customers as we can over this hurdle,” Mr McEwan said.
ANZ has said that once its dedicated hotline has been established and other measures put in place to prioritise eligible customers, the bank will provide updated information on its website’s COVID-19 page, where there will also be a call-back form.
ANZ chief executive officer Shayne Elliott acknowledged that it was “a challenging time for some of [its] business customers as they try to make ends meet while supporting their staff members and their businesses”.
“ANZ is committed to helping those customers who need to fill an urgent short-term funding gap while they wait for extraordinary financial support from the government’s Job Keeper program,” he said.
“Our dedicated hotline and financial support for these customers is in addition to the range of measures we already have in place to support them, such as loan repayment deferrals and a 10 per cent increase in overdraft accounts,” Mr Elliott added.
The bank has already reportedly provided loan repayment deferrals to about 15 per cent of its SME customers.
Likewise, Guil Lima – Westpac’s chief executive, business division – commented: “Westpac is committed to helping our business customers as they navigate this period by offering practical, meaningful support where we can.
“We strongly support the federal government’s JobKeeper initiative. Keeping Australians in jobs and getting paid is vitally important.
“Following discussions with the government, we have agreed to put some additional measures in place to help businesses who need bridging finance while they wait for JobKeeper payments to come through.
“One of our immediate priorities is to set up a dedicated hotline for our customers to use and ensure we expedite those requests,” he said.
“We all have a role to play in this extraordinary and challenging time.”
The Australian Banking Association (ABA) confirmed that the CEOs of ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac had met with the Treasurer yesterday (23 April) and had “agreed to bolster their efforts to prioritise any business needing funding to bridge the gap until the first JobKeeper payments are made in May”.
ABA CEO Anna Bligh said the banks were “working tirelessly to process applications as quickly as possible”.
She added: “Throughout this crisis, banks have worked hard to ensure they keep businesses afloat and keep people in jobs, with more than $700 million already lent to businesses to help see them through the pandemic.
“From today (23 April), banks are bolstering their efforts to fast-track any outstanding applications from businesses seeking funding to help them pay staff until the JobKeeper supplement is paid in May.
“A dedicated hotline will be set up by each major bank to help service the businesses requesting this important lifeline,” she said.
[Related: PM calls on banks to address finance lags]