17 Feb 2015

Westpac settles over interest rate swaps

3:29 pm on 17 February 2015

The Commerce Commission and Financial Markets Authority have reached a settlement with Westpac over interest rate swaps.

But it does not impress the former farmer who triggered the inquiry.

Lamb and beef farming in Sanson

Westpac has settled with 38 farming customers who took interest rate swaps. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Commission launched its investigation into Westpac and two other banks, ANZ and ASB, following complaints about the way they promoted and sold swaps to rural customers between 2005 and 2012.

Farmers who lost money complained that they were misled about the risks of swaps which were marketed as a way of protecting them from rising interest rates.

They said when interest rates fell, they were locked into the higher rates which they could not get out of without paying an expensive buy-out option.

In some cases, it cost them their farms.

Late last year the Commerce Commission reached compensation settlements with ANZ for $19 million and ASB Bank for a little over $3 million.

In the final settlement, Westpac has agreed to pay a total of almost $2.5 million to the 38 customers who registered complaints with the Commission.

It will also pay $250,000 towards the Commerce Commission's costs and give another $250,000 to Rural Support Trusts.

Westpac has admitted that some of its conduct breached the Fair Trading Act .

Commerce Commission chair Dr Mark Berry said the settlement was a good outcome for the 38 eligible farmers.

However, Janette Walker, who is now a debt mediator and rural advocate, has dismissed the latest settlement, as she did the ones before it, as a joke.

"I think it's shameful that the total amount, which is just over $20-odd million for all of the banks, is only a very small proportion of what the total cost has been to farmers, who had interest rate swaps and I'm absolutely disappointed in the result.

"There's one farmer, who's a Westpac customer, who lost everything. The cost to the business was roughly $2.4 million. Her settlement won't be anywhere near what it's cost her and her family."

Ms Walker said she was now talking to lawyers about taking a class action against the banks. She said it would be a complex process.

"Some of the farmers feel that while they'll just take what they can get, something's better than nothing. Some farmers are extremely angry and you've got another bunch of farmers who are still banking with the banks, they're having a bit of a tough time with the drought and a low [milk] payout and they don't want to do anything to upset their banks, so there's a bit of fear involved as well."

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