16 May 2013

Banks accused of pressuring debt-laden farmers

10:42 pm on 16 May 2013

Banks are being told to be careful about how much pressure they put on indebted farmers.

Farming advocate Janette Walker says phone calls from banks at unreasonable hours about bills and cancelled overdrafts are a big contributor to depression amongst farmers.

Ms Walker said the calls are made by strategic asset managers to place pressure on farmers.

The subject of depression and suicide in rural New Zealand was discussed at a conference in Wellington on Wednesday. On average, 20 farmers kill themselves every year, mostly men.

Ms Walker, who helps farmers negotiate with their banks, said money problems take their toll and banks need to know when to back off.

Ms Walker is a former farmer and said she knows first-hand what phenomenal pressure banks can exert. She said that one day she got a very early phone call from her own bank and it felt like the last straw.

But the Bankers Association rejects claims that banks are pressuring rural customers at unreasonable hours.

Chief executive Kirk Hope believes the phone calls are not doing any harm.

He said farmers can usually only be reached at breakfast and dinner, and a Federated Farmers survey shows that less than 5% of farmers are concerned by financial matters.

Mr Hope said the federation agrees that banks have little influence over suicide and depression in farmers.

The Bank of New Zealand said on Thursday it attempts to respect the privacy of its clients by making calls at appropriate times.

It said it would be "highly unusual" for a banker to call anyone in the early morning or late evening, if the customer had not requested it.