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Saturday 23 February 2019

Helen Harris: 'Banks are open for business - as long as you don't mention machinery'

Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare
Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare
'Mention the M word - machinery, and banks are not interested'
Helen Harris

Helen Harris

As the weather gets that bit colder, there is no excuse for not getting on top of all the indoor jobs. January is also the month of conferences and it's a great time to get finances in order.

With this in mind, last week I looked at our bank account to work out our options or lack thereof.

Banks and 'vulture funds' have been getting plenty of media attention since the Roscommon farm eviction last month.

But it's the stories that don't make the headlines that reflect the bigger picture.

I'm talking about normal family-run farms and small businesses that are struggling. What are the banks doing to help them?

I wrote an article a couple of years ago questioning if the banks were really open for business for farmers?

The answer I received from banks and farmers was that banks were 'sort of' open for business, but both security and the ability to pay was now much tightly controlled.

Some blamed the financial regulator and others blamed the EU for the stricter lending criteria. It was suggested that these new stricter rules were there for our own good.

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They were there to protect us from another banking crisis.

But most of us didn't do anything wrong. We repaid our loans and took out new ones.

Now we are hearing that banks don't want to deal with most farmers. In particular, they don't want to do business with tillage farmers. They are not interested in tillage farmer groups and it seems now that they don't want you as an individual farmer either.

If you are a dairy farmer, they are only delighted to offer you low-interest loans and little or no fees and charges. But if you mention the M word - machinery - they are just not interested. Maybe what I'm hearing is wrong, but I am hearing it more often.

We recently received a letter outlining the new changes in fees and charges. I was shocked at the increased rates.

All these increases are on one side. If you happen to have money in a bank account, the deposit rates are shockingly low - I have even heard of negative interest rates.

Meanwhile, they are shutting all the teller windows inside the bank, so you have to queue for half the day to actually talk to a human.

If you happen to have a few transactions and finish by saying to the bank employee that you also have a cheque to lodge, then you will be quickly told to put it in the quick lodge, as they don't lodge cheques anymore.

I am all for using technology and online banking, but I recently spent four visits to our local bank trying to set up a link as a new payee online for our account in another bank.

In other words, I would effectively be paying myself, but I was told it couldn't be done as what I was looking for was too complicated.

I also had reason to ring the business centre in one bank and was left on hold for 20 minutes. When I got through, I asked the very nice man at the other end of the line, was it okay if I put him on hold for 20 minutes?

Bonuses

He said he wouldn't be able to stay on the line as he was too busy. I reminded him that it was the business centre that I rang and that every customer that rang him was doing business and therefore we are all busy. Why is his time more precious than mine?

Are these not the banks that we, the taxpayers, bailed out? Are these the same banks that are now back giving big bonuses to their top executives?

Did we learn nothing? How is it fair that the people that did nothing wrong are the ones that have to pay for the sins of others?

Why are our tillage farming leaders not addressing this issue?

And as this is strictly a personal opinion piece, I would be more than happy for any bank to prove me wrong by offering me a reasonable rate loan.

Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Follow P&H Harris on Twitter @kildarefarmer

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