Westpac woos Waikato farmers

Westpac is wooing Waikato farmers, as part of a bid to increase its market share in the relatively prosperous agribusiness sector, particularly the dairy sector.

Not traditionally known as a farmer-focused bank, Westpac is looking to change all that, its new chief executive Peter Clare said at National Fieldays today. 

Clare, who has been in his role as chief executive for three months, said Westpac had about 22 per cent market share in most of the business areas it operates in but in agribusiness currently had only about 12 per cent.

The agribusiness component was up about 2 per cent on the previous year, but Clare said he wanted to grow that even further "to what I would call our fair share".

Clare is personally passionate about agribusiness, with farming family members and a clear awareness that agribusiness is a dominant part of the national economy.

The key to the bank's fresh focus on farming is a local approach, Clare said - putting local people on the ground in local areas. Twenty specialist Westpac agri bankers had been employed throughout New Zealand over the past three years, with plans for another 10 this year - with six of those expected to go into the Waikato.

This region was an area of focus as the largest part of the New Zealand dairy herd is in the Waikato, Clare said. Entry into farming, investment and efficiency would  be three key areas of focus for the bank in the agri sector, he said, including enabling access to finance for farmers to buy capital and equipment to make existing farms more efficient. The bank wanted to help existing farmers to grow, farm managers to become sharemilkers and sharemilkers to own their own farms. 

Clare said Westpac intended to be there with farmers through the good times and bad. During the global financial crisis, the bank's motto had been "we're open for business", supporting agribusiness clients that were doing it tough or developing new ideas.

Asked if farmers could expect lower interest rates, given the increasing competition in the agribusiness banking sector, Clare said it was not all about price. "The most important thing for a farmer is to have an enduring relationship with a locally represented bank."

Locally-based agri bankers would have a better understanding of the real position facing local farmers and agribusiness owners than a banker in a head office that could be hundreds of kilometres away, he said. Agri bankers would have some discretion in banking decisions, but within national parameters. 

Waikato Times