Banking on longer retail trading hours

Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh has thrown her support behind extending WA’s retail trading hours as part of a wider economic response to the COVID-19 crisis.

In a wide-ranging interview with Economic Pulse, the former Queensland Premier said the emergency presented an opportunity for governments to look at making some temporary measures “a permanent part of the landscape”.

She cited relief measures such as not requiring a “wet signature” on loan and property contracts, as well as “things like shopping hours, the restrictions on delivery vehicles into supermarkets and … the whole logistics chain.”

WA operates under a heavily regulated retail trading regime.

During the pandemic the State Government has allowed Coles and Woolworths to open an hour early at 10am on Sundays. However, that will end on June 21, while early morning shopping for elderly and vulnerable consumers, emergency services and healthcare workers ended on May 17.

“You’d never wish a crisis of any kind on anybody, but if you have one you should never waste it,” Ms Bligh said. “In every crisis there is opportunities; it challenges us to do things differently and to think differently.”

Ms Bligh said a strong banking sector relied on businesses being given every opportunity to trade at their best and take advantage of new opportunities in the market.

“Sometimes it’s very hard for people in positions of political leadership to change things, because people like things the way they’ve always been,” she added.

“But when all the cards get thrown up in the air, as they have been, you’ve got some licence from your public and your constituents. That window will close, but while you’ve got that licence you should use it creatively.”

Ms Bligh said banks were “doing everything they can to fast-track the approval process” for six-month loan repayment deferrals and were currently working through options for customers who may still need help after six months, including possible interest-only payments or further deferrals.

ABA data shows that as at May 27 a total of 744,904 customers had opted for six-month deferrals on loans worth $224 billion, of which 211,292 were business loans. ABA banks had facilitated $101b of new business lending since the start of the pandemic.

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