Chris Thomas: Supporting Australia’s SMEs

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    Known as Australia’s largest business bank, NAB is working hard to support the millions of small and medium-sized businesses across the country as they face the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. But now is the time for a bipar-tisan approach rather than for touting the merits of one bank over another, says Chris Thomas, general manager, commercial broking, at NAB.

    “This is the time to call out that every lender is doing a wonderful job in providing support packages to their customers,” Thomas says.

    As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the government to put strict restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in one place, the impact was immediately felt by many businesses, particularly in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.

    This can already be seen in the number of applications businesses have made for Brokers are in a unique position right now to support their customers through the multiple challenges the coronavirus might throw at them, and they can do this with help from NABsupport packages, which banks had to very quickly implement. NAB, for its part, is allowing repayment deferrals, extensions of loans, and reduced interest rates; by mid-April it had already received almost 30,000 applications.

    “This is the time to call out that every lender is doing a wonderful job in providing support packages to their customers”

    “With the amount of people that are availing themselves of bank support packages or government support packages, you can see the immediate impact that evolves from a crisis which really hits the heartland of our SME community,” Thomas says.

    “It’s very important to our country’s prosperity and future that we have a viable small business community.”

    Chris Thomas, general manager, commercial broking, NAB

    Name: Chris Thomas
    Company: NAB
    Title: General manager, commercial broking
    Years in the industry: 32

    How are you supporting brokers?
    “We have around 450 broker-aligned business bankers all extremely capable and experienced in looking after broker customers, and our equally experienced BDMs are there to assist our brokers. We have dedicated credit support throughout our broker channel, and we have a large number of specialists through different aspects of the business banking landscape. We work closely with aggregators in respect to what more we could be doing given social distancing may be with us in some form for a while.”

    Fighting for businesses

    Businesses are facing multiple challenges at the moment, whether they are temporarily closing their doors, letting staff go, or facing reduced business because their customers are losing their salaries. There is also a flip side in that many businesses will be seeing unprecedented demand but won’t have the funds to keep up with it.

    Unfortunately, the reality is that some businesses will not survive these challenges, Thomas says. This will create significant pressure by increasing unemployment and impacting the broader community. But he believes there will be positives.

    “I think there are positives here, and that is the great resilience of Australian businesses and the Australian community more broadly to respond to challenges through fostering innovation,” he says. “We should not lose sight of that, because that’s our way out. We should continue to challenge current business models and current practices and find new and better ways of working together.”

    NAB is also focusing on its partnership with brokers in continuing to support customers and minimise as much of the impact on them as possible. Thomas says the role of the broker will be particularly important over the coming months, and NAB will be there to guide those brokers with its team of BDMs and broker-aligned business bankers.

    “Brokers will continue to play a very strong role as trusted advisers to customers, and we’re very proud to work with commercial brokers”

    He adds that, on top of the financial guidance commercial brokers provide, they can also offer genuine empathy and understanding at this time.

    “It’s not lost on NAB that many of our commercial brokers are small businesses in their own right, so they will be facing a number of their own challenges. This does, however, place them in a position of genuine understanding of what others are going through,” he says.

    “Brokers will continue to play a very strong role as trusted advisers to those customers, and we’re very proud to work with commercial brokers that are partnering with NAB. We’ll be stepping up and doing our bit in that partnership to help as many of their business customers through.”

    NAB action on COVID-19Creating more impact

    No longer being able to offer face-to-face meetings due to social distancing measures has meant brokers are having to find new ways to build relationships with their customers.

    While there is great value in being able to physically meet, Thomas says this experience is opening the eyes of everyone to what can be done digitally. Although he does not suggest digital meetings will now take over, he says there are things to learn.

    “Getting past this, I can see where we will leverage these digital ways of doing things a lot more,” he explains. “We’ll still have physical interactions, but how do we make the physical more impactful? We will see emerge out of this a number of innovations that will change the face of business forever. I think that’s a real positive; it’s a silver lining in a dark cloud we should all look to.”

    Many brokers may also see their businesses changing in terms of what they offer. Mortgage brokers may find that now is the time that they can help their clients beyond home loans, and other finance brokers may realise there is scope to widen their commercial offering.

    Even ahead of this pandemic, MFAA figures were showing an increase in the number of mortgage brokers writing commercial loans. While Thomas says he supports broking firms that want to invest in the commercial space, he believes they do need to be cautious before jumping into complex scenarios.

    “I think any broker that has a deliberate strategy and the right commercial acumen to support businesses can play a significant role in the life of a business customer right here, right now,” he says.

    “A deliberate strategy is so important because customers need really clear advice, they need understanding and they need empathy. In order to perform that vital role, you have to have the experience and expertise to support those customers.”

    As brokers work to help the business community, Thomas says “we’ll all work together”.

    “There are going to be some challenging times ahead, but we should look towards optimism and positivity and see a way through this,” he says.

    “We can work through this together, and we’ll come out the other end a lot stronger for what we have all been through. We’ll need to work together to rebuild, and create a new normal in the economy, and I’m very confident that we can do that.”

    Original Article