Nine banks have made the cut to participate in the government-backed $6.25 billion loan scheme to help businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis and subsequent national lockdown.
Businesses with turnover between $250,000 and $80 million can begin applying for up to three-year $500,000 loans from any of the nine banks: ANZ Bank, ASB Bank, Bank of New Zealand, Heartland Bank, HSBC, Kiwibank, SBS Bank, TSB Bank and Westpac.
Despite the announcement, BusinessDesk understands many of the details, including how much each bank will be allocated, are still to be worked out by Treasury.
The scheme rules exclude lending to agriculture, property development and property investment.
10 day process
Banks are telling businesses to expect that application processes will likely take about 10 days and that they will take into account the way the covid-19 crisis is affecting their business, relative to their performance prior to the lockdown.
The big four banks, ANZ, ASB, BNZ and Westpac, account for about 88 percent of New Zealand's banking system.
"We're moving quickly to protect New Zealand businesses, jobs and the economy during this unprecedented global economic shock," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement.
"The business finance guarantee will help businesses with cashflow and operating expenses and comes in alongside the $8 billion-to-$12 billion wage subsidy scheme keeping people in jobs and workers and employers connected during the lockdown," Robertson said.
"For most businesses, their most important relationship is with their bank. The government is using its balance sheet to give businesses and their banks space to work together through this crisis."
The government will guarantee up to 80 percent of each loan. It is part of more than $25 billion of government economic support announced to date to cushion the impact of the crisis.
The Reserve Bank has deferred the start date for new capital requirements for at least a year until July 1, 2021 which the central bank has said will allow the banks to provide an additional $47 billion of credit.
The central bank has also relaxed rules on how the banks fund their lending.
Robertson didn't mention growing calls for the government to relax insolvency law to provide directors with a "safe harbour" in making decisions amid the crisis as other governments, including Australia and Britain have done.
However, Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford told told the parliamentary select committee overseeing the national lockdown that the insolvency issue was subject to work by officials.
"We are looking at it now," he said, but gave no timeline for announcements.
NZ Bankers Association chief executive Roger Beaumont said: "Banks will follow their normal credit assessment processes to see if businesses qualify for the scheme and will take into account the circumstances businesses find themselves in due to covid-19. That process usually takes approximately 10 working days."
Kiwibank, ANZ and Westpac have already said they would honour the spirit of the guarantee scheme and would assess each business's state of solvency based on its trading history and outlook for after the lockdown ends, not their current position, while BNZ has taken a somewhat more cautious stance.
However, BNZ chief customer officer Paul Carter said his bank "is ready to go," inviting applications from 7am tomorrow and says it will offer competitive interest rates.
Carter said BNZ is already offering a business support package that includes waiving all contactless debit transaction fees for small-to-medium businesses for three months from March 20, extending immediate funds to meet short-term cashflow needs, extensions of trade credit and a 1 percentage point per annum reduction in overdraft rates.
BNZ is also offering a 24/7 online facility for business lending up to $100,000 without additional security, principal repayment holidays, and other benefits.
ASB said it has already helped more than 5,000 business customers with a range of support options and that their number is growing every day.
It envisages being able to help up to 40,000 customers through the guarantee and other support measures.
Westpac's general manager of commercial, corporate and institutional banking, Simon Power, said the scheme is designed to help viable businesses to meet costs over the coming weeks and months.
The lockdown is expected to last at least another three weeks, although it may last longer.
"Many businesses have fixed costs that they need to continue to pay even though they are not trading at the moment. These are things like rent, vehicle leasing and staff salaries," Power said.
He sounded a note of warning, saying each business will be different but that all will have to provide financial projections.
"As with any business lending, we still need to understand if each customer will be able to meet their commitments. We don't want to place people under even more financial stress by lending to customers that don't have a viable way forward."
ANZ Bank, NZ's biggest lender to business, said it will also start taking applications immediately.
"Given the urgency facing many businesses, the bank will work to give customers a decision as soon as possible, although this is likely to take several days," said Mark Hiddleston, managing director of ANZ NZ's commercial and agricultural lending.
"To make the assessments quicker, we ask that when we have those conversations with customers, they come with a plan or some thinking about how they intend to last the crisis and get the business back on its feet afterwards," Hiddleston said.