Farmer struggles for answers the BNZ

A former Franz Joseph station owner, Gray Eatwell, is touring the Country promoting his recent book You Can Bank on It, a scathing and occasionally humorous revelation and account of Bank of New Zealand overcharging practices in New Zealand.

Kiwisfirst Editor caught up with Mr. Eatwell and his wife Vicki recently in Remuera to discuss the book that has the BNZ currently considering its options for stopping its distribution.  At the moment, however, the BNZ seem content to ignore the publication, no doubt wishing not to draw attention to its damning contents.  Nonetheless, the tremendous power of the bank is omnipresent, with several bookstores declining to carry the book and one chain, according to Mr. Eatwell, frankly telling him they did not want to risk offending the bank by carrying it.

While this first attempt at publication by Mr. Eatwell deals primarily with the Eatwell’s own painful experience with the BNZ in the 1990’s and falls short on providing actual financial figures that might dispel all doubt as to its scandalous claims, it is a surprisingly gripping, convincing and easy to follow tome.   Much of this stems from the character of the man that shines through its pages; a salt of the earth farmer and boat skipper who does not ask for much and has worked very hard for what he has got and, it is evident, a man still more interested in finding out the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ behind the bank’s practices than picking a fight.  Equally so for the similar revelations of the Colin Meads and the Ian Andrews contained in its pages and the repeated pattern of customer overcharging by the BNZ that has been independently confirmed.

That is not to say that the book won’t leave the reader with nagging questions at the end.  For instance, why didn’t the Eatwell’s seek another lender to take over their $1.5 million farm debt when BNZ persisted in stiff-arming them on the refund of overcharges totaling in the five digits?

Their answer is that they were essentially naïve enough to believe that the BNZ would eventually do the right thing when the errors had been proven and by the time they knew this would not occur market conditions had de-valued the book value of their stock by half, throwing them in technical default of their bank security agreement and making refinancing with another lender cost-prohibitive if not impossible.  They insist that cash flow was never a problem but that the market devaluation of their stock allowed the bank to foreclose on their farm.

While most of the players in this drama from the Bank’s side have retired or moved on,  an experienced former bank officer suggests that non-compliance with the security arrangements would have most certainly allowed the bank to escalate fees and accelerate payments.  As to the seminal question why the BNZ didn’t ‘do the right thing?’ there appears no obvious reason, with Mr. Eatwell admitting he can only guess as to why.

This guess concerns a situation the Eatwells uncovered later that the Bank’s parent company owned another bank in Ireland that was concurrently being charged by the Irish government with similar unfair banking practices.  Mr. Eatwell suspects that his recruitment of a number of Members of Parliament to press his own claim with the New Zealand banking authorities may have actually worked against him here.

Foreclosing on the farm took the bank’s action out of the realm of the Commerce Commission and into a relatively simple and provable commercial dispute.  It also was a long-proven method of silencing critics by financially disabling them.

Copies of the book You Can Bank on It can be obtained for $19.95 plus postage by contacting the publisher via email at: rawtalent at xtra . co . nz