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Year in review

 

 

Farm Business Loan results for the 2019-20 financial year as at 30 June 2020.We have approved more than 635 total loans valued at $715 million; we have approved more than 580 Drought loans valued at over $600 million; we have approved 14 AgBiz Drought Loans valued at over $3.6 million; We have approved more than 30 AgRebuild loans valued at over $110 million; we have approved 4 Farm Investment loans valued at $597,000; our current approval rate is approximately 81% of total loan decisions.
NWILF results at 30 June 2020.Tracked over 50 prospective water infrastructure projects; enhanced the NWILF business processes and project assessment and reporting framework; supported the Australian Government's considerations of water policy improvement changes; engaged with Commonwealth agencies, state water departments, water service providers, investors and advisors; no loan applications received to date.

 

Interest rate changes across the 2019-20 period

 

NWILF

Farm Business Loans

FY 2019-20 start

3.12%

3.58%

1 Aug 2019

2.65%

3.11%

1 Feb 2019

1.65%

2.11%

1 Aug 2020

1.46%

1.92%

 

Applications by LGA received since inception up to 30 June 2020

 

Map of Australia showing dots that represent applications received by local government area since RIC's inception up to 30 June 2020

 

New programs and announcements

Just prior to the start of the 2019-20 financial year, our new AgRebuild Loan product was launched pursuant to Regional Investment Corporation Agribusiness Natural Disaster Loans – 2019 North Queensland Flood) Rule 2019 and Regional Investment Corporation Agribusiness Natural Disaster Loans – 2019 North Queensland Flood) Amendment Rule 2019. These legislative changes allowed the RIC to lend to farm businesses that suffered direct damage as a result of the North Queensland floods of January and February 2019, to assist farmers in the region to recover and rebuild. Therefore, early in the 2019-20 year, efforts were focused on getting staff on the ground in affected areas to raise awareness of the loan. At the close of the loan program on 30 June 2020, RIC had issued over $110 million in AgRebuild loans to assist affected farmers with their recovery.

On 2 May 2019, the Australian Government announced the AgriStarter loan as an election commitment. Through the introduction of the Regional Investment Corporation (Agristarter Loans) Rule 2019, the loan aims to assist people to buy an existing farm business, establish a new farm business or undertake succession arrangements. During 2019-20, the RIC worked with the Australian Government on the administrative and legislative approvals required to deliver the loan. The AgriStarter loan program will commence in January 2021.

On 7 November 2019, through the Regional Investment Corporation (Small Business Drought Loans) Rule 2020, the Australian Government announced a new loan available to drought-affected small businesses that have a direct dependency on farmers through providing primary production-related goods and services to farm businesses in drought. The loans assist these small businesses to manage through the drought and remain viable until their customers begin to resume or increase production and seek their goods and services. This represented a shift from RIC’s original mandate to providing assistance outside farm business loans, along with a change to interest settings by providing a two-year interest-free period. This product became known as the AgBiz Drought Loan and was launched on 20 January 2020. At the end of the financial year we had provided $3.6 million in AgBiz Drought Loan Assistance.

As part of the 7 November 2019 announcement, the Australian Government announced a two-year interest-free period for RIC’s existing Drought Loan product, to maximise support to farmers as the drought tightened its grip on the Australian agricultural sector.

The Regional Investment Corporation Operating Mandate Amendment (Drought Loans – Interest-free Period) Direction was made to amend the RIC’s Operating Mandate to include a two-year interest-free period for new and existing drought loans, forming part of the Government’s 2019 election commitment.

In January 2020, the Australian Government announced an extension to the Drought loans program (Regional Investment Corporation (Drought Loans Expansion) Rule 2020) to expand eligibility criteria so that all Australian farm businesses could access drought loans regardless of their location, either located within an affected area as defined in the Desertification Convention, or located outside this area.

With the raft of changes to our Farm Business loan products during the reporting period, demand began to increase from November 2019. For example, our monthly application intake went from 53 in October 2019, to 91 in November, and 212 in December. Monthly applications climbed as a result peaking at around 300 applications per month. Bearing in mind that the RIC’s staffing and systems were established with a forecast of approximately 300 applications per year, the spike in demand was followed by a slowing of our processing timeframes.

Improvement initiatives

In recognising the impact of longer loan processing timeframes on our farm business loan customers, the RIC began implementing process improvement initiatives that were achievable within its funding allocation in early 2020. Initiatives included shortening application forms, recruiting additional vetting and assessment staff, redeployment of staff functions to assessment and vetting, working closely with the banks on standard operating procedures and changes to internal processes that reduced timeframes. Improving loan processing timeframes became our key activity during the remainder of the reporting period, underpinned progress towards our Strengthen Delivery of our Functions Corporate Plan objective and will become a critical performance focus in our 2020-21 Corporate Plan.

Stakeholder engagement

2019-20 saw the RIC make progress with its Build Awareness and Improve Products Corporate Plan objectives.

In September 2019, we appointed our first Business Development Manager (BDM), a step in strengthening the relationships we have developed over time with our key stakeholders. At the end of the reporting period, RIC had appointed four BDMs with geographic responsibility covering the whole country. Our BDMs worked with banks, local and state government, agriculture industry bodies, the Rural Financial Counselling Service and customers’ trusted financial advisors to assist stakeholders in understanding RIC loans, and learning from those interactions to improve our service. This BDM network has enabled the RIC to understand our customers’ needs and the conditions that they are facing. The on-the-ground knowledge collected is being used internally to ensure continuous improvement.

With long lead times associated with large water infrastructure projects, most prospective NWILF projects monitored during the year were in the identification and planning stages. Therefore, ongoing consultation with key water infrastructure government agencies and proponents was a key focus of the reporting period. Through tracking water infrastructure projects, helping potential loan recipients understand the benefits and terms of the NWILF loan, and learning about impediments to loan uptake from these interactions, the RIC worked to ensure the NWILF loan will become an important part of a sustainable water future for rural and regional Australia.

During the reporting period, RIC could only provide NWILF loans to state and territory governments. We continued consultation with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development regarding future amendments to the RIC Act and NWILF Operating Mandate, as being able to lend to private enterprise would expand water infrastructure lending opportunities and facilitate private sector input alongside government funding.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic declared on 17 March 2020 changed RIC’s working environment, like it did to all workplaces. On that day, we initiated RIC’s COVID-19 Response Team to lead discussions and communications that ensured staff safety and continued service to customers. We quickly limited staff numbers in our head office to essential staff and increased hygiene practices. The RIC is fortunate that all its documents and systems are stored in a cloud-based environment and all staff are issued with mobile devices, which meant all staff who could work from home were quickly removed from the office.

The Response Team also led the documentation of business continuity processes across the business, updating relevant policies and procedures, and the dissemination of COVID-19 content through multiple staff communication channels. We maintained a watchful eye on COVID-19 advice provided by the Australian Government and our portfolio Department to guide our actions. As restrictions eased, the RIC continued to maintain social distancing practices by restricting non-essential travel and maintaining a limited number of staff in the office through a roster system. We are proud to report that there was no disruption of service to our clients due to COVID-19.