The banks back the construction industry – and the figures show it

Antony Buick-Constable, Acting Chief Executive

Published in, 27 August 2018

These are the best of times and worst of times for the construction industry. The country is in the middle of a building boom, but large and small firms alike have been caught out by rising costs, a shortage of skilled labour, the way risk is allocated, and a stretched compliance regime.

The problems that have beset even the biggest firms are complex. There have been reports that suggest banks aren’t playing their part.

But far from stepping back from lending to large-scale apartment and housing developments, bank lending to the sector is at its highest levels since the global financial crisis, with the sector also benefiting from interest rates at historic lows.

In the year to June banks lent a total of $6.7 billion to the sector. That’s an increase of 7.8 per cent for the year, compared with lending to all businesses which grew at 5.7 per cent. That’s strong backing, in anyone’s language, despite troubled times in construction.

Lending to the construction sector almost always carries greater risk than residential lending. While banks do what they can to manage risk, all appreciate that there is no such thing as a risk-free project.

This is why there is a significant amount of due diligence when banks review a project. This includes an analysis of the project team including the developer, construction company, architect and engineer. There is also verification of the planned construction programme, including costs by an independent quantity surveyor, a review of zoning, building consents and titles, independent valuation reports, insurances and legal reviews of presale and preleasing.

How much to lend, to whom, and at what rate will depend on individual lenders’ assessment of the project, the value they place on the customer relationship, and their own risk appetite.

It’s easy to forget that it’s not our money we lend to construction projects – it’s our customers’ money and we take that seriously. This is always the case. It’s important to remember that every day banks provide capital, support and advice for entrepreneurs, farmers, small businesses with big ambitions, major corporations and families to keep New Zealand growing.

This is a core function of banking – to marshal community funds for new investment, to add to New Zealand’s stock of productive plant and machinery, inventories and buildings. That investment is financed from the supply of savings from both domestic and international investors.

Our banking sector is extremely competitive. Currently, there are 18 commercial banks operating in New Zealand, including banks from China, India, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

For developers or builders, there is plenty of choice and they can be assured of a receptive ear for a project where the planning is detailed and thorough. Banks do not have a blanket industry-policy on lending – all banks have different lending policies and every proposal is considered on a case-by-case basis. They compete hard for business and while one bank may decide the risk is too much, another bank may be willing to get on board.

Banks have a long-established and close relationship with the construction and development industries and do their best to stand by their customers. We want that to continue and for the pressing issues facing construction to be resolved so the industry can get on with what it does best – building New Zealand.