As heatwave conditions return to eastern Australia rekindling concerns about extreme weather events, National Australia Bank has reported half of its business customers in bushfire-hit communities are still reeling from last summer's horrendous fire season.
The bank also noted 90 per cent of its customers impacted by last summer's bushfires had never been offered support on how to prepare for a significant national disaster event.
"Customers have told us they need more support from financial institutions to help them in a time of crisis, and to help them to better prepare in the event of a crisis and recover in the long-term," said managing director Ross McEwan.
The bank's research also revealed businesses were the hardest hit in the firestorm period which started in September and October 2019 in northern NSW and Queensland extending throughout heatwave conditions in January, scorching vast areas of farmland, forestry, coastal districts and even townships in drought-parched NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Mr McEwan conceded the big agribusiness bank's role was not only to support the recovery and rebuild of burnt out communities, but to help them get ready for future natural disasters of all varieties.
NAB had subsequently planned new support measures for customers and communities to help them before, during and after a natural disaster.
A new $1.2 million NAB Foundation Community Grants program was now available to help customers both prepare for and recover from natural disasters, including fire, floods and cyclones.
It included supporting long-term recovery efforts and building resilience against future disasters.
The new community grants, worth up to $10,000 each will be awarded to local community groups for initiatives such as education, training, preparedness plans, mental health support, infrastructure, equipment, urban greening projects and reducing climate risk.
Applications for NAB Foundation Community Grants opened this week.
The bank will also extend its emergency grants in the event of future natural disasters, offering immediate relief for temporary accommodation, food, clothing and business costs.
During last summer's devastating bushfires NAB committed $5m to relief and recovery efforts, including about $3m in emergency relief grants to more than 1500 Australians plus $560,000 in donations to the Australian Red Cross and local charities in impacted regions.
The bank's own fundraising collections for the Red Cross actually attracted about $770,000 in public donations.
About $1.4m will be used to support longer-term recovery projects.
Other support initiatives from NAB include simplifying and fast-tracking the process for customers needing to renovate or rebuild their property post a natural disaster related insurance claim.
Customer care efforts
Mr McEwan has also committed the bank to having more "customer care" team members available after a disaster for one-on-one conversations with customers.
He said the bank's post-fire experiences with customers found businesses were particularly hard hit by temporary disruption to essential services, customer demands and higher costs.
Business closure, damage to infrastructure and loss of stock and disruption to tourism were also impacts.
NAB has also extended its own bushfire leave policy to February 2021.
It has given its own staff an extra annual leave day, encouraging them to visit communities impacted by bushfires last summer, spend some money, show their support and help the local economy.
"These communities are very resilient, but we want our colleagues to get out there and visit these great towns," Mr McEwan said.
"Most businesses have stayed and rebuilt, even on top of the challenges presented by COVID-19, but they need our support.
"Now is the perfect time to holiday at home. We want our colleagues to get out there and visit these great towns."
NAB Foundation Community Grants will be for initiatives that prepare people, homes, businesses, towns, cities and our environment for natural disasters, and support long-term recovery and resilience work.
Charities or organisations with a charitable purpose can apply, including sporting clubs, chambers of commerce or schools.
- For NAB Foundation Community Grants visit nab.com/nabfoundation
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