SA hopes to ease access to Covid loans amid low payouts

Changes include tweaks to turnover threshold, payment holidays.
Image: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg

South African banks and the government are looking for ways to boost take up of an up to R200 billion ($11.58 billion) loan scheme to help coronavirus-hit businesses, two bank executives and a source close to the discussions told Reuters.

Possible amendments being discussed include encouraging banks to ease their lending conditions, the source close to the discussions said.

“There are minor issues around the design,” the source continued, including wording in the terms that has led to banks applying their standard credit procedures and rejecting more applications than anticipated.

The scheme, launched in May, was meant to encourage banks to lend more, on more favourable terms, to small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic.

But concerns arose that the money — 40% of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s R500 billion economic stimulus package — was not being fully used after big banks approved only a few billion rand of loans in the first few weeks.

Lenders, the treasury and the central bank are in regular talks on the issue, the source said, with finance minister Tito Mboweni keen to announce changes to the scheme in his emergency budget on June 24.

Goolam Kader, business banking managing executive at Nedbank , said the lender is working closely with the Banking Association South Africa (BASA) to identify potential improvements.

He added that Nedbank did not apply credit criteria that are different from usual when assessing loan requests made under the scheme, but that various factors affected take up, including its other efforts to help customers.

Standard Bank referred Reuters to BASA, which declined to comment. FirstRand and South Africa’s treasury did not provide comment by a deadline.

Jaco le Roux, chief risk officer of relationship banking at Absa’s retail and business bank, said it did apply different criteria as well as imposing requirements like a bond over property less often.

Other features being discussed include raising the turnover threshold for eligible companies from R300 million, expanding the list of things businesses can spend the money on and the type of loans banks can extend, and lengthening the term of payment holidays, le Roux and the source said.

Take up has already accelerated to around R7 billion and could double within days, the source continued. There may have been a lag as businesses considered their options.

Stuart Theobald, chairman of Intellidex, which presented to government on how to design a scheme, said it did not seem to be working as intended, citing issues like the banks often requiring personal guarantees for the loans, as is standard in South Africa.

“This is not meant to be banking as usual,” he said. “You want banks to behave as if they are in the best of times … but the design of it is such that they can’t actually do that.”

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Most companies don’t want another loan because that’s all it is . You can dress it up as much as you like it’s
still just another thing that needs to be paid back ……. Much easier to retrench staff if you want save your business !

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