As the largest business banking team in Far North Queensland, NAB is playing a leading role in the region’s economy.
By the time the full force of the coronavirus pandemic was being felt in the national economy in late-June, National Australia Bank had deferred $20.67 billion dollars’ worth of business loans.
That eye-watering figure represents nearly 40,000 businesses across the length and breadth of Australia.
From the remote tip of Cape York to the locked-down metropolis of Melbourne, NAB’s Business Banking teams have navigated an unenviable path over the past six months.
Fielding calls from distressed business owners facing a financial cliff, they’ve had to balance support and empathy while maintaining financial stability and fulfilling regulatory requirements, keeping a cautious eye on the risk burden.
Few Business Banking units in NAB’s national network have had to deal with that balancing act more than the local NAB team.
Given the devastating blows to Tropical North Queensland’s tourism and hospitality sectors – Cairns had the highest JobKeeper rate of any Queensland postcode – it’s been a challenging period for all banking institutions.
Their response to this multi-faceted, complex problem has drawn praise from the Federal Government.
After meeting with the heads of the Big Four in late-June, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said: “The banks were very clear. They supported their customers on the way into this crisis and they will be supporting their customers on the way out. This is how it should be, all Australians working together to get through this crisis.”
More than six months on since the start of the virus crisis, NAB’s Regional and Agribusiness Far Northern Executive Elisha-Vi Raso is calmly resolute and positive about the future of the bank’s local customers and the broader Tropical North economy.
As the leader of a 22-strong team working across the corporate, commercial and agribusiness sectors, Elisha told Tropic her team’s passion for the region and the businesses operating within it has shone through in these troubling times.
“Our people set us apart,” Elisha said. “They are all as passionate about the Far North region as our customers are. Many of our colleagues are either lifetime Far North locals, or they have made FNQ their forever home. Being invested in the region as locals means that we live and breathe what we do.”
Born in Innisfail, Elisha grew up on the beach at Flying Fish Point and remembers cracking oysters off the rocks, swimming in Polly Creek and fishing off the beach.
After finishing high school at Peace Lutheran College in Cairns, she worked in Brisbane, London and San Francisco.
Elisha returned to the Far North in 2014 and took up the leadership role at NAB in February 2019.
Her vision for the local NAB Business Banking team is clear: continue supporting customers as we all come out of this pandemic and be the best business bank in Far North Queensland.
Tropic sat down with Elisha to hear more about the NAB team and the services and support they offer to customers and the broader community.
Tropic: Tell us more about the NAB Regional and Agribusiness team here in the Far North.
Elisha: We have a team of 22 across the Far North region and collectively we look after all Corporate, Commercial and Agribusiness clients from Cardwell to the Torres Straight and right out to the Queensland-NT border.
We offer full banking services across all business and industries, however some of the larger specialisations across my team include Agribusiness, Property Development and Commercial Real Estate Investment, Professional Services, NGO and Indigenous Banking, Specialised Transactional Services and Pharmacy and Health.
I am fortunate enough to have a really diverse and experienced team, with great tenure and banking expertise.
NAB is Australia’s largest business bank and as such we have a large portfolio of clients and the biggest collective Management team in the Far North with 11 Agribusiness and Business Banking Managers, who are supported by a team of Associates, Small Business Bankers and our close colleagues in NAB Retail Bank.
T: What sets your team and services apart in terms of service to clients and the way you do business?
E: We manage the whole relationship – our offering is the full product suite including business and personal and banking needs.
One Banking Manager looks after a customer’s entire banking needs and this supports the ongoing growth of the relationship and all needs the customer may have.
Across NAB, we have people on the ground in regional Queensland and we’re committed to regional Australia.
We’re always looking to hire locally, including placing graduates locally into regional Queensland.
Our team is made up of locals who love where they live, and this translates into the way we do business.
T: The banking sector has played a crucial role in supporting businesses during the coronavirus pandemic - tell us what you've done to support your clients during this difficult period.
E: Many businesses are struggling right now and as the nation's leading business bank we're doing what we can to help them get through this.
We’re working closely with the government and broader industry to support our customers through to the other side of this crisis.
The key to this is communication with our clients, listening to them and being as responsive as possible.
In terms of working arrangements during the lockdown periods when we couldn’t offer face-to-face support and client meetings, we’ve kept our staff online and available while we worked from home.
Since March, we’ve enabled more than 32,000 of our people to work from home across Australia.
We have extended deferrals for business and home loan customers by up to four months on a case-by-case basis until 31 March 2021.
We’ve worked closely with APRA and the ABA on this. NAB has approved 5,535 loans under the Government’s COVID SME Guarantee Scheme and our customers can access support to rebuild from the impacts of COVID-19 through NAB’s Small Business Hub.
A range of other measures have been introduced such as extended access to independent, professional counselling sessions to our business customers, access to podcasts and webinars for advice that will help kickstart and protect their businesses.
We’ve also bolstered the NABAssist team to provide greater levels of support and service to SMEs.
T: How is your team involved in supporting the community?
E: We love the opportunity to be able to support the community in different ways.
Since 2002, NAB has been supporting footy at all levels from juniors in the NAB AFL Auskick program to the high-flying heroes of the game.
NAB has partnered with the AFL for the past 18 years, including being the naming rights partner of the NAB AFL Women’s competition since the inaugural season in 2016.
Locally we have supported many different community initiatives over the years.
A couple of recent highlights includes OzHarvest - Cooking for a Cause, where as a team we got together and cooked more than 300 meals which were donated to local charities in the Far North for families facing food insecurity.
This activity was very humbling. It made many of us realise just how lucky we are.
Another highlight was assembling and donating bikes to the “2 Deadly Treadlys” Indigenous Youth Cycling group when they had all of their bikes stolen.
I contacted the group and asked if we could donate some bikes.
Managers completed a team activity where they had to work together to assemble the bikes from parts in boxes into bicycles.
I had the bikes safety checked afterwards and we donated them to the youth group
It was such a great day delivering the mountain bikes and seeing the looks on the kid’s faces.
Being a part of the community is so important - we all contribute in different ways.
I am on the board of my children’s primary school and many members of my team volunteer in sports, school, community and charity events in their own time.
We are locals and we want to see our community thriving.
T: What's the NAB team's view on the FNQ economy going forward?
E: We’re looking forward to opening Australia’s borders in a safe way and welcoming domestic tourism into the region again.
When we have overcome the health crisis, our region’s proximity to Asia presents a great opportunity for agricultural exports.
The new export hub coming to Cairns Airport is very exciting.
We’re proud to be Australia's largest lender to agricultural business, lending $1 in every $3 to farmers, so we’re very keen to see this project come to fruition.
I also think there’s an opportunity for Cairns to take advantage of the country working from home.
If you can work from home, why not live in FNQ and change your holiday destination to a living destination.
T: What does the future hold for your team?
E: We are about to embark on an office refurbishment in our current location.
This has been in the pipeline since I was appointed to the role and I’m excited that it affirms NAB’s continued support for this community.
We are currently tendering for local trades on this project.
This story originally appeared in Tropic Magazine Issue 26. Read the issue here.