BOQ finds ag niche

AFTER copping a costly drubbing from cyclones, flooding and the investment property slump, Bank of Queensland (BOQ) looks to have found a handy new niche to help revive its lending business – agriculture.

Less than 12 months after launching its agribusiness banking division BOQ says customer support for its farm sector initiative in Queensland and NSW has taken management by surprise.

The bank’s first 11 agribusiness managers, appointed since July, are likely to see their ranks doubled in 2013 if current levels of new farm sector business continue.

“We could easily be doubling our agribusiness numbers next year if we continue this momentum,” said BOQ’s business, private banking, agribusiness and financial markets boss, Brendan White.

“We’re predominantly Queensland and NSW, but looking to opportunities further south as our regional agribusiness hubs establish.”

Early customer support for the bank’s specialist appointments in rural centres – from Mackay in northern Queensland to Wagga Wagga in the south – has been a refreshing change for the BBB-plus rated lender which posted a full year loss of $17.1 million in October.

It was the first full-year loss by an Australian bank in 20 years, caused primarily the institution’s bad debt and insurance exposure to southern Queensland’s struggling property and tourism markets and economic setbacks after severe summer weather events in 2010 and 2011.

BOQ has bounced back in an upbeat mood after stabilising its asset base and reporting a profitable finish to 2011-12.

“We’re pleasantly surprised by the response we’ve had from the farm sector – it’s been a real compliment to the quality team we’ve pulled together,” said Mr White, who previously headed up Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s (CBA) regional and agribusiness division.

“We don’t want to compete head-to-head with the big players – we don’t see our role as being everything to everybody.

“Our agribusiness skills are primarily in the cotton, cattle and cropping space, although as the team grows and the footprint expands we’ll be building our expertise.

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