Christmas is always tough for the Low family, having lost patriarch Peter Low in a workplace accident in November 2015.
But last Christmas their grief was compounded after receiving mail from Suncorp bank addressed to Mr Low.
That “insulting and upsetting” act was all the more shocking after the bank’s ruthless behaviour was called out at the banking royal commission by Mr Low’s son, Rien Low.
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Taking to the witness stand last May, a visibly emotional Mr Low described in detail how Suncorp had “threatened” to seize his mother’s home and began relentlessly hassling her over her husband’s debts soon after his sudden death.
After losing his dad, Mr Low, 40, soon discovered he had secured five separate loans with Suncorp in 2013 and 2014, with a combined debt of around $1 million, which his mother was not aware of.
The family home was sold to cover most of the debts, with the bank eventually agreeing to an interest free loan for the outstanding amount.
But following the banking royal commission recommendations released yesterday, Mr Low told news.com.au the bank was still failing to take the accusations levelled against it and the wider industry seriously.
He said the family was devastated to receive mail from the bank addressed to their late father as recently as last Christmas — an insult made all the worse as it was close to the anniversary of his death.
“Sending a letter to my father at Christmas shows how seriously they’re taking it,” he said.
“Addressing mail to my father is not only insulting but also upsetting to get just before Christmas, which is a very tough time.
“Banks need to listen and to change. I think they will have to listen, but whether they change will be another thing, because they just run their own game and nothing seems to be able to stop them. They’re all about money, and profit over people.”
Mr Low welcomed some of the recommendations — including those surrounding mortgage broking — but said it was “disappointing” there hadn’t been any recommended changes to business lending, an issue which had deeply affected his own family.
Mr Low was just one of dozens of Australians to deliver damming evidence of bad banking behaviour at the royal commission.
One of the most powerful and well-documented cases involved Melbourne pastor Grant Stewart, whose 26-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, was pressured into a $10.60-a-fortnight insurance plan by a Freedom Insurance salesperson.
The commission heard recordings of the initial two phone calls in which a call centre worker with a British accent callously walks through his sales script for more than 18 minutes, despite Mr Stewart’s son clearly struggling to understand what was happening.
Speaking to the ABC’s 7.30 Report last week, Mr Stewart and his wife Cathy described how the incident had affected their son.
“He was quite distressed about it and thought he’d done something wrong. It took quite a toll emotionally, because you’re exposing yourself and your family to potential risk and also divulging things that were quite painful at the time,” Mr Stewart told the program, with Cathy Stewart saying the incident had caused her son to “lose confidence in other people”.
Mr Stewart said the commission had been “revelatory” in “outing” the banking industry’s culture of greed.
Another case which moved Australians was that of Nambucca Hotel owner Stephen Weller and his wife, who ended up losing their pub in 2014 — despite never missing a repayment — after Bankwest suddenly changed the conditions on their business loan.
Mr Weller told news.com.au he was left feeling “angry” and “let down” by the royal commission, which he said failed to make recommendations regarding banking practices involving small to medium business owners.
He and hundreds of others in similar circumstances are now calling for the royal commission to be extended, with more evidence from victims being publicly aired.
“The evidence uncovered some terrible things in superannuation and consumer finance and all that area but for small to medium enterprises and farmers, it’s been a whitewash,” he said, adding that he felt “totally ignored”.
Mr Weller said the evidence uncovered by the royal commission was “just the tip of the iceberg” and that Australians would be shocked to realise the mental and physical toll the finance industry’s bad behaviour had taken on many people over the years.
The 72-year-old father-of-two, who is still supporting a 16-year-old son, said he was struggling to find work years after losing the family business.
“At my age you send out your CV and resume and never hear anything, just silence,” he said.
He said his family had been “relentlessly pursued” and threatened with bankruptcy, leading to a “sense of doom” hanging over their heads for years on end.
“Banks have absolute power … when they move with impunity against people for no reason and breach the banking code of practice by working in a way that is socially unacceptable … those areas are the ones that really need to be focused on by something like a royal commission, so they understand if they do that, they will be punished.
“That hasn’t happened in this area, so I think the royal commission has failed miserably because there were absolutely no repercussions — in fact, they were exonerated.”
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