Business reporter for the NZ Herald

ANZ to fight farmers' swaps court claims

Rural customers are bringing three cases against the ANZ. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Rural customers are bringing three cases against the ANZ. Photo / Steven McNicholl

ANZ is facing three separate High Court claims from farmers who bought controversial financial products from the country's largest bank.

Two of the farmers are attempting to get more than $1 million each from ANZ and the amount in the third case is yet to be worked out.

ANZ is defending the cases, which concern the sale of interest-rate swaps - a financial product that allows borrowers to manage their interest rate exposure.

Hundreds of rural borrowers bought interest rate swaps from New Zealand banks last decade and the Commerce Commission in 2012 began investigating whether the products were being misleadingly marketed.

After the commission signalled that it intended to take court action, ANZ, ASB and Westpac all reached deals with the regulator and made narrow admissions that some of the behaviour over the swaps was misleading to some customers.

The settlements resulted in about $24.5 million going back to some affected rural customers and also their communities via charities.

ANZ paid $18.5 million of that sum and was singled out by the commission for its behaviour, which a judge said breached the Fair Trading Act.

Not all farmers who bought interest rate swaps complained to the commission, were involved in the settlement process or were eligible for a payout. At least three farmers, all represented by Waikato law firm Harkness Henry, are now pursuing ANZ through court themselves.

The first case, brought by a company owned by Taranaki couple Craig and Lisa Swan, is due to begin in Auckland next month.

That claim seeks to recover $1.24 million that the company allegedly lost as a result of entering into interest-rate swaps.

ANZ is defending the action, which accuses the bank of negligence and misrepresentation.

Ahead of the case the company, Cygnet Farms, applied to obtain more documents from ANZ.

Cygnet's lawyer, Murray Branch, complained during that hearing that ANZ had been following a policy of only providing documents concerning the bank's relationship with the company.

As a result, it had not disclosed documents about the marketing of the swaps or about complaints made about the products from others of its customers.

Justice John Fogarty rejected the proposition that documents relating to complaints by other customers were irrelevant or that discovery was only limited to the bank's dealings with Cygnet.

"If other ANZ clients have made similar complaints ... that is material capable of ... supporting the plaintiff's witnesses evidence on a similar fact basis," the judge said.

"There may also be [papers] guiding representatives of the bank in the sale of these swap products. The content of these more general documents may be relevant to whether or not there was any negligence on the part of the bank in selling the products," Justice Fogarty said.

An ANZ spokesperson said yesterday: "ANZ will be defending three claims from the same law firm representing commercial farming entities relating to historical interest rate swaps issues. These claims are being pursued after the Commerce Commission's comprehensive interest rate swaps claims process was completed in December 2014. Given the matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

- NZ Herald

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