Banks face tough choices about the viability of businesses in coming months but need to "err on the side of being open-minded", says KiwiBank chief executive Steve Jurkovich.
In a video interview from his home, Jurkovich told the Herald KiwiBank had received approaches from several hundred business customers seeking guidance on their financial position.
Of those about 250 had been specifically seeking lending support as part of the Government's business loan scheme.
"We're a smaller business bank compared to the others," he said. "But that gives you a feel that businesses know what's out there."
Many firms were still seeking a handle on their options because the full effect of the crisis hadn't hit yet, while others had seen revenue drop off immediately and needed emergency assistance, he said.
The Government will provide up to $6.25 billion in partnership with private banks in the new scheme providing emergency loans to small and medium-sized businesses.
Businesses with turnover of between $250,000 and $80 million will be eligible for loans of up to $500,000 for a term of up to three years.
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The banks, not the Government, will make decisions on whether the businesses should be eligible for the loans, although the Government will take 80 per cent of the risk.
That meant making some big calls about which businesses were viable, Jurkovich acknowledged.
"What's viable in today's environment is quite different to the way we looked at it in the past," he said.
The bank needed to take a medium-term view at the very least, he said.
"You're banking the character, the credibility and experience of the operator. We have to stay focused on those sort of factors."
But it was also important to remember that "no one benefits when we lend money to people who can't pay it back".
Some businesses would recover quicker than others, he said.
"If you're a hairdresser and people need their hair cut (like me) then you'll be up and running straight away.
"If you're a contractor or a builder, you'll turn up in your ute and get straight into it."
But others, such as those in the accommodation sector, faced "a longer burn", he said.
"In banking it's always been about what businesses are viable but these are different times," he said.
"We are going to have to keep an open mind and work with people to try and support them."
The government business loan scheme was just getting up and running, Jurkovich said.
But he expected to see a huge level of interest in coming weeks.
By comparison more than 70,000 Kiwis have approached their bank for some form of mortgage relief, a New Zealand Herald tally of numbers from our major lenders shows.
That includes customers seeking to defer mortgage payments for six months or seeking to reduce payments to interest only.
Of the most recent 2000 that had contacted KiwiBank wanting to talk about mortgage relief, about 80 per cent were hoping to take a mortgage deferral and 20 per cent were looking to move to interest-only payments.
"I wouldn't think our numbers that different to anyone else in the industry," he said.
People were reaching out to their banks in numbers that the industry had never seen before, he said.
"That's the right thing to do. We've been encouraging people to get in touch with us.
"I think people are recognising that this isn't free money, they are thinking it through and thinking do I need it? Is this the right time?"
Jurkovich said he'd been encouraged by the unified approach the whole banking sector had shown.
Last week the big Australian banks saw their ratings cut by credit agency Fitch.
But Jurkovich said that wasn't a major concern.
"Ratings are dynamic," he said. "Those [cuts] were about the fact that we are facing economic headwinds.
"I think everyone realises that this isn't about big losses or a credit crunch or lack of liquidity."
A shortage of cash wasn't an issue for the banks.
In the short term most banks would be experiencing quite strong inflows of cash, he said.
"[With] the wage subsidies and people not out and spending it means, for a lot of people, accounts will be pretty full at the moment."