Westpac’s plans to help refugees start businesses

Elizabeth Barry 25 November 2016

refugee starting a business

The Big Four lender has pledged $2 million towards a microloan scheme.

Westpac has backed a new microloan scheme designed to help refugees start businesses. The scheme – Thrive – will involve Westpac providing an interest-free loan facility as well as mentoring to help newly arrived refugees start businesses.

As Australia's oldest bank, Westpac's chief executive of consumer banking George Frazis says the organisation has a long history of supporting Australians.

"The refugee issue is going to be growing bigger and bigger in the world," he told the AFR. "It's not going to go away."

The scheme is designed to offer loans of about $7,500 to recipients that will be identified by a chief operating officer. The loans have an approximate term of three years, with the aim being that refugees will be able to establish a business and banking record to help them apply for commercial loans down the track.

The initial concept for the Thrive scheme came from Allianz chairman John Curtis, his wife Anna and former Vietnamese refugee Huy Truong. Thrive is seeking to raise an additional $1 million outside of Westpac's capital to fund operational expenses and business support services.

While the small business loan market has been becoming more diversified with the arrival of fintech lenders, including those offering peer-to-peer loans, there is still a significant gap in the market. Curtis says refugees are a resource that needs to be tapped.

"Population growth, when well integrated, is a key driver of economic growth," he said. "This is not a political statement from Westpac's perspective. At the end of the day, we're talking about refugees who have come into this country through normal processes that our country has decided."

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