The bank has introduced a number of adjustments to residential and commercial lending intended to increase women’s activity in the property market and workforce at large.
The changes are targeted at boosting the childcare sector and helping women into home ownership by making some small, but still significant, adjustments to the bank’s lending policies.
Westpac already has a waiver program for eligible applicants from the healthcare sector who do not have a 20 per cent deposit for their home, but are seeking to avoid paying lenders mortgage insurance (LMI). That exemption has now been expanded to include eight additional healthcare professions, which it has identified as comprising a high number of female workers.
Eligible customers can access a loan-to-value ratio (LVR) of up to 90 per cent without the additional cost of LMI.
This represents something of a regeneration for the program, after the bank moved to restrict its LMI waiver program in April 2020, withdrawing eligibility from those previously included in the sports and entertainment sector and industry specialisation sector.
“We have recently expanded our LMI waiver to include additional health professions, like speech pathologists and occupational therapists, where women make-up most of the workforce. This will enable more women to purchase their home sooner with a reduced deposit and without the expense of mortgage insurance,” said Chris de Bruin, Westpac’s chief executive of consumer and business banking.
In addition to the changes to LMI, the bank has also pledged to improve access to finance for childcare centre operators in an effort to propel growth in the sector. These changes will include introducing more flexible lending criteria and priority service for childcare centre operators and reducing their equity requirements.
This is a sector that skews largely female, with men making up only 5 per cent of the early childhood education and care sector, according to 2016 census data.
“The New South Wales government recently announced a $5 billion childcare growth plan and other governments are pursuing similar policy objectives. Providing access to fast and competitive finance will be essential to support growth in the childcare sector.
“When government policy and corporate sector commitment are aligned, change can be driven quickly. We know that access to finance is a key barrier to expansion, so we’re making it easier for childcare businesses to get the funding they need to grow,” Mr de Bruin said.
Finally, looking internally, Westpac has committed to funding a development and upskilling program to help its employees transition to home and business lending roles, with a goal of increasing female participation within the subsector. Up to 100 roles will be made available to employees and external applicants.
The bank acknowledged that change has to start at its own doorstep.
“To complement our new childcare sector lending growth plan, we will also be lifting women’s participation across our own lending workforce, where females have historically been underrepresented in lending roles,” Mr de Bruin said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.