ANZ BANK AGREES WITH FINDINGS OF FIJI BANKING INQUIRY, BUT REFUTES HIGH INTEREST RATE

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 23, 1999 - PACNEWS/INCL)---The Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) Banking Corporation reports it agrees with some of the findings of an inquiry into Fiji's financial services sector. However, it rejects the report's assessment that bank interest rates in Fiji are too high, saying rates in Papua New Guinea and Samoa are higher.

ANZ General Manager David Bell said Fiji's banking industry does need to improve customer service, one area about which the report was harshly critical. He supports the committee's recommendation for the setting up of a banking ombudsman to resolve customer disputes.

At the same time, Bell said some of the inquiry's findings are questionable because the findings do not fully reflect the facts about services the banks provide.

The inquiry said ANZ and the Westpac Banking Corporation had the highest profit margins in Fiji, compared to their operations worldwide, and it said that consumer complaints about interest rates and charges being too high were justified.

Bell, however, noted that interest rates are a product of government policy, economic conditions and market competition. He said interest rates in Fiji are among the lowest in the region and comparable to rates in Australia.

ANZ welcomes competition, Bell said, but added that Fiji already has a significantly competitive financial services sector. He said the bank is committed to working with the Government in the coming months to address the issues of substance in the inquiry report.

ANZ is the first bank to respond to the inquiry's hard-hitting findings.

Fiji's Opposition and trade unions have called on the Government to act decisively on the inquiry's findings.

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