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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Banks across the country insist they are offering assistance and more flexibility to business customers in the North, refuting complaints from some factories and businesses claiming the financial institutions are indifferent to their situation.
"I have seen cases, where the banks followed the government's and the Bank of Israel's orders to operate a more flexible policy for businesses in the North," Nir Kantor, director of the Small and Medium Businesses Committee at the Manufacturers Association of Israel, told The Jerusalem Post. "However, there are cases, in which the new guidelines were not passed on properly to all bank branches and troubled business owners in the North were offered loans at a prime plus 4 percent interest rate or were turned away."
According to a recent survey by the Manufacturers' Association, some 72% of the 30 factories questioned in Haifa and the North claimed the banks were indifferent to their situation. About 20% said they had received assistance from and 7% said they experienced problems with their banks.
When questioned about the survey, Bank Leumi said about 1,000 of its business customers in Haifa and the North had taken advantage of the special loans it was offering.
"Already on the second or third day of the conflict we came out with assistance loans and benefits to help businesses in the North," the bank's spokesperson said.
Leumi is offering a "special assistance loan" of up to NIS 50,000 for small businesses at the prime base rate and with no commission charge. Leumi Mortgage has given its customers in the North the option of delaying mortgage payments for up to four months.
Discount Bank, meanwhile, said it has invested much time and effort in assisting and offering solutions for troubled small and medium-sized businesses in the conflict area.
"If small businesses are going to collapse it is going to affect us too," said the bank's spokesperson.
Discount is offering small- and medium-sized businesses in Haifa and the North a fast lane for the approval of two kinds of loans. The "change of business direction" loan is for a sum of up to 75% of revenues (based on average monthly activity of past six months), up to a maximum of NIS 150,000, for a period of between 12 and 24 months at an interest rate of prime plus 2%. The "green lane" loan is offered in cooperation with the "Koret Israel" fund for an amount of up to NIS 60,000 for 36 months (including a 6-month grace period) at prime plus 1.75%. "The blame and the risk cannot be carried by the banks only," said Kantor. "The government must also have a role in enabling the banks to provide even better and more appropriate conditions, in particular for those businesses in the North who were in trouble even before the conflict."
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