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Moves underway to set up Māori-owned bank

Could an iwi bank become the next Kiwibank? The Māori Council thinks so and is taking steps to set up a Māori-owned bank.

The Māori Council says Māori are being let down and shut out by the four big Australian-owned banks.

It's calling on iwi to come together and make a Māori-owned bank a reality.

The idea of setting up a Māori-owned bank has ramped up in the last month with the Māori Council forming a working group on housing affordability.

Māori home ownership rates sit at 43 per cent compared to 63 percent for the general population - and Māori are five times more likely to be homeless than pākehā.

Maori Councils Tamaki District chairperson Matthew Tukaki said getting a loan was one of the biggest hurdles for Māori wanting to own their own homes.

"The number of Māori being able to access finance or mortgages or even just credit lending through the traditional banking system or the big four it's pretty restrictive, many don't even get a look-in."

Mr Tukaki said a Māori bank would focus on lending for building on Māori-owned land and granting small business loans.

But more importantly he envisions a Māori bank closing the gaps of financial inequity many Māori face.

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"It could be a bank for everybody, but let face it our primary focus needs to be on the development of our people - every social determinant is against our people."

The Māori economy, including iwi-owned businesses, now sits at more than $40 billion. Māori businessman Renata Blair said iwi needed to take a serious look at teaming up to form a Māori-owned bank.

"It's no secret that a lot of funds that we have with banks gets taken overseas - we'd like to see investment here in New Zealand and within our iwi."

Mr Blair said investing in a Māori bank would mean iwi profits would stay in New Zealand.

"That catchphrase of iwi-bank is starting to be more accepted to people."

Ricky Houghton heads the Korowai Trust, which provides emergency housing for whānau in the Far North.

He first floated the idea of a Māori-owned bank back in 2002 and said international-owned banks weren't delivering for Māori.

"These overseas, offshore banks are running rampant with the way they value Māori assets, they way they treat Māori like second-class citizens."

Mr Houghton himself ran into trouble when he went to the bank for a $700,000 loan to develop nine homes on a $1.8 million property.

Even with security backing from the government and a property valued at $1.8 million - the bank wouldn't allow Mr Houghton to take out the loan without putting the entire value of his property up for security.

"Did I do it, yes I did, I did it because it was the only forward for the people that I'm trying to serve who are living in some of the most horrible living conditions you can imagine."

Mr Houghton wants Māori to take control of their own financial future, and a Māori bank, he said, could be the answer.

"I can tell you, if there was a Māori bank here today I would much rather prefer my wages to go to a Māori bank and so that I can support them in the fullest way possible."

The Māori Council now wants iwi and banks to work together on the concept.

By John Boynton
rnz.co.nz

Korowai Trust's Ricky Houghton first floated the idea of a Māori-owned bank in 2002. Source: RNZ / Justine Murray