ACFS Banking Panel: Is this the dawn of a new era in Banking?

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The event was sparked by debate arising fom the long-running Senate Economics Committee Inquiry into Competition within the Australian Banking Sector. Over 100 submissions were received by the Committee from a wide range of organisations and individuals. There were many questions that needed to be addressed.

Prof Kevin Davis, Research Director ACFS, led a panel discussion to shed some light on the debate. Invited panellists were key players of the industry with their own points of view:

  • Michael Ullmer, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, National Australia Bank;
  • Ian Harper, Director, Deloitte Access Economics;
  • Steven Munchenberg, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Bankers’ Association; and
  • Graeme Samuel AC, Chairman, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The panel attracted a 150-strong audience from all strata of the industry.

In summary:

Outgoing ACCC Chairman Graeme Samuel was passionate in expressing his thoughts on current commentary about the Commission’s recent decisions. He defended the proposed reforms for price signalling to remove any loopholes and technicalities in illegal cartel behaviours; and cited rigorous due diligence in granting permission for the takeovers of BankWest by CBA and St. George by Westpac during the GFC.

CEO of the Australian Bankers Association Steve Munchenberg was candid about the negative perceptions of banks and its impact on politics and regulation. He recognised as foremost importance that banks must step up to do things that would convince the public that banks are concerned about customer interests. He referred to recent heat on banks raising rates beyond the Reserve Bank adjustments to the cash rate.

Outgoing NAB Group Deputy CEO Michael Ullmer noted that his bank’s strong growth in new accounts indicated that competition between banks was alive and well. He challenged advocates of account portability to look at the cost-benefit trade-off of the implementation.

Prof Ian Harper of Deloitte Access Economics renewed his call for a new root and branch inquiry into the Australian financial system. This should be prerequisite to any major reforms to the banking industry. He also cautioned that effects of the GFC are still to be felt across the industry. This was agreed by Ullmer,referring to banks continuing at relatively high level of liquidity reserves compared to pre-GFC.

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