ABA membership strained as banks turn on each other

Tensions between Australia’s banks are on the verge of boiling over as yet another second-tier bank has come out in support of the federal government’s six basis point levy on the liabilities of our five biggest banks.

Support for the measures will inflame the already strained relationships between members of the Australian Bankers Association which is caught between the haves and the have nots of Australian banking.

ABA chairman and NAB boss Andrew Thorburn was among the big four to come out swinging against the tax at the same time as ABA deputy chair and Bendigo Bank boss Mike Hirst supported the initiative designed to raise $6.2 billion from the banks.

ME CEO Jamie McPhee joined Bendigo Bank’s Mr Hirst on Monday by expressing his support for the levy. ME, formerly ME Bank, is owned by 29 Australian industry super funds and has about $25 billion in liabilities.

ME CEO Jamie McPhee supports measures that even the playing field for the banks.
ME CEO Jamie McPhee supports measures that even the playing field for the banks.

Jesse Marlow

Mr McPhee said he supported any measure that levelled the playing field and that he believed that all banks should have the opportunity to compete fairly.

“The major banks get a cost of funding advantage through the government guarantee that is basically provided by the taxpayer so shouldn’t that benefit accrue to the people who provide that benefit?” Mr McPhee said.

Mr McPhee said that smaller banks such as ME were not looking for a subsidy or a handout but that the banks were getting “an explicit benefit from an implicit guarantee”, making reference to work performed by the Reserve Bank of Australia that valued the backing of the big four banks at $3.4 billion collectively.

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He also had a warning for the ABA and said that it was important that it got its position right or otherwise it risked misrepresenting the views of its members.

Treading carefully

“I think that what the ABA needs to do is be very careful it represents the overall membership. I’m more than happy for specific groups to represent themselves but it’s important that the ABA represents the group as a whole or make it very clear when they are acting on behalf of one segment of the membership base.”

Sources have told The Australian Financial Review that the ABA is treading carefully on the issue of the levy for fear of igniting discord among its membership.

Despite being the peak body for the banking industry in Australia the smaller banks including Bendigo Bank, BOQ and Suncorp made separate submissions to David Murray’s Financial System Inquiry held more than three years ago.

Earlier this year the ABA risked the wrath of the federal government by appointing former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh as its CEO to replace outgoing ABA boss Steven Munchenberg.

Mr Munchenberg had to deal with discord of his own within the banking organisation, after the Financial Review revealed the ABA could not garner the support of its members for a campaign from the advertising team behind the anti-resources super profits tax in 2012.

Mr McPhee also expressed frustration at the differing treatment on risk weightings from the regulator, saying they were the same assets being bought by the same people under the same processes used by the big four.

The Australian Prudential and Regulation Authority requires the big four banks to have an average risk weight on residential mortgages of 25 per cent but banks such as ME have a required risk weighting of 39 per cent.

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