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Banks are ‘fiercely competitive’: Westpac CEO

The creation of a specialised ACCC unit focused solely on banking competition would be “unnecessary” given the plethora of inquiries into the topic, says Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer.


Mr Hartzer appeared before the standing committee on economics inquiry into the four major banks yesterday and was asked about competition within the sector by committee chair Liberal MP David Coleman.

Specifically, Mr Coleman presented the Westpac boss with the views of ACCC chairman Rod Sims, who has described the banking sector as "cozy" and "lacking robust competition".

Mr Coleman also cited ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft, who described the banking sector as "frankly, an oligopoly" in late 2016.

Mr Hartzer said to the committee, "That's not the way it feels when you run a bank, let me tell you.

"All I can say is the way we experience it every day is it's fiercely competitive. And there is good evidence for that, and there are good explanations for the reasons why the industry's evolved the way it has."

That said, the Westpac boss said he does not have a "fundamental objection" to the committee's recommendation that the ACCC establish a small team to make recommendations to Treasury every six months about banking competition.

Mr Hartzer also played down the "assertions" cited by Mr Coleman that there has been a failure of competition in the Australian banking sector.

"I have not seen the evidence to demonstrate where the failure in competition is," he said.

"If the government wants to pay for the ACCC to have a bunch of people to look at [banking competition] every six months that's the government's purview and I don't have a fundamental objection to it, but it doesn't seem like it's necessary," Mr Hartzer said.

"What I would observe is that the banking industry has been subjected to competition inquiries continuously for the past 20 years.

"That includes a very substantial Financial System Inquiry which looked at competition issues and made recommendations for a review by the Productivity Commission into that. I suppose from my standpoint it would be nice to see that process complete and identify where the real issues are."

The committee is expected to hand down its second report into the four major banks by May.

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