ANZ swallows Suncorp – have they overruled common sense?

by Michael West | Feb 20, 2024 | What's the scam?

What’s the scam? If the ABC Four Corners investigation into the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolies this week had a prevailing message, it was that less competition, ergo, fewer players in a market, was bad for consumers. Why, then, have competition authorities waved through ANZ’s $5b bid for Suncorp?

The pettifogging of expensive lawyers before the Australian Competition Tribunal (ACT) has led the ACT today to overrule the regulator ACCC and let the merger pass, leaving the big four banks with an even higher market share, which now stands at 72%. It countervails basic common sense.

Over the years, the relentless takeover activity by Coles and Woolies has consolidated the grocery sector. Together they have 65% of the market. ANZ has paid a high price for Suncorp, and the only way the chief executive can make this work is ‘synergies’, French for cost-cutting. They’ve agreed not to cut branches or staff for three years, but it’s game on after that – so fewer people, fewer branches, less competition.

Australia already has some of the most concentrated markets and highest profit margins in the world. Bendigo and Bank of Queensland objected to the deal. ANZ argued that Macquarie had been busting into mortgages big time and that presented competition, also that most mortgages were established these days by brokers, but brokers are just middle-people clipping the ticket, adding to the cost.

As well as this curious decision to overrule the regulator, there is the relaxation of rules around banking which allows ANZ – and this has had little press – to use its balance sheet to punt on anything it likes, mimick Macquarie’s ‘good bank, bad bank’ model. That surely lifts the risk outlook for the sector.

So now we have an entire finance sector dominated by four institutions which are getting bigger, are underpinned by government and invest heavily in each other.

Four Pillars to Four Punters? Will ANZ “do a Richard Branson”, licence its brand like Virgin?


Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

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