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Are banks trustworthy enough to invest in?

Peter Switzer
27 October 2022

In the old days of the comedy show Fast Forward, they used to do a weekly bagging of banks. One night I recall they finished the skit with the old CBA advertisement that asked the question: “Which bank?” To that the voiceover guy said: “Every bloody bank!”

Fast Forward was a Steve Visard product that introduced us to some of our great comedians/actors such as Magda Szubanski, Jane Turner and Gina Riley (of Kath & Kim fame), Peter Moon and many more.

The comedy show started in 1989 and morphed into Full Frontal and Totally Full Frontal, which ended in 1999.

The dates are important to what follows.

What you’re about to read is unashamed bank bashing but I have no choice — I have to get stuck into the ANZ bank for behaviour unbecoming. In 2017, The Hayne Royal Commission exposed the bad banking behaviour that had dogged Australian consumers for years, which was ignored by many governments of different political persuasions. This ANZ ‘naming and shaming’ is a direct consequence of what Justice Ken Hayne exposed. And his mark continued this week when ANZ copped a $25 million fine from the Federal Court for failing to provide a number of benefits it had agreed to give certain customers.

But wait, there’s more, which explains why my bank bashing is justifiable. Have a look at what abc.net.au tells us: “ANZ is in the process of paying $211 million in remuneration over the same matter. The Federal Court found ANZ failed to provide benefits, such as fee waivers and interest rate discounts, to approximately 689,000 customer accounts since the mid-1990s, with customers affected up until September 2021.”

Not long after comedy shows were telling banks how bad their brand was, they still were happy to ignore the community view on them and try a stunt like this.

Here’s the ABC again: “ANZ's Breakfree package, introduced in 2003, offered fee waivers, interest rate discounts on eligible ANZ products such as home loans, credit cards and transaction accounts and other benefits in exchange for paying an annual fee. ANZ collected $1.9 billion in annual package fees from customers who held the Breakfree package from October 1, 2003, to September 30, 2021, according to the agreed statement of facts.”

This was like a club where customers paid a fee to get good deals. But this played off the uninformed views of consumers about what was really out there at the time. This was when mortgage brokers and the likes of John Symond at Aussie Home Loans and Mark Bouris with Wizard were serving it up to the big banks. The ANZ’s Breakfree package, was like a ‘bait and switch’ strategy, which is a discredited tactic of dodgy retailers, property developers and snake oil merchants.

So are banks that bad nowadays? I suspect not. Hayne saw to that but consumers are still pretty uneducated about what alternative services are out there that compete with banks. Anyone looking for good deals should seek out the views of mortgage brokers, interest rate comparison websites to make sure they’re getting the best deal.

This information should be used by consumers to twist the arm of their bank to make sure they’re treated the way the Breakfree package promised to do.

Right now, according to the company analysts surveyed by FNArena, the ANZ has an average share price upside of 6.9% and with dividends and franking credits, that would be closer to a 13% gain over the next year. In fact, UBS sees a 16% gain ahead before adding another 6% for dividends and franking, which would be a 22% gain if this investment bank’s view on ANZ is correct! And Citi thinks Westpac could rise 24% before dividends and franking, indicating that the experts think the two struggler banks that have been under pressure since Hayne are seen as very investible nowadays.

Banks have improved their behavior but they needed their butts kicked to make it happen. I’d be happy to invest in them suspecting they won’t be dumb enough to try and take consumers for a ride, like they did in the days before Hayne.

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