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‘Disingenuous’: Former bank exec questions back book repricing

by James Mitchell5 minute read
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A former major bank executive says lifting rates for existing interest-only borrowers has little to do with the regulatory pressures the banks claim they are under.

Following a hefty round of rate hikes for interest-only borrowers last month, former Barclays CEO of mortgages Steve Weston says it was surprising to see the banks’ tactics.

“On the one hand, they talk about wanting to rebuild trust with consumers and do all the right things and they’ve got the ABA engaged with a number of well-intended initiatives to ‘make banking better,” Mr Weston said, responding to a question at the Vow Financial commercial conference in Hobart on Friday. “But then they do things that appear anything but customer-friendly.

“During June, the four major banks announced reductions in their principle and interest owner-occupier rates of between 0.03 per cent and 0.09 per cent, along with increases in their interest-only rates of between 0.30 per cent and 0.35 per cent."

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Mr Weston explained that the media statements from the banks all claimed they had to reprice their interest-only mortgages to meet APRA’s requirement to limit the flow of new interest-only lending to 30 per cent of new residential mortgage lending.

“The key word there is ‘new’. The equation to measure that 30 per cent is all the loans that settle that month – no more than 30 per cent can be IO. The back book doesn’t come into the measure at all,” he said.

“And I wonder how much consideration was given to the impact the rate changes will have on customers. Encouraging existing borrowers to make principle repayments is broadly sensible, although for some, like investment loan borrowers who also have an owner-occupier loan, this may prove sub-optimal from a tax planning perspective."

Weston further commented that each of the media releases also stated that the rate changes were not related to the bank levy.

“Typically when you see out-of-cycle rate increases, they are justified by an increase in funding costs or the need to hold more capital. But not this time. This time the banks have been clever in using an APRA cap on new lending and using it to justify increasing rates for existing customers. What has been really surprising is the lack of mainstream media commentary about the rate increases.

“Making the changes even more surprising was that in the May Budget, the Treasurer instructed the ACCC to monitor changes in mortgage pricing by those banks impacted by the bank levy. The Treasurer even asked the ACCC chairman to let him know if he finds any evidence of the bank levy being passed on in higher mortgage rates. Whether it was co-incidental or not, the additional income that will be generated by these rate changes all but equates to the bank levy. So it will be interesting to watch how this plays out.”

According to Mr Weston, who was general manager of broker platforms at NAB before joining Barclays in 2012, the Australian banks could have achieved the 30 per cent limit by tightening their credit policies and increasing rates on new loans.

“The back book didn’t need to be touched,” he said.

“At the very least, the banks could have waited until the interest-only loan period expired before increasing rates. They could have written to customers and advised them about the benefits of commencing principle repayments and letting them know that their interest rate would increase at the end of their interest-only term if they didn’t commence making principle repayments at that time.

“These don’t feel like the actions of banks who want to build trust with customers. To me it feels more like taking an opportunity to increase profits. Actually, it feels very un-Australian," Mr Weston said.

[Related: Broker calls for crackdown on 'out of control' rate hikes]

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James Mitchell

James Mitchell

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James Mitchell has over eight years’ experience as a financial reporter and is the editor of Wealth and Wellness at Momentum Media.

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