Aussie battlers could benefit from changes to banking

30 January 2017 | ABA announces plans to make paying off debts easier.

From low income earners to farmers and small business owners, thousands of Aussies stand to benefit from wide-reaching banking changes introduced by the Australian Bankers Association (ABA).

The new changes add to last year's reforms under the Better Banking program, which pushed for a system to shame unethical financial advisors and offer their victims grounds for compensation.

The latest changes focus on the repayment of debt, with improved hardship programs and the setup of a service to help people in financial difficulty manage multiple debts.

These changes are on top of initiatives announced in April of 2016, which banks are currently implementing.

"Banks have a range of low-cost and fee-free products and services to suit low income earners and retirees," says Steven Münchenberg, chief executive of ABA. "Many customers don't know about these products and services and we want to change that."

However CHOICE believes Australian customers would benefit more from an independent review.

"While all these steps are welcome, there is no substitute for a genuinely independent review of competition in Australia's banking sector, a review commissioned by government, not the banks themselves," says Tom Godfrey, head of media at CHOICE.

CHOICE is calling on the Federal Government to bring forward the review of competition in Australia's banking sector, which is planned for late 2017.

"We have a banking system dominated by four big players who are prepared to push up mortgage interest rates outside of RBA cycles and keep the vast majority of their credit card customers on exceptionally high rate products. This is not what a healthy, competitive, customer-first banking sector looks like," says Godfrey.

Changes to the funding of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), the banking industry watchdog, are expected to take place in the second half of 2017. Members of the ABA welcome the changes.

Among the changes introduced by the Better Banking program last year are improved protections for whistleblowers, 'one-stop-shop' systems for the resolution of disputes and the appointment for customer advocates in each bank.

DISCLOSURE FROM CHOICE: Our CEO Alan Kirkland is part of an independent expert panel appointed by the federal government to review the framework for external dispute resolution and complaints in financial services. You can find out more about the review and make a submission through the Treasury's website.