The ACCC has granted interim authorisation to allow the Australian Banking Association (ABA) and banks to continue to work together on a variety of existing COVID-19 related relief packages, so they can respond to any further outbreaks as required.
The COVID-19 related relief packages allow for temporary and limited coordination between the ABA and participating banks to defer loan repayments and waive certain banking fees for small businesses impacted by the pandemic. The coordination also allows banks to facilitate second phase financial recovery and maintain access to banking services for small businesses.
“In the context of COVID-19 related lockdowns and restrictions, the ACCC recognises that large numbers of businesses and individuals are continuing to experience significant financial hardship,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“We consider that the ABA’s coordinated packages are likely to assist banks with providing relief to businesses and other customers impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, maintain access to banking services and support financial recovery.”
“Importantly, as well as offering customers the packages covered by the interim authorisation, banks can also individually offer more favourable and tailored solutions to their customers experiencing financial hardship during these times,” Mr Sims said.
“Without this authorisation, banks would be forced to offer separate financial relief packages without standardisation or consistency.”
The ABA’s authorisation is subject to a number of conditions, including an obligation for the banks to notify the ACCC before any coordination on further specific financial packages.
The authorisation does not allow the banks to coordinate on any element of prices for any service or product.
Having granted interim authorisation for the package, the ACCC is seeking feedback on its draft determination proposing to grant substantive authorisation to the ABA on the same terms until 30 June 2022.
More information, including the ACCC’s draft determination, is available on the ACCC’s public register at Australian Banking Association.
The interim authorisation applies to all ABA member banks who agree to participate, which may vary according to the specific package and over time. The interim authorisation and proposed substantive authorisation are conditional on the ABA providing details of any programs and arrangements to the ACCC before implementation. The details of the relevant programs and arrangements will be published on the ACCC’s authorisations public register, as previously.
Current relief programs are mainly aimed at small businesses, with the exception of a limited debit card program which allows the fast track issuing of debit cards to isolated and vulnerable customers so they have access to banking services.
In addition to loan repayments, fees that are proposed to be waived by banks for some small businesses include the refund of merchant terminal fees, and a waiver of fees and notice periods on cash deposit and farm management deposit accounts.
The ABA member banks have also agreed that they will offer a range of home loan support measures to individual and business customers, and specialised targeted support for larger business customers. However, the participating banks will individually decide on the specific relief measures to be provided.
The ABA sought ACCC authorisation on behalf of its members because the relief packages involve coordination by competing banks, actions that would otherwise raise concerns under Australian competition laws.
Notes to editors
ACCC authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the likely public benefit from the conduct outweighs any likely public detriment.