AustraliaƆs top banks come together for online joint venture

Aggregated portal to serve up banks'' wholesale products and services from next year.
Australia’s top four banks – National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia & New Zealand Banking and Westpac Banking – have announced an online joint venture that will bring the banks’ wholesale financial products and services together in one portal.

AusMarkets.com will be launched next year, at first offering money market, debt securities and information and risk management content such as research, news, rates and portfolio analytics to the banks’ Australian clients. This will be followed by a full suite of interest rate derivatives and foreign exchange products as well as possible expansion of the service to overseas clients.

Co-operation between the four fiercely competitive institutions is significant in light of the government’s “Four Pillars” policy that prohibits any merger between the country’s top banks. In a statement outlining the AusMarkets initiative the banks said that preliminary discussions have been held with various regulatory bodies, chief among these likely to be the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission.

Management at some of the big banks have for years been pushing for changes to the Federal Government policy. Currently the banks can maintain profit growth momentum only through domestic acquisitions of insurance or fund management companies, or alternatively through foreign expansion. But the opportunities that a big bank merger at home could present make the idea very attractive, particularly to the two largest banks, National Australia and Commonwealth.

While the initial shareholders of the company that will manage AusMarkets.com will be the four major Australian banks, they say it will be an open and inclusive platform for other market participants. The project came about after research revealed that some clients with multiple banking relationships were interested in an aggregated portal in which to transact and manage their treasury operations.

Provided they can convince regulators that the portal has no anti-competitive implications, the banks say it will provide a convenient delivery mechanism for products and services and afford clients an efficient means of comparing prices.