… And CBA Makes 4

Commonwealth Bank has today announced an increase in its Variable Home Loan interest rates and Viridian Line of Credit products effective Monday 8 May 2017.

– The standard variable rate for owner-occupier home loan customers paying principal and interest will increase 3 basis points to 5.25 per cent per annum.

– The standard variable rate for interest only owner-occupier home loans will increase by 25 basis points to 5.47 per cent per annum.

– The standard variable rate for principal and interest investment home loans will increase by 24 basis points to 5.80 per cent per annum.

– The standard variable rate for interest only investment home loans will increase by 26 basis points to 5.94 per cent per annum. This change is separate and in addition to the announcement on 15 February 2017, when we announced an increase to the Standard Variable Rate for Interest Only Investment loans, which will be increasing to 5.68% from 3 April 2017.

– Viridian Line of Credit rates will increase by 0.26% p.a. to 6.08% per annum for loans with a personal and Investment purpose. This change is separate and in addition to the announcement on 15 February 2017, when we announced an increase to the Viridian Line of Credit Rates, which will be increasing to 5.82% from 3 April 2017.

– The Equity Unlock for Seniors Rate remains unchanged.

Our P&I Standard Variable Rate for Owner Occupiers remains the equal lowest standard variable rate among the major banks.

ASIC releases findings of CommInsure investigation

ASIC has released a public report today on its investigation into the life insurance business of CommInsure (the trading name of The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited).

ASIC has been conducting an extensive investigation and examination of CommInsure’s practices, including reviewing over 60,000 documents and interviewing staff. ASIC obtained files from dispute resolution schemes, spoke to consumer advocacy organisations, and obtained independent medical and legal advice.

Key outcomes of ASIC’s investigation are:

1. CommInsure had trauma policies with medical definitions that were out of date with prevailing medical practice, specifically for heart attack and severe rheumatoid arthritis. However, this was not against the law. This is because the law allows an insurer to set out the level of cover its policy provides, including out of date medical definitions as long as these are clearly disclosed in the policy.

It is important to recognise that a consumer can end up with a life insurance policy that has out of date medical definitions in two ways (both of which we found applied to CommInsure)

  1. Insurers can sell consumers policies which already have outdated medical definitions. Although this is not against the law, it is clearly out of step with community expectations, given that consumers cannot be expected to know whether a medical definition is already outdated when they purchase life insurance. The life insurance industry has recognised this, and under the new life insurance code of practice will take steps to minimise the risk that medical definitions are out of date when policies are sold.
  2. As life insurance is a long term product, a consumer can end up  with a life insurance policy where previously current medical definitions have become out of date over time. This occurs because life insurers are legally required to maintain a consumer’s cover, and cannot easily update a policy or change its terms. While this is an important consumer protection, it creates a ‘legacy products’ issue in the life insurance industry. The Government is considering this industry-wide issue further in response to a recommendation of the Financial System Inquiry.

2. CommInsure has since updated its medical definitions, including for heart attack and severe rheumatoid arthritis. CommInsure had previously announced that it would apply its updated heart attack definition back to May 2014. In response to ASIC’s concerns that its heart attack definition was out of date from at least October 2012, CommInsure has now voluntarily agreed to apply its updated heart attack definition back to October 2012. This is the date at which global cardiology bodies published an updated consensus on the appropriate clinical marker for heart attack. CommInsure will now commence the process of identifying affected consumers and making payments as appropriate. ASIC welcomes CommInsure’s revised position on this matter.

3. Following a thorough investigation, ASIC found no evidence to support allegations that CommInsure claims managers applied undue pressure on doctors to change or alter their medical opinions.

4. In the course of the investigation, ASIC identified a number of areas where CommInsure needs to make improvements to its claims handling processes. Areas of improvement were also identified by Deloitte in their independent review of CommInsure’s claim handling. Such improvements included, for example, better and more timely communications with consumers and enhanced training and assistance for claims managers. ASIC will work with CommInsure to make sure these improvements are implemented as quickly as possible. ASIC has requested CommInsure to undergo a further implementation review by an independent expert in mid-2018, to test the effectiveness of the changes, and provide additional assurance that CommInsure is making the necessary improvements to its business. CommInsure has agreed to this request.

5. ASIC is continuing to investigate concerns that CommInsure’s advertising and promotion of life insurance policies to consumers contained potentially misleading or deceptive information in the period before March 2016. We will provide a further update on this aspect of our investigation when appropriate.

ASIC’s investigation also examined CommInsure’s surveillance processes and looked at whether there was any compromise of a CommInsure database. No breaches of the law were uncovered, but areas for improvement were identified, and further details of these issues are set out in the investigation report.

The investigation

As part of our investigation, ASIC:

  • obtained approximately 60,000 documents for consideration, including significant amounts of emails
  • interviewed a range of individuals, including customer representatives (financial and legal advisors, at the request of the customers)
  • conducted compulsory examinations
  • reviewed client files from CommInsure, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT)
  • obtained external legal advice
  • obtained independent expert medical advice
  • engaged extensively with APRA
  • engaged extensively with CommInsure and its independent reviewers, and
  • liaised with FOS and the SCT and consumer law groups in relation to CommInsure matters to understand the issues faced by consumers.

In October 2016, ASIC released Report 498, Life insurance claims: An industry review.

Wider industry reforms to insurance claims handling

ASIC also conducted an industry wide review of life insurance claims handling with a report in October 2016 (refer: 16-347MR). A range of the concerns ASIC has identified in relation to Comminsure were also identified as industry-wide issues in ASIC’s report, and there are measures being undertaken by ASIC and industry to address these issues, including better public reporting on claims outcomes.

Following ASIC’s industry wide review, the Government agreed in October 2016 with ASIC’s recommendation that the exemption for insurance claims handling under the Corporations Act be reviewed as well as reviewing the penalties available for miscoduct in relation to claims handling and the coverage under Unfair Contracts Terms legislation.

CBA reaching for 100% ownership of Aussie – AFR

From Australian Broker.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) is allegedly in discussions to purchase the remaining 20% share of Aussie Home Loans.

According to the Australian Financial Review’s column Street Talk, the bank is working towards 100% ownership of the franchise with the final price to be based off Aussie’s performance and profits for the year to 30 June.

The 20% claimed to be on the line is now owned by Aussie Home Loans’ founder John Symond. CBA last expanded its share of Aussie in December 2012 when it increased its shareholding from 33% to 80% for an undisclosed amount.

In an interview last September, Symond confirmed to The Australian that he would be stepping back from his role as a fulltime executive at Aussie this year.

“John and wife Amber plan to spend more time overseas after his fulltime role as executive chairman of Aussie Home Loans is completed in the second half of 2017,” a spokesperson told the publication.

Both CBA and Aussie declined to comment when approached by Australian Broker yesterday (22 March).

 

CBA Cuts Investor Loan LVR

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has reduced the maximum loan-to-value ratio for investment home loans to 90 per cent, meaning investors should ensure they have a 10 per cent deposit.

This change relates only to investment home loans and is effective immediately. There has been no change for owner-occupier home loans.

The bank has said it expects the change will affect “a very small percentage of the home loan applications” it receives.

Dan Huggins, executive general manager home buying at CBA, added: “We are constantly reviewing our home loan portfolio.

“[This] change will enable us to meet our customers’ needs, while further strengthening our high quality home loan business and ensuring we continue to meet our responsible lending and regulatory obligations.”

CBA Card Holders Will Be Able To Close Accounts On Line

CBA says CommBank customers will soon be able to close their credit card account online in real time giving them even greater control over their financial wellbeing.

In an Australian first, CommBank credit card customers will be able to close their credit card account online in real time giving them even greater control over their financial wellbeing. The fully digital experience will enable customers to close their credit card using the CommBank app or online without the need to go into branch or speak to our contact centre.

Clive van Horen, Executive General Manager Retail Products and Strategy, Commonwealth Bank said this is proof of the bank innovating to help customers have more control of their finances.

“Online credit card closure is another step on the path to providing customers with greater control of their financial wellbeing. We introduced Lock, Block, Limit in 2014 to provide customers with extra security and convenience at their fingertips, in real time. Last year we added spending caps and real time credit limit decreases. Next month customers will receive instant transaction receipts on their phones.

“Soon customers can go online to close their credit card at a time that suits them, simply with the app or NetBank,” Mr van Horen said.

Since launch more than one million cards are using “Lock, Block, Limit” through the CommBank app and NetBank, with this number increasing by around 5,000 each week.

“We are continuing to innovate and giving more control to credit card holders,” Mr van Horen added.

The real time, online credit card close feature will be available to customers later in 2017

CBA Prunes Brokers

From Australian Broker.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has sent out a note giving certain brokers two weeks’ notice for the revocation of their accreditation.

The note was sent out to a segment of accredited brokers which CBA had identified as being “inactive” with the bank for quite some time, a bank spokesperson told Australian Broker. This was part of an ongoing review of CBA products and services.

“To ensure we uphold the highest level of professional standards, and continue to meet the needs and expectations of our customers, those mortgage brokers who have been inactive will no longer be accredited with us,” they said.

Brokers were deemed inactive if they had not written a CBA home loan in the past year or if they had only written a single mortgage. Once identified, brokers are notified that their CBA accreditation will be resigned following the bank’s agreement with the broker’s head group.

The letter provided recipients with 14 days’ notice, starting from the date the letter was sent, in which the bank would revoke the broker’s authority to act.

“This means you will no longer be able to submit home loan applications to the Commonwealth Bank. Please be advised that effective immediately, we will not accept any new home loan applications from you,” the note said.

By freezing loan applications, this stops new loans from being written by brokers about to lose their accreditation which could cause issues for the customer.

Brokers who want to appeal this decision can contact their relationship manager or head group representative.

The note brings into question how independent brokers are from the banks, Mark Harris, director and owner of THE Home Loan Broker, told Australian Broker.

“What does this say? If I don’t believe that CBA is the best fit for my client, are they essentially trying to force me into making them a choice?”

“This is a very big heavy stick to say, ‘Well, you’ll use us anyhow’. I really wonder how interested ASIC would be in this. It sends a very bad message about the industry by taking our entire independence away.”

The note also shows “absolute disrespect” to brokers and potential clients, Harris said. While he understands that CBA has every right to make a decision like this under their business, he would not be encouraging the six brokers under him to use the bank.

“The main reason for this is what if a broker was talking to someone today and decided to do an application with Commonwealth Bank tomorrow and then tomorrow night before they got to lodge that application, the bank cancelled their accreditation?”

“I think it’s appalling. They’re not giving any notice. The note states that you can’t lodge any more loans as of now and you’ve got two weeks to settle anything that’s in the system.”

The decision was “kind of odd” given that brokers use different lenders at different frequencies, Harris said.

“The email was obviously alluding to their belief that if you aren’t actively giving them business that the customers aren’t going to get best practice customer service.”

“I find that very hard to believe. No other lender believes that because no other lender does this sort of thing.”

Over the past two years, Harris acknowledged that he had only used CBA once when he sent through a $900,000 loan last October. The application “flew through with no problems,” he said.

CBA targets third party origination in investment lending crackdown

From Australian Broker.

The recent tightening of investment lending practices by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia only apply to those loans coming through the third party channel, it has been revealed.

Last week, it was reported that the CBA had halted any new refinance applications for standalone mortgages.

A notice sent to the bank’s broker network stated: “To ensure we continue to meet our commitments, from Monday 13th February we will be suspending the acceptance of new refinance applications for Investment Home Loans, until further notice.

“Applications which include both Investor and Owner Occupier loans are not impacted.”

While the notice appeared to apply to all refinance investor loans, the major bank has now told Australian Broker that these changes apply solely to intermediary-sourced loans. Borrowers will still be able to access refinance investor loans via CBA’s retail branches.

“We’re committed to meeting our responsible lending and regulatory obligations and to ensure we continue to meet this commitment, we are unable to accept new refinance applications for Investment Home Loans from our broker partners,” a CBA spokesperson told Australian Broker on Wednesday.

“The vast majority of our single property investment home loan refinances come to us through our broker partners so the decision was made to address this in the first instance to ensure we continue to meet our regulatory requirements.”

“We constantly review our products, policies and processes to ensure we’re meeting our customers’ financial needs,” the spokesperson said.

This decision comes soon after CBA subsidiary Bankwest announced it too would halt all new applications from customers looking to refinance their standalone investment lending.

ANZ, Westpac and NAB have thus far made no changes to their investment lending policies in either the third party or retail channels

Digital Trumps Branch

Buried in the CBA results presentation today was a series of charts which shows just how far digital has come.  Just as predicted in our Quiet Revolution Report.

Yet, as banks focus on more younger, digital users, they see a decline in satisfaction from older, less digitally aligned households. See the change in Main Financial Institution (MFI) by age bands.

… and relative needs met by age.

Yet transaction migration is well underway. CBA showed the fall in branch deposits and withdrawals…

… and ATM transactions as cash becomes less critical compared with electronic transactions.

On the other hand, point of sale transactions have risen strongly …

… as well as internet transactions.

This is the killer slide – app use, cardless cash and tap and pay volumes are rising fast. Mobile first is here.

Yet they also reported an increase in sales from smaller but reconfigured branches, with home lending applications up 13%, and reducing broker originated volumes, and a 10x increase in branch leads and 95% contact rates leading to 3x higher conversion rates.

The new branch is smaller, more tech, and focuses on customer relationships.

But transformation of banking distribution has profound consequences, in terms of economics, profitability and customer satisfaction, and there is no doubt that digital will trump branch (just watch kids with their digital devices and how naturally they use them). It just depends on how long it takes.

 

CBA 1H Results Strong … But

Commonwealth Bank of Australia announced its results for the half year ended 31 December 2016 today. CBA is well run, so they are a bellwether of the broader financial sector.  It was a solid result with asset growth, 3% lift in underlying income and good cost management, but shows the pressure created by regulatory capital uplifts, competition in home lending and consumer deposits, and arrears in mining exposed areas. They continue to make strong progress in digital banking, where they are a leader.  They do not believe there is evidence for a housing bubble. Wealth and Insurance in under some pressure, so retail banking is taking the load, thus system credit growth is critical.

They also announced further interest only investment mortgage rate price hikes which will lift NIM.

CBA reported a statutory net profit after tax (NPAT) of $4,895 million, which represents a 6 per cent increase on 1H16 period. This includes a $397 million gain on sale of the Group’s remaining investment in Visa Inc. and a $393 million one-off expense for acceleration of amortisation on certain software assets.

Cash NPAT was $4,907 million, an increase of 2 per cent on the prior comparative period.

Return on equity (cash basis) was 16 per cent.

Strikingly though the net interest margin was down 4 basis points to 2.11%, or 2.08% excluding treasury, down 5 basis points. This was expected.

The key drivers were:

  • Asset pricing: Increased margin of three basis points, reflecting the impact of home loan repricing, partly offset by the impact of competition on home and business lending.
  • Funding costs: Decreased margin of five basis points, reflecting an increase in deposit costs of three basis points due to the lower cash rate and increased competition, and an increase in wholesale funding costs.
  • Portfolio mix: Decreased margin of one basis point reflecting an unfavourable change in lending mix from proportionally higher levels of home lending.
  • Capital and Other: Decreased margin of two basis points driven by the impact of the falling cash rate environment on free equity funding, and a lower contribution from New Zealand.
  • Treasury and Markets: Increased margin of two basis points driven by a higher contribution from Treasury.

Average interest earning assets increased $23 billion on the prior half to $823 billion, driven by:

  • Home loan average balances increased $16 billion or 4% on the prior half, primarily driven by growth in the domestic banking business;
  • Average balances for business and corporate lending increased $5 billion or 3% on the prior half, driven by growth in business banking lending balances; and
  • Average non-lending interest earning assets increased $2 billion or 1% on the prior half.

Customer deposits accounted for 66% of total funding at 31 December 2016. Of the remaining, Short-term wholesale funding accounted for 42% of total wholesale funding at 31 December 2016. During the half, the Group raised $22 billion of long-term wholesale funding. The cost of new long-term funding improved marginally on the prior half as markets shrugged off any potential negative sentiment associated with the US
Presidential election result, a 25 basis points Federal Reserve rate rise, higher global bond yields, and Brexit.

Loan impairment expense increased 6% on the prior comparative period to $599 million. The increase was driven by:

  • An increase in Retail Banking Services as a result of higher home loan and personal loan losses, predominantly in Western Australia;
  • Lower home loan provision releases and higher growth in New Zealand lending portfolios;
  • An increase in Bankwest due to slower run-off of the troublesome book, reduced write-backs and higher home loan losses, predominantly in Western Australia; and
  • An increase in IFS as a result of losses in the PT Bank Commonwealth (PTBC) commercial lending portfolio; partly offset by
  • Lower individual provisions in Business and Private
    Banking; and
  • A reduction in Institutional Banking and Markets due to lower collective provisions and a higher level of writebacks.

Provisioning levels remain prudent and there has been no change to the economic overlay. Retail arrears across all products reduced during the current half reflecting seasonal trends.

Home loan arrears reduced over the prior half, with 30+ days arrears decreasing from 1.21% to 1.12%, and 90+ days arrears reducing from 0.54% to 0.53%. Unsecured retail arrears improved over the half with credit card 30+ days arrears falling from 2.41% to 2.28%, and 90+ days arrears reducing from 0.99% to 0.88%. Personal loan arrears also improved with 30+ days arrears falling from 3.46% to 3.14% and 90+ days arrears falling from 1.46% to 1.28%. However personal loan arrears continue to be elevated driven primarily by Western Australia and
Queensland.

As at 31 December 2016, the Basel III Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio was 15.4% on an internationally comparable basis and 9.9% on an APRA basis.

The Group’s CET1 (APRA) ratio decreased 70 basis points for the half year ended 31 December 2016. After allowing for the implementation of the APRA requirement to hold additional capital of 80 basis points with respect to Australian residential mortgages, effective from 1 July 2016, the
underlying increase in the Group’s CET1 (APRA) ratio was 10 basis points on the prior half.

The Group’s leverage ratio, defined as Tier 1 Capital as a percentage of total exposures, was 4.9% at 31 December 2016 on an APRA basis and 5.5% on an internationally comparable basis.

There was a small decline in the ratio across the December 2016 half year with growth in exposures partly offset by an increase in capital levels.

The BCBS has advised that the leverage ratio will migrate to a Pillar 1 minimum capital requirement of 3% from 1 January 2018. The BCBS will confirm the final calibration in 2017. LCR was 135% at 31 Dec 2016.

The Board determined an interim dividend of $1.99 per share, a 1 cent increase on the 2016 interim dividend.

Looking in more detail at the Australian home loan portfolio, the total book was worth $423 billion in December 16. They added $53 billion of loans in the past 6 months, with an value of $311,000 and at a serviceability buffer of 2.25%. 89% were variable rate loans. 37% were investor loans (up from 33% in the prior 6 months) and 43% originated via brokers, down from 46% in June 16, reflecting a 13% rise in branch application. 40% were interest only loans, up from 38% in the previous period.

They said 77% of customers are paying in advance by 35 months on average, but this includes offset facilities. Mortgage offset balances were up 19% in 1H17 to $36 billion.

In terms of underwriting criteria they use the following parameters:

  • Higher of customer rate plus 2.25% or minimum floor rate (RBS: 7.25% pa, Bankwest: 7.35% pa)
  • 80% cap on less certain income sources (e.g. rent, bonuses etc.)
  • Maximum LVR of 95% for all loans (For Bankwest, maximum LVR excludes any capitalised mortgage insurance.)
  • Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance (LMI) for higher risk loans, including high LVR loans
  • Limits on investor income allowances e.g. RBS restrict the use of negative gearing where LVR>90%
  • Buffer applied to existing mortgage repayments
  • Interest only loans assessed on principal and interest basis

Mortgage arrears (90 day+) are highest in WA, at 1% thanks to the mining downturn. WA mining towns are 1% of portfolio.  Portfolio is running at 0.53%.

Investment mortgage arrears are running at a lower default rate, despite differential pricing, with a skew towards higher income households.

CBA says housing fundamentals suggest slower growth ahead:

  • Population growth has slowed as net migration eased. The slowing is concentrated in WA and Qld. Growth in NSW and Vic remains robust
  • Housing supply is now running ahead of housing demand, any backlog has now been met.
  • The record residential construction boom has lifted employment and related parts of retail like hardware, furnishings and white goods. But leading indicators have peaked.

They say they are serious on the 10% benchmark for investor loans and  have not exceeded the APRA speed limit.

They say households would be vulnerable to a fall in asset values and/or a rise in interest rates and unemployment though low interest rates have allowed some pre-payments and net worth has improved thanks to household asset growth.

They says the typical housing bubble factors not evident in Australia:

 

 

CBA Lifts Investor Interest Only Mortgage Rates

Today the CBA has announced changes to some mortgage rates: interest only home loan rates for investors will rise by 12 basis points and Viridian Line of Credit (VLOC) products will increase by 4 basis points. The new interest only standard variable rate for investors will be 5.68% per annum, VLOC will move to 5.82% per annum.

These changes will be effective from 3 April. For customers who may want to switch to principal and interest repayments to avoid this increase, they can do so easily – online, over the phone or in branch – at no cost.

CBA supported 140,000 new home loans in the six months ended December 2016 and our standard variable rate (SVR) for owner occupiers of 5.22% per annum remains the lowest among the major banks.

They just released their 1H17 results, which show a statutory net profit after tax (NPAT) of $4,895 million, which represents a 6 per cent increase on 1H16 period. Cash NPAT was $4,907 million, an increase of 2 per cent on the prior comparative period. Return on equity (cash basis) was 16 per cent.

Strikingly though the net interest margin was down 4 basis points to 2.11%, or 2.08% excluding treasury, down 5 basis points.

We will provide more detailed commentary later.