ASIC announces further measures to promote responsible lending in the home loan sector

ASIC today announced a targeted industry surveillance to examine whether lenders and mortgage brokers are inappropriately recommending more expensive interest-only loans. With many lenders, including major lenders, charging higher interest rates for interest-only loans compared with principal-and-interest loans, lenders and brokers must ensure that consumers are not provided with unsuitable interest-only loans.

Building on earlier work on home lending standards, ASIC is also announcing that eight major lenders will provide remediation to consumers who suffer financial difficulty as a result of shortcomings in past lending practices.

Interest-only loans

ASIC will shortly commence a surveillance to identify lenders and mortgage brokers who are recommending high numbers of more expensive interest-only loans. Data will be gathered using ASIC’s compulsory information-gathering powers from large banks, other banks, mutual banks and non-bank lenders.

In an environment where many interest-only loans are now clearly more expensive than principal-and-interest loans, lenders and mortgage brokers must carefully consider the implications of providing borrowers with interest-only loans. While interest-only loans may be a reasonable option for some borrowers, for the vast majority of owner-occupiers in particular, an interest-only loan will not make sense.

Past lending practices

In 2015, ASIC conducted a review of how lenders provide interest-only home loans. ASIC found that lenders were not properly inquiring into a consumer’s actual living expenses when assessing their capacity to make repayments. ASIC’s review led to industry-wide improvements by lenders: see 15-220MR Lenders to improve standards following interest-only loan review.

As part of today’s announcement, eight lenders examined by ASIC have improved their practices for enquiring about expenses to determine the consumer’s financial situation and capacity to make repayments. Rather than obtaining a single monthly living expense figure and then relying on a benchmark figure to assess suitability, borrowers’ actual figures for different categories of living expenses (e.g. food, transport, insurance, entertainment) will now be obtained. This will provide lenders with a better understanding of consumers’ expenses.

In addition to typical hardship processes, lenders will individually review cases where consumers suffer financial difficulty in repaying their home loans, and determine whether they have been impacted by shortcomings in past lending practices. Where appropriate, consumers will be provided with tailored remediation, which may include refunds of fees or interest.

As interest rates are currently at record lows, and were falling in the lead up to 2015 and during 2016, ASIC does not expect lenders to identify high numbers of consumers who are now experiencing financial difficulty due to past lending decisions. Nevertheless, these additional actions will ensure that consumers are not disadvantaged.

To ensure that these remediation programs are operating effectively, ASIC is requiring lenders to audit their processes.

ASIC Deputy Chairman Peter Kell said, ‘Home loans are the biggest financial commitment most people will ever make. In assessing whether borrowers can meet loan repayments without substantial hardship in the short and longer term, it is important that lenders can collect and rely on information which provides an accurate view of the consumer’s financial situation. This is especially the case when interest rates are at record low levels’.

‘Lenders and mortgage brokers must also ensure that consumers are being provided with the home loan product that meets their needs. Lenders and mortgage brokers need to think twice before recommending that a consumer obtain a more expensive interest-only loan’.

Background

In 2015, ASIC reviewed interest-only loans provided by 11 home lenders, and issued REP 445 Review of interest-only home loans (Refer: REP 445) in 2015, which made a number of recommendations for home lenders to comply with their responsible lending obligations (Refer:15-297MR).

In REP 445, ASIC gave guidance on how lenders can make proper inquiries into a borrower’s actual expenses.

ASIC’s monitoring of lenders’ home lending practices continues. ASIC will carry out further reviews to ensure that industry standards are improved where necessary. ASIC will also take enforcement action as appropriate.

Any consumer with concerns about their ability to make home loan repayments should contact their lender in the first instance. Consumers can also access free external dispute resolution, through either the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) or Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO).

The eight lenders are:

  • Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited
  • Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited
  • Commonwealth Bank of Australia
  • Firstmac Limited
  • ING Bank (Australia) Limited
  • Macquarie Bank Limited
  • National Australia Bank Limited
  • Pepper Group Limited.

ASIC has also provided guidance to industry in Regulatory Guide 209 Credit licensing: Responsible lending conduct (Refer: RG 209).

Responsible lending is a key priority for ASIC in its regulation of the consumer credit industry. The changes made by the eight reviewed lenders continue a number of developments and outcomes involving responsible lending:

  • Treasury releases ASIC’s Review of Mortgage Broker Remuneration.
  • ASIC filed civil penalty proceedings against Westpac in the Federal Court on 1 March 2017 for alleged breaches of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (refer: 17-048MR).
  • Cairns-based car yard lender, Channic Pty Ltd, and broker, Cash Brokers Pty Ltd, breached consumer credit laws (refer: 16-335MR). Part of the court’s judgement was that the broker did not meet all of the necessary responsible lending obligations before providing credit assistance because he did not consider the borrower’s insurance expenses, which was required under the credit contract and represented a significant portion of the borrower’s income.
  • ANZ paid a $212,500 penalty for breaching responsible lending laws when offering overdrafts (refer: 16-063MR).
  • Payday lender Nimble to refund $1.5 million following ASIC probe (Refer: 16-089MR).
  • BMW Finance pays $391,000 penalty for breaching responsible lending and repossession laws  (refer: 16-019MR).
  • Westpac pays $1 million following ASIC’s concerns about credit card limit increase practices (refer: 16-009MR).
  • Bank of Queensland Limited improved its lending practices following ASIC’s concerns about the way it assessed applications for home loans (Refer: 15-125MR).
  • The Cash Store Pty Ltd and Assistive Finance Australia Pty Ltd failed to comply with their responsible lending obligations. The Federal Court awarded record civil penalties (refer: 15-032MR).
  • Wide Bay Australia Ltd (now Auswide Bank Ltd) made changes to their responsible lending policy as a result of ASIC’s intervention (refer: 15-013MR).

ASIC commences civil penalty proceedings against Westpac for breaching home-loan responsible lending laws

This is a big deal. Westpac is the largest investment mortgage lender, and it  highlights the need for “microprudential” analysis of loans. But in 2011 other lenders were doing the same. The question of interest only repayments is certainly a live issue.

ASIC says it has today commenced civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court against Westpac Banking Corporation (Westpac) for a number of contraventions of the responsible lending provisions of National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (Cth) (the National Credit Act).

ASIC alleges that in the period between December 2011 and March 2015 Westpac failed to properly assess whether borrowers could meet their repayment obligations before entering into home loan contracts.

Specifically, ASIC alleges that Westpac:

  • used a benchmark instead of the actual expenses declared by borrowers in assessing their ability to repay the loan
  • approved loans where a proper assessment of a borrower’s ability to repay the loan would have shown a monthly deficit
  • for home loans with an interest-only period, Westpac failed to have regard to the higher repayments at the end of the interest-only period when assessing the borrowers’ ability to repay.

The National Credit Act provides consumer protections to ensure that credit providers make reasonable inquiries about a borrower’s financial situation and assess whether a loan contract will be unsuitable for the borrowers.

The first hearing for the proceedings will be on 21 March 2017 at 9.30am in the Federal Court in Sydney.

ASIC will be making no further comment at this time.

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Background

The proceedings follow ASIC’s review of interest-only home loans (REP 445) in which ASIC reviewed the responsible lending practices of 11 lenders (refer: 15-220MR).

The Rise of Microprudential

APRA’s revised mortgage guidance released yesterday, on the surface may look benign but if you look at the detail there are a number of changes which together do change the game in terms of risk analysis during underwriting, and through the life of the mortgage. We think this will slow credit growth through 2017 and beyond.

We suggest this is imposing significant micro-management on the portfolio, which will force some lenders to change their current practices.

Investment Property Underwriting Tightened.

APRA says a minimum haircut of 20% on expected rental income, and larger discounts on properties where there is a higher risk of non-occupancy should be applied. They also need to taking into account a borrower’s investment property-related fees and expenses. Also, APRA highlights that an ADI should ideally “place no reliance on a borrower’s potential ability to access future tax benefits from operating a rental property at a loss”, but if an ADI chooses to do so, it “would be prudent to assess it at the current interest rate rather than one with a buffer applied”.

Serviceability Tests Strengthened

APRA reaffirmed the interest rate buffer of at least 2% and minimum lending floor rate of at least 7% for mortgages. But now APRA says ADIs should apply these buffers a borrower’s new and existing debt commitments. To do this, banks will need to have more detailed knowledge of a borrower’s existing debt commitments and history of  delinquency.

Expenses Assessment Tightened

APRA wants ADIs to use the greater of a borrower’s declared living expenses or an appropriately income scaled version of the Household Expenditure Measure (HEM) or Henderson Poverty Index (HPI). They cannot rely fully on HEM or HPI to assess living expenses. They suggest expenses should be more correlated to income.

Income Assessment Tightened

APRA says banks should apply discounts of at least 20% (instead of being calculated at the ADIs’ discretion) to be applied to most types of non-salary income (rental income on investment properties, bonuses, child benefits etc.). A larger discount should sometimes be used where income is more variable over time – “an ADI may choose to use the lowest documented value of such income over the last several years, or apply a 20 per cent discount to the average amount received over a similar period”.

Interest Only Loans More Restricted

APRA expects interest-only periods offered on residential mortgage loans to be of limited duration, particularly for owner-occupiers. Interest-only loans may carry higher credit risk in some cases, and may not be appropriate for all borrowers. This should be reflected in the ADI’s risk management framework, including its risk appetite statement, and also in the ADI’s responsible lending compliance program. APRA expects that an ADI would only approve interest-only loans for owner-occupiers where there is a sound and documented economic basis for such an arrangement and not based on inability to service a loan on a principal and interest basis.

SMSF Property Loans Require More Examination

The nature of loans to SMSFs gives rise to unique operational, legal and reputational risks that differ from those of a traditional mortgage loan. Legal recourse in the event of default may differ from a standard mortgage, even with guarantees in place from other parties. Customer objectives and suitability may be more difficult to determine. In performing a serviceability assessment, ADIs would need to consider what regular income, subject to haircuts as discussed above, is available to service the loan and what expenses should be reflected in addition to the loan servicing. APRA expects that a prudent ADI would identify the additional risks relevant to this type of lending and implement loan application assessment processes and criteria that adequately reflect these risks.

LVR Is Not A Good Risk Indicator

Although mortgage lending risk cannot be fully mitigated through conservative LVRs, prudent LVR limits help to minimise the risk that the property serving as collateral will be insufficient to cover any repayment shortfall. Consequently, prudent LVR limits serve as an important element of portfolio risk management. APRA emphasises, however, that loan origination policies would not be expected to be solely reliant on LVR as a risk-mitigating mechanism.

Genuine Savings To Be Tested

ADIs typically require a borrower to provide an initial deposit primarily drawn from the borrower’s own funds. Imposing a minimum ‘genuine savings’ requirement as part of this initial deposit is considered an important means of reducing default risk. A prudent ADI would have limited appetite for taking into account non-genuine savings, such as gifts from a family member. In such cases, it would be prudent for an ADI to take all reasonable steps to determine whether non-genuine savings are to be repaid by the borrower and, if so, to incorporate these repayments in the serviceability assessment.

Granular and Ongoing Portfolio Management Required

Where residential mortgage lending forms a material proportion of an ADI’s lending portfolio and therefore represents a risk that may have a material impact on the ADI, the accepted level of credit risk would be expected to specifically address the risk in the residential mortgage portfolio. Further, in order to assist senior management and lending staff to operate within the accepted level of credit risk, quantifiable risk limits would be set for various aspects of the residential mortgage portfolio.

A robust management information system would be able to provide good quality information on residential mortgage lending risks. This would typically include:

a) the composition and quality of the residential mortgage lending portfolio, e.g. by type of customer (first home buyer, owner-occupied, investment etc), product line, distribution channel, loan vintage, geographic concentration, LVR bands at origination, loans on the watch list and impaired;
b) portfolio performance reporting, including trend analysis, peer comparisons where possible, other risk-adjusted profitability and economic capital measures and results from stress tests;
c) compliance against risk limits and trigger levels at which action is required;
d) reports on broker relationships and performance;
e) exception reporting including overrides, key drivers for overrides and delinquency performance for loans approved by override;
f) reports on loan breaches and other issues arising from annual reviews;
g) prepayment rates and mortgage prepayment buffers;
h) serviceability buffers including trends, performance, recent changes to buffers and adjustments and rationale for changes;
i) missed payments, hardship concessions and restructurings, cure rates and 30-, 60- and 90-days arrears levels across, for example, different segments of the portfolio, loan vintage, geographic region, borrower type, distribution channel and product type;
j) changes to valuation methodologies, types and location of collateral held and analysis relating to any current or expected changes in collateral values;
k) findings from valuer reviews or other hindsight reviews undertaken by the ADI;
l) reporting against key metrics to measure collections performance;
m) tracking of loans insured by LMI providers, including claims made and adverse findings by such providers;
n) provisioning trends and write-offs;
o) internal and external audit findings and tracking of unresolved issues and closure;
p) issues of contention with third-parties including service providers, valuation firms, etc; and
q) risk drivers and other components that form part of scorecard or models used for loan origination as well as risk indicators for new lending.

When setting risk limits for the residential mortgage portfolio, a prudent ADI would consider the following areas:

a) loans with differing risk profiles (e.g. interest-only loans, owner-occupied, investment property, reverse mortgages, home equity lines-of-credit (HELOCs), foreign currency loans and loans with non-standard/alternative documentation);
b) loans originated through various channels (e.g. mobile lenders, brokers, branches and online);
c) geographic concentrations;
d) serviceability criteria (e.g. limits on loan size relative to income, (stressed) mortgage repayments to income, net income surplus and other debt servicing measures);
e) loan-to-valuation ratios (LVRs), including limits on high LVR loans for new originations and for the overall portfolio;
f) use of lenders mortgage insurance (LMI) and associated concentration risks;
g) special circumstance loans, such as reliance on guarantors, loans to retired or soon-to–be-retired persons, loans to non-residents, loans with non-typical features such as trusts or self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs);
h) frequency and types of overrides to lending policies, guidelines and loan origination standards;
i) maximum expected or tolerable portfolio default, arrears and write-off rates; and
j) non-lending losses such as operational breakdowns or adverse reputational events related to consumer lending practices.

Good practice would be for the risk management framework to clearly specify whether particular risk limits are ‘hard’ limits, where any breach is escalated for action as soon as practicable, or ‘soft’ limits, where occasional or temporary breaches are tolerated.

 

APRA Updates Mortgage Lending Practices

APRA has updated the mortgage lending guidance, to include more specific guidance on gifts for deposits, off-the-plan lending, allowance for vacant periods on rental proprieties, allowance for irregular income and confirmation of interest rate floor and buffers. There are also important comments relating to brokers, portfolio analysis and management responsibility. For example, banks will need to have ongoing awareness of households finances, rather than making a point-in-time, set-and-forget assessment. Whilst they say these changes are not material, in practice they are significant, and it suggests a more detailed “micro” analytical approach to lending scrutiny, rather than generic portfolio analytics. This is important and will impact. We think the costs of managing a mortgage portfolio just went up!

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has updated its expectations for sound residential mortgage lending practices for authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

APRA released for consultation a revised draft of Prudential Practice Guide APG 223 Residential Mortgage Lending in October 2016 to incorporate measures previously announced by APRA in 2014 or communicated to ADIs since that time.

The revisions to APG 223 are designed to ensure that the sound lending practices that have been implemented across the industry since late 2014 are maintained and reinforced.

As a result of the consultation, APRA has made a small number of refinements to the prudential practice guide, which are explained in a letter to ADIs released today. APRA does not expect these refinements to result in material changes to existing lending practices across the industry as a whole.

APRA is continuing to maintain its close monitoring and supervision of residential mortgage lending practices, including growth in investor lending, as part of its broader mandate to build resilience in the financial sector and promote financial system stability.

There are a few important comments which may trouble some lenders. For example:

Where residential mortgage lending forms a material proportion of an ADI’s lending portfolio and therefore represents a risk that may have a material impact on the ADI, the accepted level of credit risk would be expected to specifically address the risk in the residential mortgage portfolio.

In order to establish robust oversight, the Board and senior management would receive regular, concise and meaningful assessment of actual risks relative to the ADI’s risk appetite and of the operation and effectiveness of internal controls. The information would be provided in a timely manner to facilitate early corrective action.

A robust management information system would be able to provide good quality information on residential mortgage lending risks.

In Australia, it is standard market practice to pay brokers either an upfront commission or a trailing commission, or both. A prudent approach to the use of third parties for residential mortgage lending would include appropriate measures to ensure that commission-based compensation does not create adverse incentives.

When an ADI is increasing its residential mortgage lending rapidly or at a rate materially faster than its competitors, either across the portfolio or in particular segments or geographical areas, a prudent Board would seek explanation as to why this is the case.

Where an ADI uses different serviceability criteria for different products or across different ‘brands’, APRA expects the ADI to be able to articulate and be aware of commercial and other reasons for these differences, and any implications for the ADI’s risk profile and risk appetite.

Good practice would apply a buffer over the loan’s interest rate to assess the serviceability of the borrower (interest rate buffer). This approach would seek to ensure that potential increases in interest rates do not adversely impact on a borrower’s capacity to repay a loan. The buffer would reflect the potential for interest rates to change over several years. APRA expects that ADI serviceability policies should incorporate an interest rate buffer of at least two percentage points. A prudent ADI would use a buffer comfortably above this level.

In addition, a prudent ADI would use the interest rate buffer in conjunction with an interest rate floor, to ensure that the interest rate buffer used is adequate when the ADI is operating in a low interest rate environment. Prudent serviceability policies should incorporate a minimum floor assessment interest rate of at least seven per cent. Again, a prudent ADI would implement a minimum floor rate comfortably above this level.

When assessing a borrower’s income, a prudent ADI would discount or disregard temporarily high or uncertain income. Similarly, it would apply appropriate adjustments when assessing seasonal or variable income sources. For example, significant discounts are generally applied to reported bonuses, overtime, rental income on investment properties, other types of investment income and variable commissions; in some cases, they may be applied to child support or other social security payments, pensions and superannuation income. Prudent practice is to apply discounts of at least 20 per cent on most types of non-salary income; in some cases, a higher discount would be appropriate. In some circumstances, an ADI may choose to use the lowest documented value of such income over the last several years, or apply a 20 per cent discount to the average amount received over a similar period.

In APRA’s view, prudent serviceability policies incorporate a minimum haircut of 20 per cent on expected rental income, with larger haircuts appropriate for properties where there is a higher risk of non-occupancy.

Good practice would be for an ADI to place no reliance on a borrower’s potential ability to access future tax benefits from operating a rental property at a loss. Where an ADI chooses to include such a tax benefit, it would be prudent to assess it at the current interest rate rather than one with a buffer applied.

Good practice would be for an ADI, rather than a third party, to perform income verification

Some ADIs use rules-based scorecards or quantitative models in the residential mortgage loan evaluation process. In such cases, good practice would include close oversight and governance of the credit scoring processes. Where decisions suggested by a scorecard are overridden, it is good practice to document the reasons for the override.

Interest-only loans may carry higher credit risk in some cases, and may not be appropriate for all borrowers. This should be reflected in the ADI’s risk management framework, including its risk appetite statement, and also in the ADI’s responsible lending compliance program. APRA expects that an ADI would only approve interest-only loans for owner-occupiers where there is a sound and documented economic basis for such an arrangement and not based on inability to service a loan on a principal and interest basis. APRA expects interest-only periods offered on residential mortgage loans to be of limited duration, particularly for owner-occupiers.

The nature of loans to SMSFs gives rise to unique operational, legal and reputational risks that differ from those of a traditional mortgage loan. Legal recourse in the event of default may differ from a standard mortgage, even with guarantees in place from other parties. Customer objectives and suitability may be more difficult to determine. In performing a serviceability assessment, ADIs would need to consider what regular income, subject to haircuts as discussed above, is available to service the loan and what expenses should be reflected in addition to the loan servicing. APRA expects that a prudent ADI would identify the additional risks relevant to this type of lending and implement loan application assessment processes and criteria that adequately reflect these risks.

Although mortgage lending risk cannot be fully mitigated through conservative LVRs, prudent LVR limits help to minimise the risk that the property serving as collateral will be insufficient to cover any repayment shortfall. Consequently, prudent LVR limits serve as an important element of portfolio risk management. APRA emphasises, however, that loan origination policies would not be expected to be solely reliant on LVR as a risk-mitigating mechanism.

ADIs typically require a borrower to provide an initial deposit primarily drawn from the borrower’s own funds. Imposing a minimum ‘genuine savings’ requirement as part of this initial deposit is considered an important means of reducing default risk. A prudent ADI would have limited appetite for taking into account non-genuine savings, such as gifts from a family member. In such cases, it would be prudent for an ADI to take all reasonable steps to determine whether non-genuine savings are to be repaid by the borrower and, if so, to incorporate these repayments in the serviceability assessment.

In the case of valuation of off-the-plan sales, developer prices might not represent a sustainable resale value. Consequently, in such circumstances, a prudent ADI would make appropriate reductions in the off-the-plan prices in determining LVRs or seek independent professional valuations.

A prudent ADI would regularly stress test its residential mortgage lending portfolio under a range of scenarios. Scenarios used for stress testing would include severe but plausible adverse conditions

LMI is not an alternative to loan origination due diligence. A prudent ADI would, notwithstanding the presence of LMI coverage, conduct its own due diligence, including comprehensive and independent assessment of a borrower’s capacity to repay, verification of minimum initial equity by borrowers, reasonable debt service coverage, and assessment of the value of the property.

 

 

Macquarie Tightens Mortgage Underwriting Standards

From Australian Broker.

Macquarie Bank is about to bring in strict new credit rules forcing borrowers to disclose their household and discretionary spending in 12 different categories.

Fairfax Media reports that from today, borrowers will have to provide a detailed list of household expenditure including clothing, personal care, groceries, transport, utilities and other household rates.

Information about other expenses such as childcare, education, insurance, medical costs, investment property outlays, recreation and entertainment, telephone, internet and media streaming subscriptions will also be collected.

Applicants for interest-only loans will also have to supply a reason for the application and explain why they have opted for an interest-only loan as opposed to a principal and interest loan.

In processing these applications, brokers will also have to explain to borrowers how interest-only repayments work and what their impact is on principal and repayments once the interest-only term is finished.

New APRA guidance on lending will hurt home owners when it should be the banks

From The Conversation.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has moved away from its non-prescriptive “principles based” regulatory approach to a one size fits all explicit guidance but it doesn’t appear to be encouraging lenders to be more prudent.

The housing market may be getting away from APRA and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). In late 2015, both regulators voiced concerns about the “horribly low” standards of the mortgage lending sector and the risks to financial stability. Even bankers are getting jittery.

risk-pic

There has also been well-publicised problems with brokers originating dodgy mortgages that lenders have not picked up. In its existing guidance (which has not been changed in the latest version), APRA requires lenders to have all sorts of procedures to catch dodgy mortgage applications from brokers including procedures to verify the accuracy and completeness of provided information.

But APRA has not named and shamed the lenders who failed to catch dodgy mortgage applications, not imposed capital sanctions or reprimanded directors and management. It hasn’t required that lenders change their broker process.

What APRA is asking is that banks slug first time buyers even more. In the new rules, home buyers are now required to prove they can service a 7% mortgage interest rate on a loan to value ratio of less than 90% with less income being taken into account. This is on top of trying to save a deposit that is disappearing every day as house prices boom.

It is going to take a lot more than forgoing a few smashed avocado toasts to make up for the additional burden imposed by APRA.

There are a few important questions raised by APRA’s sudden conversion to pragmatic rather than purely principled regulation.

First, the numbers. Where did the 7% come from? APRA doesn’t disclose this, but in an era of almost zero interest rates, it’s big. And maybe in time, when the RBA announces its changes to interest rates, the 7% may be changed in-line and economists will begin to bet on whether it will go to 6.5% or 7.5%.

In looking at a borrower’s income, APRA notes that it is “prudent practice is to apply discounts of at least 20% on most types of non-salary income”. No explanation also on why this particular percent. It’s also not specific on what “most” means.

If banks are indeed lending imprudently surely the banks themselves should suffer. First by naming and shaming, then if necessary, requiring additional capital buffers, thus driving down dividends – a real market based solution.

APRA is changing the way it regulates

Throughout the turmoil of the global financial crisis and the regulatory mayhem that followed, APRA held fast to its “principles based” approach to regulation:

To be principles-based is to give emphasis to the achievement of sound prudential outcomes in setting regulatory requirements and expectations, without necessarily seeking to specify or prescribe the exact manner in which those outcomes must be achieved

In short, APRA lays out the high-level principles that it will use to supervise the banks and insurance companies that is responsible for, and then will check that those principles are being adhered to. It did not believe in a “one size fits all” approach.

But this week, there appears to have been a back-flip. In a consultation paper for an update to APRA’s guidance on mortgage lending, the regulator has been very specific indeed. It notes:

“Prudent serviceability policies should incorporate a minimum floor assessment interest rate of at least seven per cent.”

This very specific guidance replaces an earlier guidance that was more general. From a regulatory perspective, an important question is why abandon principles-based regulation? If it hasn’t worked in the past, then a rethink of the role and approach of prudential regulation is needed.

This has happened overseas, where the UK Financial Conduct Authority, while retaining 11 principles that firms should adhere to, has become much more intrusive. Unlike our regulators, the authority has even going so far as to impose massive fines for misconduct. It states:

“We also adopt a markets-focused approach to regulation, both in our work as a competition regulator and more broadly to deliver regulation that works with the market to improve consumer outcomes. Interventions at the market level are an effective and powerful way of tackling and mitigating problems across a large number of firms, which in turn benefits a large number of consumers.”

Rather than APRA slipping in such a major change like this latest one into a consultation paper, it might be appropriate to have a transparent debate about such a potentially significant change in prudential regulation in Australia.

Author: Pat McConnell, Honorary Fellow, Macquarie University Applied Finance Centre, Macquarie University

 

Risks within the housing and residential development markets remain elevated – APRA

APRA Chairman, Wayne Byres in his Opening statement to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee highlighted again the regulators views that there are elevated risks in the housing sector, despite tightening of underwriting rules in the past year. They are looking at additional ways to embed better and sticky lending standards into the banks. Some would say better late than never!

Investment--PIC

Our supervisory work on housing lending standards continues. Given the environment of heightened risks, our objective has been to reinforce sound lending standards, particularly in relation to the manner in which lenders assess the capacity of borrowers to service their loans. Over the past year, we believe the industry has appreciably improved its lending standards. But risks within the housing and residential development markets remain elevated. We are therefore giving thought to how best to have improved standards firmly embedded into industry practice, such that they are not eroded away again over time.

He also discussed the risk culture information paper which we featured yesterday.

Earlier this week, APRA published an information paper on risk culture – a topic that we have given greater attention to over the past few years. The paper focusses, amongst other things, on how Boards of regulated institutions have gone about the task of assessing the risk culture within their organisations, given the introduction of specific prudential requirements in this area from January 2015. Assessing risk culture is no easy task. But, as the global financial crisis showed, if an organisation has a poor attitude to risk-taking and risk management, it can ultimately threaten an institution’s financial viability. So one of our key messages is the need for continued investment of time and attention by senior leaders on this issue.Just as regulated institutions will refine and improve their own practices, we will continue to refine our approach and methodologies for making assessments of risk culture within regulated institutions. We will also, in particular, be looking more closely at the influence of remuneration arrangements on that culture.

As the Committee knows well, there have been some serious allegations of inappropriate and unfair treatment of life insurance claimants by The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited, trading as CommInsure. While ASIC has been dealing with the specific customer cases, APRA takes an interest in what these cases tell us about the strength of an institution’s governance, risk management and risk culture.Our work with CommInsure has targeted two main issues. First, APRA has engaged with the Board and senior management of CommInsure to gain assurance over the robustness and completeness of the independent reviews commissioned to investigate the allegations, and ensure to stakeholder and community expectations are considered through this process. We have also met with the whistleblower who brought the issues to light, and are considering whether the whistleblowing provisions in the Life Insurance Act designed to prevent the identification and victimisation of whistleblowers have been adhered to.

Earlier this year, APRA also wrote to the Boards of all active life insurers, as well as to a selection of superannuation trustees, seeking information on the effectiveness of their governance and oversight mechanisms for matters such as claims handling, benefit definitions, rejected claims and customer complaints. Based on the responses received, we issued a report last week identifying areas in which insurers and trustees can improve their management of life insurance claims.

APRA and ASIC have been working closely on all of these matters, which remain ongoing.

 

Canada Mortgage Rules a Step Toward Cooling Home Prices

Fitch Ratings says new Canadian Department of Finance mortgage rules to reduce speculation in residential real estate are a step toward cooling the housing market in major cities including Toronto and Vancouver. The new rules could result in improved credit quality in certain residential covered bond programs.

canada-pic

The rules include applying an interest rate stress test for all insured mortgages starting on October 17; previously, this was only required for homebuyers with a down payment of less than 20% of the home purchase price or for mortgages of less than five years. Tightened mortgage insurance eligibility requirements for “low-ratio” mortgages – mortgages for less than 80% of a home’s purchase price – will also be applied from Nov. 30. The government has also proposed to no longer exempt non-residents from paying capital gains taxes on income from selling a property.

Fitch believes that the new measures may temper the housing market, especially in cities that are significantly overvalued. According to a Fitch study published earlier this year, home prices across Canada are estimated to be about 25% above their sustainable value with major regional variations.

The income tax rule change in particular should reduce housing demand from foreigners. In Vancouver, this will reinforce the effects of the 15% tax on foreign home purchases put in place by the British Columbia government in August. Data from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver indicate that average sale prices of detached houses have already dropped by roughly 16%, led by higher priced properties.

The new mortgage insurance guidelines could improve portfolio credit quality in the Canadian registered covered bond programs. While insured mortgage loans are prohibited from securing this subsector of the covered bond market, changes to insured mortgage loan underwriting requirements could influence non-insured mortgage loan underwriting requirements. Any tightening of non-insured mortgage loan underwriting requirements would further help to cool the housing market and also help to address the concern of heightened borrower leverage.

Canadian Banks To Hold More Mortgage Loan Risk

Moody’s says Canada’s Department of Finance announced that it will launch a consultation process with market participants this fall on lender risk sharing, a policy that would require mortgage lenders to absorb a portion of loan losses on insured mortgages that default. Currently, banks are able to transfer virtually all of the risk of insured mortgages to mortgage insurers, and indirectly to taxpayers through a government guarantee.

Any changes to the provisions of mortgage insurance to impose risk sharing on mortgage lenders would be credit negative for Canada’s six large banks, which account for approximately 72% of mortgage lending in the country, because it would reduce their asset quality and risk-adjusted profitability. The six banks are The Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Royal Bank of Canada and National Bank of Canada.

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The details of the Department of Finance’s plan have yet to be released, and it may be some time before they emerge. Possible approaches include imposing first-loss deductibles on banks, whereby the lender would be responsible for an initial portion of the loss, with the insurer only bearing losses beyond that deductible amount. Another option would be to divide losses between the lender and insurer on a pro rata basis, or to charge the lender a fee for a defaulted mortgage. In any case, the concept of the lender retaining some risk on insured mortgages will support stability in the housing market in Canada by encouraging prudent underwriting standards.

Canadian banks’ high asset quality is largely the result of their significant holdings of government-insured residential mortgages, uninsured mortgages, securities, cash and deposits with financial institutions, which comprise about half the aggregate system’s balance sheet. Canadian mortgage portfolios and home equity lines of credit have performed well historically, owing to the high use (approximately 50%) of government backed mortgage insurance, and conservative underwriting practices. Government-supported insured mortgages make up 12% of total assets. This insurance is primarily sold either directly to the borrower, who is legally required under Canada’s Bank Act to obtain insurance if the loan-to-value of the mortgage exceeds 80%, or is held by the lenders themselves on a portfolio basis as a liquidity and capital management tool.

Canadian banks currently make a solid margin on insured mortgages for which they bear no risk and have no regulatory capital requirements. Under any risk-sharing arrangement, depending on the degree of loss shared and any offsetting concession on insurance premiums paid, profitability on a significant asset class will change. On balance, we expect that risk-adjusted profitability will decline, although a detailed analysis at this point is not possible.

Lending changes make property more attractive for SME owners

From Australian Broker.

Lending changes by Australia’s major banks could soon result in a surge of property purchases by small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners.

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Westpac this week announced they would increase their loan to value ratio (LVR) from 80% to 90% of a property’s value self-employed borrowers after the Commonwealth Bank announced similar changes earlier this year.

The last 12 months have also seen Westpac, CBA and St. George announce they would only require one year of financial records as income verification for self-employed borrowers. Previously they had required two years of financial records and tax returns.

Joel Wyld, director of mortgage broker Peasy, said the lending changes indicate lenders’ perceptions of SME borrowers are evolving.

“In the past banks have viewed the SME demographic as risky despite many owners coming from strong corporate or trades backgrounds with a long successful working history in addition to strong equity in various investment classes,” Wyld said.

“In the past, many SME owners have had to settle for low doc loans for a two year period which has deterred them from purchasing property,” he said.

While some of the lending changes have been in force for some time, Wyld said a large number of SME owners are unaware of the more lenient lending criteria and with more than two million SME owners across Australia it could provide brokers with an excellent opportunity to extend their client base.

“The time is now ripe for SME owners to capitalise on the new lending rules to secure either a dream home or business premises,” he said.

“The number one piece of advice given to SME owners when applying for a property loan is to ensure financials are up-to-date. Inaccuracies in financial records and book keeping will delay the settlement process and could ultimately determine if the loan application is accepted or declined.”

Wyld said there has also been a growing trend towards establishing property trusts and partnerships using property as vehicle for SME owners, though he said while those structures have a place in the market, brokers need to be careful when assessing income of a business if multiple owners are involved and should recommend those involved seek legal advice.