The smallest of the big four banks has been granted the green light to take over control of one of Queensland’s largest banking institutions, with the pair expecting to become one within months.

Suncorp will become a dedicated insurance business on the back of the sale of Suncorp Bank.

The planned merger was first announced in mid-2022, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) put the brakes on the attempt just over 12 months later.

ANZ and Suncorp successfully appealed the ACCC’s denial through the Australian Competition Tribunal (ACT), which handed down its supportive verdict this morning.

The sale will be a win for Queensland, bringing more jobs and investment to the state, according to Suncorp chair Christine McLoughlin.

It’s a similar message to that put forward by ANZ’s leader. 

“We strongly believe that the acquisition presents significant opportunities for ANZ, Suncorp Bank, and our customers, as well as major public benefits including for Queensland,” ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott said.

However, Bendigo Bank has slammed the merger, saying it will lessen competition in the banking space and negatively impact customers and communities. 

In its rebuff last year, the ACCC stated the move could “substantially lessen competition” in the home loans market, as well as in small to medium enterprise and agribusiness banking in Queensland.

“These banking markets are critical for many homeowners and for Queensland businesses and farmers in particular,” the ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said in August.

“Competition being lessened in these markets will lead to customers getting a worse deal.”  

The watchdog would have preferred Suncorp to sell its banking division to “another second-tier bank to bolster its ability to effectively challenge the major banks”. 

In a submission to the tribunal, Bendigo Bank argued there’s “a commercially realistic likelihood of a merger between Bendigo Bank and Suncorp Bank”. 

“There has been serious and credible communications between the parties to advance such a merger … and Bendigo Bank has the capacity to make a compelling offer for Suncorp Bank,” the submission reads. 

Such communications now appear to have been in vain.

Though, ANZ’s acquisition of Suncorp Bank isn’t quite written in stone.

It still needs the approval of Treasurer Jim Chalmers and hinges on amendments to Queensland legislation.

“We remain committed to completing the acquisition as soon as possible once all sale conditions are met,” Mr Elliott said.

Meanwhile, Suncorp notes that the sale of its banking arm will leave it better equipped as an insurer. 

“Our ability to meet the rapidly evolving needs of insurance customers and address increasingly complex challenges such as climate change and affordability will be significantly strengthened through dedicated investment as a pureplay insurance company,” CEO Steven Johnston said. 

The ACCC is reflecting on the tribunal’s decision to allow a deal Mr Keogh once said would “further entrench an oligopoly market structure”. 

ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb today said the tribunal considered fundamental matters, including that the market for home loans in Australia is conducive to coordination between lenders, and that there are barriers to entry and expansion within the market, in its findings.

“However, the tribunal didn’t consider that the proposed acquisition would meaningfully impact on the likelihood of coordination,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb continued. 

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