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RBA warns of ‘aggressive expansion’ by foreign lenders

The Reserve Bank of Australia has issued “a note of caution” over the aggressive expansion of foreign lenders in the local market.

RBA governor Glenn Stevens told the ASIC Annual Forum in Sydney last week that competition in the business lending space has increased in the last couple of years.

“Overall, this is to be expected and is a welcome development at a time when a missing element of the economic growth story is capital spending outside the mining sector, which appears to remain very weak,” Mr Stevens said.

The RBA chief said there was a notable trend of foreign banks' “aggressive expansion” in Australia.


“Here there is a note of caution. If these are taking opportunities left on the table where local players (or earlier foreign players) were simply too conservative, all well and good. But one is duty bound to observe that there is a history of foreign players expanding aggressively in the upswing only to have to retreat quickly when more difficult times come. It is worth remembering that cycle.”

Mr Stevens' comments came after two high-profile industry leaders forecasted a rise in the number of foreign lenders operating in Australia.

Yellow Brick Road’s Matt Lawler and Loan Market chairman Sam White told Mortgage Business earlier this month that a surge in foreign bank activity was likely, given the increased competition of the Australian lending space and the safety of operating in the country.

Asked if Australia will see the level of lenders in the marketplace return to pre-GFC levels, Mr White said, “If we do, it’ll be through foreign banks coming in”.

“The Australian mortgage industry is incredibly competitive and I often hear people talk about it differently but I think it’s an incredibly competitive marketplace,” he added.

“I don't think the industry needs it to be more competitive, I think we already are a really competitive business, but if there were more lenders coming through we'd like to support them.”

Mr Lawler agreed that competition was likely to come from foreign banks, but he said the barriers to entry would be much higher than they were pre-GFC.

“The rationalisation of the market, which has created more concentrated mortgage competition, was because pre-GFC you had such lucrative margins which allowed very small operators to step into the market and open their doors and start operating, but the barriers to entry were lower then, whereas the barriers to entry are a lot higher today so I think you will still see competition largely come from domestic players,” he said.

“Obviously some of the bigger domestic ‘distribution’ players in the market today have got the size and capability to become a competitor in providing their own mortgages and here I’m talking about the AFGs, the Mortgage Choices, the Aussies, Yellow Brick Road, Connective – groups like that.

“Outside of this, I think the other competitor is likely to be foreign banks,” Mr Lawler said.

“Foreign banks see Australia as a real safe part of the world to start to participate in from a mortgage point of view. However, the key for a foreign bank entering the Australian market is access to customers.”

Both Mr Lawler’s and Mr White’s comments came after south-east Asia’s largest lender, DBS Bank, officially launched operations in Australia in September last year.

[Related: US lender enters Australian market]

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