Australia on Thursday announced the launch a Royal Commission to investigate the financial industry and its regulation, amid growing concerns about alleged misconduct by the country’s banks and other financial services firms.
Industry customers “have the right to be treated honestly and fairly in their dealings” with financial firms,” the Australian government says in a statement. “The highest standards of conduct are critical to the good governance and corporate culture of those providers.”
The inquiry will examine the conduct of the country’s financial firms, and it will consider how well equipped regulators are to identify and address misconduct.
“This will be a sensible, efficient and focused inquiry into misconduct and practices falling below community standards and expectations,” the government says. “Trust in a well-functioning banking and financial services industry promotes financial system stability, growth, efficiency and innovation over the long term.”
The inquiry is expected to report within 12 months, with a preliminary report anticipated by September 2018.
In response to the announcement, rating agencies suggest that the inquiry may be a short-term negative for the country’s banks, but that it is likely a long-term positive.
“Momentum for an inquiry has increased following a number of conduct issues across wealth management, life insurance and banking that have been identified in recent years,” says a report from Fitch Ratings.
The review “could potentially weaken the reputation of the system or individual entities, and exert further pressure on profitability, even if it does not identify broad or significant failings,” the Fitch report says.
Industry profits could also be affected if a loss of trust leads to higher wholesale funding costs, and fees face additional scrutiny
“In the very short term, the commission could lead to negative reputational issues for the banks and result in some weakening of investor confidence, which could translate into higher wholesale bank funding costs,” says Frank Mirenzi, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, in a statement.
In the longer term, “if the commission finds systemic cultural and operational failings, such conclusions could provide a platform for identifying remedial actions and solutions to the problems, which would improve governance, management and culture; a positive for the industry,” Moody’s says in a report.
Moody’s also views the Australian banks as being “very well regulated”, and that they are well capitalized