Money and Power: The case for better regulation in banking

by Josh Fear, Richard Denniss and David Richardson

The power of Australia’s big four banks is unmistakeable. Their underlying profits equate to almost three per cent of GDP, up from less than one per cent a quarter of a century ago. Of every $100 spent in Australia, nearly $3 ends up as underlying profit for the banks. Profits are so high because the banking market is highly concentrated. The big four banks now control more than 75 per cent of all bank assets and banks account for over 90 per cent of all lending by financial institutions in Australia. This level of concentration has distorted competition, allowing the big banks to reap underlying profits of around $35 billion per year, including $20 billion in ‘super-profits’ attributable to their market power. Most Australians believe that the banking market is overly concentrated: three in four survey respondents (72 per cent) said that the big four banks in Australia have too much market power. But is the extreme profitability of Australia’s banks in the public interest? Many workers hold shares in banks indirectly through superannuation, and therefore arguably receive a share of their profits. Yet the distribution of share ownership and superannuation balances means that the wealthiest Australians capture most of the dividends flowing from bank profits. And in other important respects the behaviour of the banks runs counter to the interests of the broader community.

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