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Royal commission ‘more than a hiccup’ for bank shares

Royal commission ‘more than a hiccup’ for bank shares

arrow up, higher costs, tighter margins
Miranda Brownlee
30 July 2018

The royal commission will result in higher costs and tighter margins for the major banks and see their focus shift away from shareholders, warns an investment manager.

While SMSF trustees have long benefited from the dividends of the major banks, the aftermath of the royal commission, along with tougher regulation, higher capital requirements and a slowing housing market, could see SMSFs forced to reassess their allocation to bank shares, cautioned managing director of Instreet and Raiz Invest George Lucas.

“For years, the big four have delivered them capital growth and fully franked dividends. While analysts have tut-tutted about their portfolios’ heavy concentration on the banks, for trustees it has been money for jam,” said Mr Lucas.

While there have been corrections along the way, including the GFC, this has never been for long, said Mr Lucas.

It’s currently the royal commission that’s putting the shares of the banks and other financial services company’s prices under pressure, he said.

“SMSF trustees might still see the Royal Commission as another hiccup, and that once the ‘shock, horror’ headlines emanating from the inquiry abate, it will be business as usual,” he said.

“I beg to differ – and not just because of the Royal Commission. What’s unfolding at this Royal Commission beneath the banner headlines is a fundamental question – where do the bank boards’ prime responsibility lay?”

Up until now the focus of the banks has largely been on shareholders and maximising returns to investors, said Mr Lucas.

“Lip service was paid to other stakeholders, customers, staff and even the wider [public], but shareholders held centre stage,” he said.

In the aftermath of the royal commission, and the legislative framework that emerges from it, Mr Lucas said he suspects banks will be required to pay much more attention to other stakeholders, particularly customers.

“Banks are already recognising this reality; it’s one factor behind them jettisoning their wealth arms – a major source of consumer angst. The vertically integrated financial model is simply too conflict-laden,” he said.

“Even as they return to more traditional banking practices, life will not be the same. Much more will be demanded of them, with the regulators, also unlikely to come out of this inquiry unscathed, adopting a much tougher line.”

Mr Lucas said there will be more compliance, which will bring with it less risk-averse cultures, higher costs and tighter margins.

“This will flow into smaller profits and lower payouts. It won’t be Armageddon, but I suspect it will mean slower growth and smaller dividend cheques from the banks,” he said.

“Add tougher regulation and regulators, higher capital requirements and a slowing housing market, and the days of SMSFs enjoying the ride on the banks’ back might well be over. At the very least, trustees should be asking the question.”

Royal commission ‘more than a hiccup’ for bank shares
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