ANZ To Acquire Suncorp Bank Following U-Turn By Australian Regulator

February 22, 2024
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Australia’s ANZ has secured regulatory approval for a proposed acquisition of Suncorp Bank, following a six-month legal battle with the country’s competition watchdog.

Australia’s ANZ has secured regulatory approval for a proposed acquisition of Suncorp Bank, following a six-month legal battle with the country’s competition watchdog.

On Tuesday (February 20), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced that it has granted authorisation to ANZ’s proposed acquisition of Suncorp Bank.

The authorisation reverses an ACCC Tribunal’s previous decision, taken in August 2023, to block the acquisition due to concerns over its impact on competition in certain sectors.

“The ACCC was concerned that the proposed acquisition of Suncorp Bank by ANZ would further entrench an oligopoly market structure that is dominated by the four major banks,” the regulator said.

“Based on its review of the material before the ACCC, and some limited new information, the tribunal has concluded that it is satisfied that the transaction would not result in a substantial lessening of competition in any relevant market.”

The sectors that the ACCC was most concerned about include home loans nationally and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) banking and agribusiness banking in Queensland, Suncorp’s home state.

However, the acquisition will also have an impact on Australia’s payments market.

ANZ’s merchant acquiring arm, ANZ Worldline, is believed to be the third-largest in Australia after Commonwealth Bank (CBA) and Westpac respectively.

Suncorp Bank also has its own merchant acquiring business, which will continue to operate under its own brand following the acquisition.

However, observers including Brad Kelly, managing director of Australia’s Payment Services consultancy, expect Suncorp’s merchant acquiring arm to be “offloaded to a smaller player” in future.

The trouble for ANZ will be finding a buyer that sees value in this segment of Suncorp, which “lacks technology” and “competes on price” with rival acquirers, said Kelly.

If ANZ does sell Suncorp’s acquiring operation, it will fit a pattern of Australian banks looking to reduce their exposure to merchant acquiring.

Banks under pressure as fintechs gain market share

Although ANZ Wordline is a major player in Australia’s merchant acquiring market, it has struggled to protect its share of revenue from a new playing field of fintech rivals.

In 2020, when ANZ announced its intention to form a joint venture with Worldline, ANZ’s merchant acquiring arm boasted a 20 percent share of all retail transactions processed in Australia.

At the time, based on ANZ’s market position and Australia’s “favourable dynamics”, Worldline said the joint venture was backed by “strong long-term growth potential”.

“This new joint-venture represents a unique opportunity for Worldline to significantly expand its merchant acquiring business outside of Europe,” it said, “with direct access to an existing and high-quality merchants’ portfolio.”

However, since the launch of ANZ Worldline in 2022, the expected growth potential has failed to materialise.

On the contrary, ANZ Worldline turned a net loss in its first year, and is also developing a reputation for frequent outages (one of which took place this week, as reported by Banking Day).

Grant Halverson, CEO of Australian payments consultancy McLean Roche, said the last ten years has been a success story for fintech merchant acquirers in Australia at the expense of the banks.

In 2023, according to McLean Roche data, Australia’s merchant acquirers generated $5.4bn in total revenue, with 55 percent going to non-banks and fintechs and 45 percent going to banks.

In 2014, when Stripe first arrived in Australia, these numbers would have been unthinkable, and still would have been unthinkable in 2016, when Square launched in Australia.

But the market has only gone in one direction since these new entrants arrived, and revenue growth among fintechs and non-banks continues to be extremely high.

Non-Bank Merchant Acquirer

Total Revenue (Australia)

Revenue Growth 
(FY 2021-22)

PayPal

$954m

+1%

American Express

$785m

+34%

Stripe

$551m

+34%

Tyro Payments

$435m

+34%

Square

$288m

+62%

Adyen

$184m

+48%

Source: McLean Roche

ANZ Wordline’s revenue is estimated at $630m during the same period, but, as noted, the joint venture nonetheless turned a net loss in its first year.

The other members of Australia’s "big four" banks — CBA, Westpac and NAB — do not segregate their merchant acquiring revenue from other revenue in their earnings reports.

As such, Halverson said the best an observer can do is to extrapolate by comparing Reserve Bank of Australia payments data with the earnings of each bank.

Will banks stick around in merchant acquiring for much longer?

If the market continues to move in favour of non-banks and fintechs, Halverson said it is likely that Australia’s banks will look for ways to divest from it.

The ANZ Wordline joint venture was in itself a distress signal from ANZ, he said, and an admission that its technology was failing to keep up with that of the fintechs.

In August 2021, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank launched a similar partnership after Bendigo acquired Tyro Payments.

Under the agreement, Tyro became the exclusive merchant acquiring partner for Bendigo and Adelaide’s business banking customers.

Lastly, Halverson said that rumours continue to circulate that Westpac is also looking to exit the market.

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