How ANZ baited the hook with billions of dollars for a cash-strapped Government

Suncorp’s decision to sell out its banking business to ANZ was all about simplification, but the decision for everyone else is anything but simple and behind it all is the promise of billions of dollars for the state that will be hard to ignore.

Jul 19, 2022, updated Jul 19, 2022
Suncorp has been hit with a $32m backpay bill (pic: Suncorp)

Suncorp has been hit with a $32m backpay bill (pic: Suncorp)

What’s hard about mergers like the ANZ-Suncorp deal is baiting the hook, making sure that there is just enough there for stakeholders to see that the bank account is more powerful than the parochialism that has already become central to the debate.

Neither Suncorp nor ANZ has been shy about it and that’s why it will be a tough call for Treasurer Cameron Dick, his federal counterpart Jim Chalmers (also a Queenslander) to knock this back. For the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, it presents a completely separate set of problems.

The bait is in the form of $15 million of new lending for renewable energy commitments with some loose commitment to funding infrastructure for a green Olympics, plus $10 billion in new lending targetting bioenergy and hydrogen projects.

It’s obvious ANZ looked at what the State Government would be using as vote winners over the next few years: renewables, hydrogen and the Olympics. How could it throw away a chance like that?

A State Government that is so desperate for cash that it has raided the profits of the coal industry for funds will find it a tantalising bait.

On top of that is the $4 billion in dividends that will flow through to shareholders. Imagine any government saying no to that when a fair chunk of the population is grappling with cost-of-living pressures.

After all, Suncorp’s share price has hardly set the world on fire in the past decade. A decade ago it was trading in the mid-$8 range and before the ANZ deal speculation started it was in the mid-$10 range. Long-term shareholders would no doubt enjoy a windfall.

But that’s where parochialism comes and joins the party. Suncorp is, after all, the name plastered over the scene of the yearly festival of parochialism known as the State of Origin.

ANZ was throwing around plaudits for Queensland like confetti as it tried to convince everyone that this was a deal that was good for Queensland and good for the nation. There were the statements about its leading growth rate, leading population growth, a younger demographic and of course, the Olympics and all that promises.

Treasurer Dick even reached into the deep well of home state sentiment by claiming Suncorp “was a product of Queensland”.

“It wouldn’t exist without Queensland. We will be driving a hard bargain to ensure the new entity’s Queensland presence is preserved,” he said.

“Queenslanders deserve nothing less.”

So we know how this will play out and both companies would be only too aware that the Government will try to milk this for everything it can.

Politically, it’s dangerous for the Government to sign off on the sale, but it is defendable. Knocking it back raises the prospect of it throwing away billions in investment.

For the ACCC, the problem is a big, warty, troublesome cane toad sitting there on the footpath in the dark.

In previous years the competition watchdog has all but ruled out any attempt by the big four banks to get any bigger so it will be an obvious test for the new chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb. Afterall, how does the merger of two banks into one increase competition?

The companies will have to argue that the market share won’t change that much. Suncorp’s under-performing bank only has 2 per cent of the national market and the ANZ has 13 per cent. Both are dwarfed by CBA.

ANZ argues that its promised new lending, plus its suite of products would add to the competition. The Suncorp brand would be maintained as would all the branches and staff would be retained for a few years, at least.



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