ANZ’s annual profit of nearly $3.7 billion is a bit better than even the market was expecting. It’s also a reward for realising ahead of its competition that old fashioned concepts like customers, branches and service might matter after all.

Yes, it would have been very hard for a large Australian bank not to make a poultice over our long, golden economic summer. For 15 years now, they’ve been able to let the money inevitably roll in as the economy grew and unemployment fell. And when a little competition from outside the oligopoly has occasionally tightened interest margins, they’ve always been able to boost fees to more than compensate.

Yet within the cartel, there has been a race to realise the errors of the late 80s and early 90s when banks were clearly bastards. ANZ under CEO John McFarlane seems to have won that race, being the first to denounce the period of branch closures and concentrate on treating customers like, well, customers instead of navel lint. With McFarlane’s tenure as CEO now running down, he can point with some satisfaction to the lift in the personal banking performance as his justification. As the bank’s media release says:

“Personal has had an outstanding year, with revenue growth of 13% driving earnings growth of 22%. All Personal businesses recorded double-digit earnings growth with the highlights being Pacific (up 67%), Investment and Insurance Products (up 48%), Consumer Finance (up 25%) and Mortgages (up 21%). Expenses were up 9% as investment in future growth continued, with the addition of 714 full time equivalent staff, 25 new branches and 330 ATMs over the year.”

ANZ tops the banking customer satisfaction surveys and, having established that lead, is going to be hard for the others to catch.

But if you’re not happy with the very large profits the banks are reporting this week, you should tell your superannuation fund you want lower returns. The banks’ share registers being what they are, they are effectively working for the super industry – we’re all filthy capitalists now.

Peter Fray

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