Australia
Financial System Stability Assessment

This paper presents Financial System Stability Assessment of Australian financial systems. The report highlights that financial supervision and systemic risk oversight have been enhanced. And the authorities have taken successful policy action to calm rapid growth in riskier segments of the mortgage market. Restrictions on the growth of investor loans and the share of interest-only mortgages, as well as the introduction of stronger lending standards, appear to have led to a slowdown in mortgage credit growth, and the housing market is now cooling. Financial supervision shows generally high conformity to international best practices, although there are opportunities to close identified gaps and strengthen arrangements. Steps are recommended to bolster the independence and resourcing of the regulatory agencies, by removing constraints on their policy making powers and providing additional budgetary autonomy and flexibility. The paper explains that greater formalization and transparency of the work of the Council of Financial Regulators would further buttress the financial stability framework.

Abstract

This paper presents Financial System Stability Assessment of Australian financial systems. The report highlights that financial supervision and systemic risk oversight have been enhanced. And the authorities have taken successful policy action to calm rapid growth in riskier segments of the mortgage market. Restrictions on the growth of investor loans and the share of interest-only mortgages, as well as the introduction of stronger lending standards, appear to have led to a slowdown in mortgage credit growth, and the housing market is now cooling. Financial supervision shows generally high conformity to international best practices, although there are opportunities to close identified gaps and strengthen arrangements. Steps are recommended to bolster the independence and resourcing of the regulatory agencies, by removing constraints on their policy making powers and providing additional budgetary autonomy and flexibility. The paper explains that greater formalization and transparency of the work of the Council of Financial Regulators would further buttress the financial stability framework.

Executive Summary

The Australian authorities have taken welcome steps to further strengthen the financial system since the previous FSAP. Bank capital requirements have been raised and applied more conservatively than minimum Basel standards. Funding risks have been lowered. Financial supervision and systemic risk oversight have been enhanced. And the authorities have taken successful policy action to calm rapid growth in riskier segments of the mortgage market.

The system nonetheless faces challenges. Stretched real estate valuations and high household leverage pose significant macrofinancial risks. 27 years of uninterrupted growth, low inflation, low policy rates, tax incentives, and easy credit have stimulated a rise in household debt and fueled a build-up of real estate exposure in a concentrated banking system, which together with pension (‘superannuation”) funds dominates the large Australian financial sector. Household debt has risen by some 25 percentage points since the previous FSAP to about 190 percent of disposable income, one of the highest levels in the world. Banks continue to draw extensively on overseas wholesale funding, though reliance has declined in recent years. The ongoing Royal Commission (RC) inquiry has revealed a pattern of misconduct in the financial sector, including at the four major banks that comprise 80 percent of the system.

The major banks run similar business models, raising the vulnerability of the system to a common shock. All are heavily exposed to real estate—residential forming about 60 percent of loans, and commercial (CRE) a further 7 percentage points. Wholesale funding dependence has diminished but remains around one-third of total funding, of which nearly two-thirds is from international sources. Banks’ direct international exposures are mainly to New Zealand, where subsidiaries of the four major Australian banks play a dominant role in the banking system.

Bank solvency appears relatively resilient to stress. A test of resilience to a combination of a significant slowdown in China, a severe correction in real estate valuations, and a marked tightening of global financial conditions, revealed some pressures on capital, although the 10 largest banks would all still meet regulatory minima. Liquidity pressures may arise more abruptly. Given high maturity transformation, banks’ continued reliance on overseas wholesale funding leaves them exposed to global liquidity shocks.

Policy action has lowered financial stability risks. Restrictions on the growth of investor loans and the share of interest-only mortgages, as well as the introduction of stronger lending standards, appear to have led to a slowdown in mortgage credit growth, and the housing market is now cooling. Given this background, additional tightening measures do not appear warranted at this juncture, though, given prevailing vulnerabilities, the authorities should stand ready to recalibrate policies as necessary to continue to reduce systemic risk. Over time, broader tax reforms could reduce structural incentives for leveraged investment by households, including in residential real estate. Further reduction in banks’ use of wholesale funding and extension of the duration of their liabilities would help to lower structural funding risks.

Australia benefits from a robust regulatory framework. Financial supervision shows generally high conformity to international best practices, although there are opportunities to close identified gaps and strengthen arrangements• Steps are recommended to bolster the independence and resourcing of the regulatory agencies, by removing constraints on their policy making powers and providing additional budgetary autonomy and flexibility. Enforcement powers should be strengthened, and their use expanded, to support effective risk management and mitigate future misconduct. Supervisory approaches would also be enhanced by periodic in-depth reviews of banks’ governance and risk management, and by improving coordination of supervision of internationally active insurance groups.

Greater formalization and transparency of the work of the Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) would further buttress the financial stability framework. While the authorities have a strong track record of addressing financial stability issues in a productive and collaborative manner, the current arrangements are informal, and there is limited transparency surrounding the work of the Council. Greater formalization could further strengthen collaboration, boost confidence in the collective work of the regulatory agencies, and guard against possible delay in addressing nascent systemic risks. The CFR is encouraged to boost transparency by publishing records of its meetings and tabling an Annual report to Parliament, highlighting the identification of systemic risks and actions taken to mitigate them.

Additional investment in data and analytical tools would strengthen financial supervision and systemic risk oversight. Relative to international experience, the assessment identified shortfalls in the granularity and consistency of data to support the analysis of supervisory and systemic risks and the formulation of policy. The CFR agencies are recommended to conduct a major review of potential data needs and implement improvements, publishing the resulting data where feasible. Improved data would also facilitate enhancements in stress testing and support closer integration of the results into prudential supervision, crisis preparedness and policy discussions. It would also help harness the collective expertise of the Reserve Bank (RBA) and the Australia Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) in the analysis and evaluation of policy options.

Expansion of the set of policy tools would enhance flexibility to address systemic risk and structural vulnerabilities. A ‘readiness’ assessment of potential policy options would enable the authorities to address the associated data requirements and tackle any legal or regulatory obstacles to their use. Priorities for review include DTI/DSTI and LTV restrictions, time-varying risk weights, as well as tools to address risks from nonbanks and from highly cyclical assets such as CRE.

Reinforcing financial crisis management arrangements is a priority. Encouraging progress has been made in strengthening APRA’s resolution powers and expanding banks’ recovery planning to cover additional institutions. Building on this progress, there is scope for better integration of banks’ recovery planning into their risk management framework. It is also important to complete the resolution policy framework quickly, to ensure that banks expand their loss absorbency capacity to bear the costs of their own failure. Bank-specific resolution plans should be rolled out and validated swiftly. The Australian and New Zealand authorities have developed a strong and effective supervisory relationship, but there is a need to advance mutual understanding of approaches to resolution in order to establish clear cross-border bank resolution modalities. Some progress has also been made in developing a resolution framework for Financial Market Infrastructures (FMIs) and its finalization is a priority.

Table 1.

Australia: FSAP Key Recommendations

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I Immediate (within 1 year); ST Short -term (within 1–2 years); MT Medium-term (within 3–5 years)

Background and Vulnerabilities

A. Macrofinancial Setting

1. The Australian economy has notably delivered 27 years of uninterrupted growth, despite having operated somewhat below potential in recent years (Figure 12). While Australia has historically benefited from vast natural resources and a strong mining industry, the modest impact of the fall in global commodity prices during 2014–2016 reflects the benefits of a more diversified economy, increasingly coupled through rising trade and investment links to a dynamic Asian region. Activity was also buttressed by a flexible exchange rate, flexible labor markets, high population growth, strong institutions, and prompt monetary policy easing. Over the past decade, the easy availability of credit at low interest rates, tax incentives, population growth, and foreign capital inflows, have spurred strong housing demand. Combined with supply limitations in the major cities, this led to a real estate boom and build-up in gross household debt to elevated levels.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Macrofinancial Cycle and Vulnerability

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: APRA, Haver Analytics, and IMF staff estimates.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Financial System Structure

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: Reserve Bank of Australia.1 Total assets of A$7 trillion (about 400 percent of GDP).
Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Banks’ Consolidated Cross-Border Claims

(2017 Q4; percent of total claims on all sectors-ultimate risk basis)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: BIS
Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Nonbank Credit

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: APRA, Haver Analytics, and FSB.
Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Corporate Sector Debt-At-Risk

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: S&P Capital IQ, IMF Staff calculations
Figure 6.
Figure 6.

Solvency Stress Test Results – Major Drivers of Change in Capital Levels

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: IMF Staff Estimates.
Figure 7.
Figure 7.

Banks Under Liquidity Risk Scenarios

(percent coverage of liabilities assumed to occur in 1 month)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Note: The red line is 100 percent coverage of assumed liabilties / outflows occurring in 1 month.Source: APRA, IMF staff calculations
Figure 8.
Figure 8.

Maturity Structure of Banks’ Cumulative Cashflows

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Figure 9.
Figure 9.

Australian Banks’ Linkages with G-SIBs

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Note: The sample includes 25 of the 30 G-SIBs identified by the FSB in 2017 (5 banks were excluded due to data limitations). The light green nodes represent large Australian banks, while blue, orange, purple and dark green nodes denote banks in the United States., the United Kingdom, Europe, and Asia.Source: IMF staff calculations based on Diebold and Yilmaz (2014) using daily equity returns during 2003–2018.
Figure 10.
Figure 10.

Cross-border Linkages and Vulnerabilities

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: IMF Staff Calculations based on the Vega-Sole (2010) methodology using APRA bank-level data as of June 2018.
Figure 11.
Figure 11.

Landscape of Financial Market Infrastructures

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: IMF Staff
Figure 12.
Figure 12.

Indicators of Macroeconomic and Financial Market Conditions

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: APRA, Haver Analytics, Bloomberg, and IMF WEO database.

2. The economy is approaching full employment and inflation is just below the target range. Banks have been tightening credit conditions since 2014 due to prudential measures taken by the authorities to encourage responsible lending, rising concerns about household debt and creditworthiness, and recent government inquiries into underwriting practices (see Appendix II). Banks are also starting to raise interest rates on mortgage lending as the RBA is adopting a tightening bias in terms of monetary policy and they are facing higher costs on external funding and reportedly from compliance with new regulation. The housing market has started to cool after a long boom, and house prices are now falling.

B. Key Risks

3. Stretched real estate valuations and high household debt pose macrofinancial risks:

  • House prices, after rising by about 70 percent over the past decade at the national level have now started to decline. The price appreciation following the global financial crisis had been even higher in Sydney and Melbourne, where prices had doubled on average over 10 years, though these two cities have also experienced sharper falls in recent months. Commercial real estate prices, particularly for office space, also rose sharply in the major cities over the past decade but have shown few signs of cooling as yet. Housing affordability linking incomes to prices is near all-time lows.

  • In recent years, benign credit conditions and the surge in house prices contributed to rapidly rising household leverage. Household debt currently stands at some 190 percent of disposable income (some 20–25 percentage-points above the level in the 2012 FSAP) and is very high by international standards (Figure 1). Debt is overwhelmingly secured by housing and financial assets. Substantial pension savings through the mandatory superannuation system provide an additional counterbalance.

  • While macroprudential measures have contributed to the easing of pressures in the housing market, and a soft landing of the housing market is the most likely baseline, there are risks of a stronger downturn. A sharp correction in real estate markets could lead to a vicious feedback loop of falling real estate valuations, higher nonperforming loans, tighter bank credit, falling consumer confidence, and weaker growth, as happened during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The impact on banks would be largely through credit losses as they all carry large exposures to the housing market and to CRE. Additionally, weaker banks could experience an outflow of customer deposits or a significant decline in wholesale funding.

4. A further key risk is that growth in China could slow significantly. Rising global protectionism could provide one catalyst. While Australian banks’ direct exposure to China is relatively small (about 4 percent of overall claims), the economy has much larger exposure via the trade channel. One-third of Australian goods exports, including 40 percent of commodities, go to China. Moreover, the growth of services exports to China in recent years has been particularly strong in the areas of tourism and education. A sharp slowdown in Chinese growth would lower Australian export revenues markedly. Banks would likely face higher losses on corporate lending, as well as on their broader credit portfolio due to the overall decline in economic activity.

5. An abrupt tightening of global financial conditions could also affect macrofinancial conditions. As observed during the GFC, a spike in risk premia or more volatile financial conditions could lead to significantly higher funding costs for Australian banks as they continue to rely on international funding markets (see below). As lending is mainly at variable rates, such higher funding costs would likely be passed on to banks’ customers swiftly, weakening the debt servicing capability of those with already-stretched balance sheets.1 Higher funding costs might also be accompanied by a disorderly correction in asset prices and a depreciation of the Australian dollar.

C. Banking Environment

6. Banks and pension (“superannuation”) funds dominate the large financial sector (Figure 2 and Table 4). The financial sector, with assets of about 400 percent of GDP, has grown rapidly since the 2012 FSAP, when its size was estimated as 340 percent of GDP. It comprises 84 commercial banks (59 percent of financial assets); pension funds (27 percent); insurance companies (5 percent); investment vehicles (5 percent); and other finance companies (4 percent). The banking system is highly concentrated—the four largest banks, regarded as Domestic Systemically Important Banks (DSIBs), represent about 80 percent of overall system assets. The systemic importance of these banks, as well as their continued dependence on overseas funding markets, has led APRA to insist on high levels of regulatory capital.

Table 2.

Australia: Solvency Stress Test Results

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Table 3.

Australia: Risk Assessment Matrix

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In line with Risks #1 and 4 of the July 2018 Global Risk Assessment Matrix (G-RAM)

In line with Risk #3.

Table 4.

Australia: Selected Economic Indicators, 2014–2024

(Annual percent change, unless indicated otherwise)

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Sources: Authorities’ data; IMF World Economic Outlook database; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Reflects the national accounts measure of household debt, including to the financial sector, state and federal governments and foreign overseas banks and governments. It also includes other accounts payable to these sectors and a range of other smaller entities including pension funds.

Calendar year.

7. Banks are well-capitalized, though a conservative regulatory approach lowers their published ratios relative to international comparators of comparative capital strength (Figures 13, 14, and Table 6). Banks’ total regulatory capital ratio is 14.9 percent (CET1 ratio of 10.6 percent) against the phased-in Basel III requirement of 9.9 percent as of 2018 (including the capital conservation buffer).2 In implementing the Basel capital framework in Australia, APRA has traditionally adopted a conservative approach.3 In particular, it used national discretion within the Basel capital framework to adopt a more conservative approach towards banks’ risk-weighted assets, requiring, for example, minimum risk weights on mortgage lending by banks following internal-ratings based (IRB) models that are well above Basel guidelines. DSIBs are subject to a 1 percent surcharge. Each of the major banks’ CET1 ratios is well above the minimum requirement including the surcharge, and around the top quartile of large, international banks—one of the reference metrics identified by APRA to support the policy objective recommended by the 2014 Financial System Inquiry (FSI), that banks are “unquestionably strong.” APRA announced in July 2017 that the four major Australian banks need to have CET1 capital ratios of at least 10.5 percent to meet the “unquestionably strong” benchmark, effectively increasing minimum capital requirements for all IRB banks by the equivalent of about 150 bps and for other authorized deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) by around 50 bps. All ADIs are requested to meet the new benchmarks by January 1, 2020 at the latest.

Figure 13.
Figure 13.

Financial Soundness Indicators, 2017 Q4

(in percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: APRA, Haver Analytics, Pillar 3 Reports, and IMF FSI database.
Figure 14.
Figure 14.

Comparison of Financial Soundness Indicators, 2017 Q4

(in percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Notes:• Cross-country comparisons of banks’ capital ratios are difficult due to local differences in risk-weighting methodologies. Australia follows a more conservative approach than the Basel framework.• The chart on liquid assets coverage of short-term liabilities does not include use of RBA’s CLF.Source: RBA, APRA, IMF FSI database, and staff estimates.
Table 5.

Australia: Structure of the Financial System, 2017

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Source: APRA, IMF, World Economic Outlook (WEO), IMF staff estimates

Number of licensed institutions

Table 6.

Australia: Financial Soundness Indicators for the Banking Sector

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Source: APRA, IMF FSI database.

8. Banks are also reasonably liquid. Banking sector liquidity complies fully with Basel standards for the Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) and Net Stable Funding Ratio (NSFR) standards though the system does rely on central bank facilities to meet these requirements, as permitted within the Basel standard given the relatively low volume of domestic government securities.

9. Australian banks make extensive use of wholesale funding markets. The bulk of banks’ funding comprises domestic deposits, although wholesale debt still contributes a sizable proportion. There are also differences between the funding composition of large versus mid-sized banks4—with large banks relying more heavily on debt markets, including those overseas. Banks’ dependence on wholesale funding has come down in recent years, partly in response to encouragement by the authorities, but remains high at about one-third of total liabilities (Figure 13), of which nearly two-thirds is from international sources. Since the GFC, banks have taken steps to reduce rollover risk by increasing the average duration of their wholesale funding and hedging out currency risk with swaps whose tenors match the average duration of their funding.

10. Banking sector profitability remains high in global terms although it has declined in recent years (Figures 13,14). Asset quality remains relatively high, with average nonperforming loans (NPLs) of only one percent.5 Provisions are about 40 percent of NPLs, which might appear modest, but which reflect expectations of low loan losses driven by low historical loss rates, the full recourse nature of bank lending, loan portfolios that are mainly secured against collateral (with unsecured consumer loans comprising only 4 percent of the total), loan mortgage insurance paid out to banks not borrowers, and a swift recovery process.

11. In recent decades, banks have oriented their business models towards real estate lending (Figure 15). Residential mortgages, which are contracted at variable rates, form over half of bank lending and about one-third of these are higher-risk interest-only mortgages. Commercial real estate averages around an additional 7 percent of major banks’ loan portfolios. Moreover, banks’ mortgage loan customers appear increasingly levered on a gross basis, a concern raised by some credit rating agencies.6 Nevertheless, LTVs on the overall stock of mortgage loans average about 60 percent.

Figure 15.
Figure 15.

Banking Sector Detail, 2017

(in percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: APRA, RBA, BIS locational data and staff estimates.

12. Banks’ cross-border exposures are mainly to New Zealand through subsidiaries. Australian banks’ consolidated data, which includes their global banking subsidiaries, shows total foreign claims of about 20 percent of banks’ assets, with claims on New Zealand-based entities comprising over 40 percent of the total (Figure 3). Meanwhile, claims on global banks amount to roughly 3 percent of total assets for Australian banks with the largest exposures to banks operating in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. Cross-border exposures appear to be concentrated among the big four banks.

D. Nonbank Financial Intermediaries

13. Credit provision outside the banking sector is currently small but growing. At present, shadow banking assets make up only 7 percent of financial system assets, based on the most recent FSB analysis. In the housing market, non-ADIs make up only about a 4 percent share of housing credit, down from 10 percent in 2007 (Figure 4). However, tighter post-crisis prudential regulation of banks increases the chance that some credit provision will migrate out of the banking sector. Indeed, nonbank residential mortgage backed securitizations (RMBS) have risen significantly over the past two years. In addition, numerous private funds have been set up to engage in the types of corporate lending from which banks have moved away.

14. While superannuation funds form a large part of the Australian financial sector, their structure poses a low risk to financial stability. The large superannuation funds sector holds A$2.7 trillion in assets, or about one-quarter of the overall financial sector, but these are primarily defined-contribution based schemes, in which risks are borne by individual participants. Defined benefit plans have largely been phased out over the past 20 years, and currently make up only about 14 percent of pension liabilities.

15. Nevertheless, as a major investor in the Australian economy, the superannuation sector should continue to be closely monitored by the authorities. Superannuation funds allocate about 10 percent of their assets to real estate and have become more active in other forms of lending. Lightly regulated self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs), which hold about 28 percent of all superannuation assets, can use leverage for real estate investment.7 While such exposures are currently small (no more than A$60 billion), the use of leverage in long-term retirement accounts runs contrary to best practice and may be supporting over-concentration of household exposure to real estate assets.

E. Household Sector

16. Household debt is very high by international standards, although households’ financial assets in aggregate appear to provide some buffer to support repayment. After a period of stabilization during the GFC, household debt has continued to trend upward, reaching 190 percent of disposable income in 2017, high in comparison with other advanced economies, and some 25 percentage-points higher than at the time of the previous FSAP. However, most of household debt is mortgage debt, which is collateralized by real estate, although a significant price correction in the housing market would erode its collateral value. Households, in aggregate, also have substantial other assets, including financial assets and cash in offset deposit accounts, which provide repayment buffers, as well as large superannuation funds, which do not (Figure 17).8 Mortgage buffers have been rising over the past few years, with those for owner-occupiers of mortgaged properties amounting to almost three years of scheduled repayments at interest rates in 2017.9 The debt-servicing ratio of households, which includes scheduled principal and interest mortgage repayments, has also remained broadly unchanged at about 10 percent, partly because of a prolonged period of low interest-rates. Nevertheless, there is considerable variation across households in their debt burden and asset holdings—a quarter carry debt of more than three times income.

Figure 16.
Figure 16.

Real Estate Market Developments

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: APRA, RBA, Haver Analytics, and IMF WEO database.
Figure 17.
Figure 17.

Household Sector

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: APRA and Haver Analytics

F. Corporate Sector

17. The nonfinancial corporate sector is much more dependent on capital markets than banks for financing. Liabilities are mainly from equity and debt issued in capital markets, which are largely held by nonresidents and nonbank financial intermediaries, for example superannuation funds (Figure 17). Larger firms, particularly those in the materials, industrial and real estate sectors with strong ratings, typically access international debt capital markets to raise U.S. dollar financing and swap these proceeds into Australian dollars. Bank loans comprise only about 15 percent of total corporate liabilities (including equity), which are about 250 percent of GDP.10 Corporate leverage has risen somewhat since the GFC but remains low with debt of only about 60 percent of equity. Gross operating profits recovered sharply after 2016 following a slump in global commodities, and the level of corporate insolvencies has fallen from the GFC-related peak.

18. The nonfinancial corporate sector appears generally resilient despite some pockets of vulnerability. On average, corporates carry relatively low leverage, and generate earnings that easily cover debt servicing costs even in stressed situations. However, leverage is higher in some corporate sectors such as energy, industrials, utilities, consumer discretionary, and real estate, for which combined debt liabilities are about half of those for the overall corporate sector (Figure 17).11 Under a low-probability adverse scenario characterized by a sharp fall in corporate earnings and a simultaneous increase in interest servicing costs on debt, a high proportion of firms in these leveraged sectors could face emerging debt-servicing pressures in the absence of remedial action by corporate management (Figure 5). Debt repayment capacity may be weaker for firms in sectors heavily exposed to China and the domestic real estate market.

G. Recent Developments

19. Financial sector conduct and competition issues have come to the fore recently. An interim report issued in March 2018 by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found evidence of oligopolistic behavior by the major banks in the pricing of mortgage products.12 This was also highlighted in a major report issued by the Productivity Commission (PC) in June 2018.13 Strengthening bank competition is a public policy objective in view of the ‘four pillars’ policy, under which the major four banks are not allowed to merge with each other or with a foreign bank. Separately, the ongoing independent Royal Commission established by the government is uncovering evidence of significant misconduct by Australia’s banks and other financial service entities.14 These include instances of fees being charged by banks and wealth managers for no service, deception of clients and regulators, data losses for client accounts, inadequate verification of borrower creditworthiness for loan products, and violations of AML/CFT rules. The breaches of conduct and trust have raised concerns about the dominance and culture of the big four banks as well as at other financial institutions.

Financial Sector Resilience

20. The FSAP assessed the resilience of banks to credit, liquidity, and contagion risks.15 The exercise covered the 10 largest banks, accounting for nearly 90 percent of total system assets.16

A. Credit Risks

21. Banks’ solvency was assessed in relation to credit developments in two hypothetical future scenarios over a three-year time horizon. One was a baseline scenario (using April 2018 WEO projections) and the second, an adverse stress scenario, which combined the three shocks noted earlier (see Table 2 and Appendix I): (i) A severe decline in real estate prices; (ii) A significant slowdown in China, and a decline in global economic growth, which could arise for example from rising global trade protectionism; and (iii) sharper-than-expected tightening of global financial conditions.

22. The hypothetical, adverse scenario simulates the impact of a sharp contraction of the economy, similar to the experience of the United States during the GFC. GDP is assumed to fall for the first two years of the scenario, before starting to recover in the third year.17 This path corresponds to a cumulative GDP shock of about 10 percentage points relative to the baseline, or 3.75 times the standard deviation of three-year cumulative GDP growth rates observed in the past 30 years. The cumulative real estate price decline was assumed to exceed 30 percent at the national level, much more severe than any previous housing market downturn in the past 30 years. In the first year of the scenario, monetary policy is assumed to respond swiftly, with a 100-basis points reduction in the policy rate, while increased risk aversion leads to a steeper sovereign yield curve and wider credit spreads, raising overall borrowing costs for the private sector.

23. The solvency stress test found that all banks met the regulatory minimum capital requirement in both the baseline and adverse scenarios.18 All banks were found to be comfortably above the minimum requirement in the baseline scenario. In the hypothetical adverse scenario, the capital ratio of the five largest banks fell from 10.6 percent to 7.2 percent, well above the phased-in minimum CET1 capital requirement of 4.5 percent but only just above the 7 percent capital level that would include the capital conservation buffer of a further 2.5 percent.19 The five mid-sized banks would experience smaller declines in capital, with the average ratio falling from 9.7 percent to 7.0 percent (Table 2).20 These results are broadly similar to those obtained by APRA in its bottom-up stress test conducted one year earlier if banks’ capital ratios are adjusted to the same starting level. Even though the composition of the banks’ portfolios is roughly similar, there are differences in stress test outcomes among banks due to variation in the composition of portfolio assets, for example the relative riskiness of mortgage portfolios in terms of LTV ratios or holdings of securities; and the structure of funding, in particular the relative dependence on wholesale funding (Figure 6).

B. Liquidity Risks

24. The liquidity stress tests revealed some vulnerabilities to severe stress given continued reliance on wholesale funding. Each of the top 10 banks satisfies Basel LCR and NSFR requirements comfortably. However, applying greater stress than the Basel standard for the assumed run-off rates of various funding sources showed some variation in banks’ liquidity buffers under the following scenarios:

  • “Retail stress” (Figure 7). In an event of large retail deposit withdrawals, 1.5 to 2 times higher than regulatory assumptions in baseline LCR calculations, the aggregate system fully covered the assumed outflows, demonstrating that banks would be relatively resilient to such an episode.

  • “Wholesale stress” (Figure 7). In case of a drying-up of wholesale funding similar to the conditions experienced in other countries during the GFC, the aggregate liquidity coverage of the system fell to about 90 percent over a 30-day period, with six banks below the 100 percent threshold. Large banks were more severely affected than mid-sized institutions given their higher dependence on wholesale debt.

  • “Protracted stress” (Figure 8). A separate cash flow-based liquidity stress test highlighted some vulnerabilities to protracted funding pressure, that could raise reliance on central bank funding. The analysis tested banks’ net cash balance under longer-term stress in funding conditions (up to one year) compared with the 30-day Basel measure and assumed severe funding outflows with run-off rates higher than those assumed in baseline LCR calculations. The system met the test in aggregate, however, three banks faced cash shortfalls after several months of severe funding stress even after utilizing the central bank Committed Liquidity Facility (CLF).

These results suggest that further extending banks’ funding maturity profile and reducing their reliance on wholesale funding would lower overall structural funding risks.

C. Contagion Risks

25. Cross-border analysis of banking sector exposures also highlights banks’ vulnerability to external funding shocks.

  • Network analysis using correlations between daily returns of equities suggests a relatively low degree of interconnectedness between major Australian banks and G-SIBs (Figure 9).21 Australian banks are, however, themselves quite tightly interconnected in terms of equity price movements, reflecting their direct exposures to each other and their broadly similar business models and balance sheets.

  • Australian banks are exposed to potential funding shocks from several advanced economies. A stylized network analysis based on balance sheet linkages of Australian banks vis-à-vis their global counterparts shows banks’ sensitivity to credit or funding shocks emanating from the United Kingdom, the United States, and to a lesser extent from the regional financial trading hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong SAR (Figure 10).22 Banks also carry extensive parent-subsidiary linkages with New Zealand. A cross-border, inward spillover analysis, which measures the extent of capital impairment for each of the top 10 Australian banks based on varying assumptions of losses on its cross-border credit exposure and rollover of cross-border funding, highlights the difference in external vulnerability of the five large banks compared with mid-sized banks. Domestically, Australian banks carry relatively small, on-balance sheet interbank exposure, comprising about 5 percent of assets, however, off-balance sheet exposure through the derivatives market has been growing in recent years.

Financial Stability Policy

A. Oversight Framework23

26. Based on the recommendations of a government inquiry in 1997, Australia created a financial sector oversight framework with responsibilities spread across different agencies:24

  • The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), which is responsible for prudential regulation and supervision of authorized deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) and their resolution, as well as regulation and supervision of general, life, and private health insurance companies and most of the superannuation industry.

  • The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), which is responsible for the registration and supervision of corporations and, in the financial sector, for licensing of financial service and credit providers, and for market conduct regulation and supervision.

  • The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), which is responsible for monetary policy, as well as overseeing financial system stability, and supervision of clearing, settlement and payment systems.

  • The Treasury, which is responsible for providing advice to the Australian Government on the financial sector’s regulatory framework, as well as on policy and possible reforms to promote the stability and efficiency of the financial system.

27. Australia has a less formal institutional framework for financial stability policy than many other countries. The Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) chaired by the RBA Governor serves as a forum for discussion and information-sharing on financial stability issues among the regulatory oversight agencies but has no powers or decision-making responsibilities and does not publish records or reports of its activities, except for a short high-level description in RBA’s semiannual FSR.25 This relatively informal arrangement has historically worked well in terms of flexibility and cooperation, but it could lead to a bias towards inaction on financial stability related issues. A more concrete macroprudential framework should be put in pace to strengthen accountability and promote policy action regarding financial stability risks.

28. While the RBA, APRA, ASIC, and Treasury all have roles for promoting financial system stability, the prudential toolkit is largely controlled by APRA. Given APRA’s primary role as a prudential regulator, it has historically been conscientious in consulting its CFR colleagues on important policy actions to address systemic risk, although it is under no obligation to do so. In taking such policy action, APRA has to balance its objectives of financial safety and efficiency, competition, contestability, and competitive neutrality. For example, at end-2014, APRA introduced prudential debt serviceability metrics for banks, which were aimed directly at improving banks’ loan quality but have also helped to serve the broader objective of moderating the buildup of debt on household balance sheets (Appendix II).

29. Greater formalization and transparency of the work of the CFR on its analysis of systemic risks would help to increase the accountability of its member agencies. The CFR is recommended to adopt the following:

  • Publication of CFR views on critical financial stability matters in an Annual Report. This could take the form of a short, published report that could be presented to Parliament by CFR agency Heads annually. It would not aim to replace the RBA’s Financial Stability Review but highlight views of the member agencies on the most significant risks facing the Australian financial system and steps to address them to promote stability. It could also summarize the broader work of the CFR on emerging risks, data gaps and other issues.

  • Publication of records of meetings.26 While it is important that regulators maintain the ability to have open discourse on systemic risks, increased transparency would help garner greater understanding and support for policy actions.

  • Enhancement to the monitoring framework for systemic risk. More consistent and in depth monitoring of systemic risk issues, for example of the impact of tax and other policies on household leverage, or the influence of international investment flows on real estate markets, could strengthen stability-related analysis and aid in the effective formulation of policy responses. The authorities should consider development and publication of a series of metrics to track systemic risk and key vulnerabilities, while recognizing that these metrics will often need to be augmented by case-specific analyses of structural issues and emerging factors.

  • A comprehensive review of data needs in the areas of financial stability and supervisory policy. As noted elsewhere, there are currently significant data gaps and consistency issues that impede the ability of agencies to analyze systemic risk and conduct system wide analyses such as stress tests.27 While much of this review will necessarily be undertaken by individual agencies, the CFR is the natural body through which to coordinate the effort.

B. Macroprudential Policy and Tools

30. In recent years, the authorities have taken steps to strengthen banks’ lending standards and resilience. Of particular importance were limits on investor loans and interest-only (IO) loans, given the previously rapid growth in these traditionally higher risk and higher leverage products.28 While most of these actions were implemented by APRA, they were reinforced by additional measures by ASIC in line with its mandate to enforce responsible lending practices. In addition, the RBA has used its public communication channels (e.g., the semiannual Financial Stability Review and speeches) to raise awareness of systemic risks to the financial system and support the improvement in the quality of lending (see Appendix II). In addition, APRA has asked banks to pay particular attention to high-LTV loans and borrowers’ DTI metrics in recent years requiring enhanced reporting on the latter. A Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR) regime has also been introduced in 2018.

31. These measures have been effective in modifying behavior, dampening growth in targeted areas of lending and reinforcing sound lending practices generally. The growth of investor loans slowed after 2014 and the share of IO loans in new approvals dropped sharply in the wake of the 2017 measures. Banks have also moved to strengthen lending standards and serviceability requirements more broadly, especially with respect to high LTV borrowers. While housing markets are influenced by a broad array of factors, recent data suggest that these measures have contributed to a cooling of the housing market along with lower demand from foreign buyers (Figure 16). Given that recent measures appear to have been effective in lowering conjunctural risks, the FSAP considers that additional tightening measures do not appear warranted at this time though, given prevailing financial vulnerabilities, the authorities should stand ready to recalibrate policies as needed to continue to reduce systemic risks.

32. Significant structural vulnerabilities persist in the financial system. Household indebtedness remains very high, while banks’ portfolios continue to be concentrated and heavily exposed to the residential mortgage sector. Banks are exposed to rollover risk on their overseas funding. Wholesale funding dependence has diminished but remains around one-third of total funding, of which nearly two-thirds is from international sources. As highlighted in successive Article IV reports, the tax system provides incentives for leveraged investment by households, including in residential real estate that contributes to the elevated structural vulnerabilities. There are also few signs of cooling in the commercial real estate sector where prices have risen sharply in recent years. While bank exposures to the sector are significantly smaller than to households, the sector is highly cyclical and typically experiences high default rates during severe downturns.

33. The authorities are recommended to explore extension of the policy toolkit, to enhance their ability to respond to persistent vulnerabilities and new systemic risks. In particular, the authorities are recommended to carry out a ‘readiness’ assessment of potential policy options that would facilitate the introduction of new or expanded policy measures if needed. This would entail examining and addressing any data requirements or limitations associated with potential policy options, as well as reviewing whether there are any legal or regulatory impediments to overcome in advance of their possible deployment. While such a readiness assessment should be relatively broad-based, a particular emphasis given prevailing vulnerabilities should be on potential borrower-based constraints, which have proved effective in restraining credit growth in similar economies with high household debt. As well as caps on loan-to-value (LTV) ratios which are a commonly used instrument, such tools could include income-based ratios, such as limits on loan-to-income (LTI) or broader debt-to-income (DTI), which would become binding when housing prices (and mortgage loans) grow faster than households’ disposable income and are effective in cyclical upswings. Such measures could also be complemented by other tools such as caps under a debt servicing test or a refinement of the existing net income serviceability test, to provide additional flexibility. The authorities should also continue to refine their metrics for considering activation of the counter-cyclical capital buffer in the event of a rise in systemic risk, as such a buffer could build additional resilience to adverse shocks. The buffer could also help constrain the growth of credit during cyclical upswings, and could be gradually reduced as systemic risk declined, thus lowering the burden on banks.

C. Banking Supervision

34. Australia has significantly strengthened its oversight of the banking sector since the 2012 FSAP. The IMF conducted a detailed assessment of Australia’s supervisory oversight of the banking sector.29 It found that APRA has implemented key elements of the international regulatory reform agenda, at times going beyond the agreed minimum standards.

35. APRA has achieved a high degree of compliance with the Basel Core Principles for Effective Supervision (BCPs). Notwithstanding the revision to the BCP methodology, which raised the standards for achieving supervisory objectives, APRA has demonstrated clear progress in strengthening the effectiveness of supervision. APRA has focused on strengthening the capital framework, implementing Basel III liquidity standards, reinforcing sound mortgage lending standards, improving governance and accountability, and strengthening crisis management and preparedness. However, some of these reforms have not been fully completed and remain on APRA’s priority agenda, including recovery and resolution planning. Other broad policy reforms have also been enacted, including: a cross-industry risk management standard applying to all APRA-regulated institutions, a governance and risk management framework for conglomerates, and a phased approach to licensing.

36. Improvements to the independence and funding capacity of the regulatory agencies would facilitate continued high-quality supervision. While both APRA and ASIC have clear responsibilities and broad powers, they are subject to powers of government direction that could potentially impact this independence. APRA and ASIC would also benefit from additional budgetary autonomy and flexibility as current constraints may limit their potential to attract and retain staff, particularly those with specialized skills, such as IT, cyber risks, advanced risk analytics, and compliance.

37. There is scope to further enhance APRA’s supervisory approach. APRA should perform comprehensive assessment of banks’ risk management and governance frameworks periodically. These periodic assessments would allow APRA to achieve a better balance between relying on firms’ attestations of the effectiveness of their risk management and governance, and ensuring, with a high degree of confidence, that critical governance, risk management, and control processes are in place. APRA supervisory assessment of governance should also incorporate banks’ management of nonfinancial risks, based on a closer engagement with the relevant domestic agencies, mainly ASIC and AUSTRAC on AML/CFT and conduct issues. While APRA prefers to address issues at banks in a less formal way, for example, by issuing recommendations and requirements to banks, it is encouraged to consider escalating the severity of its actions and using formal corrective measures, such as directions, more actively. APRA should also finalize its recovery planning framework for banks and develop resolution planning, particularly for major cross-border banks.30

38. While ADIs are subject to a conservative regulatory capital regime and exhibit relatively strong regulatory capital ratios, APRA should consider greater focus on banks’ future capital plans. The planned implementation of “unquestionably strong” capital benchmarks on top of the full and conservative use of Basel risk-based capital standards is a positive step in strengthening capital in the banking sector. However, this led APRA to reduce its focus on ICAAP assessments. APRA should undertake more in-depth reviews of the inputs into and controls around ICAAPs and stress testing programs associated with assessing capital needs for risks that may not be suitably captured in regulatory capital regimes.

39. APRA should continue its thematic reviews and assessments of credit risk at major banks and should consider performing more thorough periodic reviews of banks’ credit risk management processes. While these reviews have been rightly focused on banks’ residential mortgages and commercial real estate lending, periodic deep dives into banks’ credit risk management frameworks would help ensure that key gaps in credit risk management processes are addressed. APRA should also progress with its plan to revise prudential standards on credit quality (particularly in relation to treatment of problem assets) and proceed with proposed revisions to its related party standard to align with international standards.

40. While AUSTRAC has the authority to oversee banks’ AML/CFT systems, its significant reliance on banks’ self-reporting of weaknesses has not always proved effective. Recent events have shown that some banks’ processes for ensuring compliance with AML/CFT requirements have not worked as reported, which have resulted in failure to comply with rules and laws. AUSTRAC should enhance its supervisory approach by performing end-to-end periodic thematic reviews of AML/CFT systems particularly for major banks and should take swift formal action to address weaknesses and critical compliance issues.

D. Insurance Supervision31

41. Supervisory oversight of insurers faces new challenges. The authorities have made considerable progress in updating the regulatory regime since the last FSAP but new supervisory challenges include risks arising from:

  • offerings of investment products that are created synthetically with derivatives;

  • the creation of non-transparent offshore reinsurance and investment vehicles;

  • holdings of foreign bonds used to supplement the limited supply of domestic government securities for hedging duration exposure; and,

  • the activities of insurers within complex, financial groups particularly those with material intragroup transactions, which might be taking place to skirt regulation at the level of the insurance entity and to take advantage of the lack of capital requirements at the group level.

42. There is scope to further raise the effectiveness of supervision, particularly on conduct and governance issues, as well as to strengthen the regulation of complex, financial groups. While ASIC has improved the effectiveness of its supervision by shifting to a risk-based supervisory approach, supervisory activities should focus on pro-active risk assessment and mitigation rather than ex-post remediation. The FSAP recommends that the authorities: impose group-level capital requirements to avoid risks arising from regulatory arbitrage of insurers’ activities within complex financial groups; take additional steps to mitigate future misconduct risks by strengthening the governance and risk management framework applicable to insurers, and by boosting ASIC’s powers to apply more punitive penalties or invoke suspension of licenses as appropriate; and promote further coordination between APRA and ASIC on governance and conduct issues.

E. Financial Market Infrastructures32

43. Financial Market Infrastructures (FMIs) in Australia generally operate reliably, and the competitive landscape has seen new entrants and competitors emerge. The Reserve Bank Information and Transfer System (RITS), operated by the RBA, is the only domestic systemically important interbank payment system. In addition, the domestically incorporated Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) group operates an integrated infrastructure including trading platforms, two central counterparties (CCPs) and two securities settlement systems (SSSs) (Figure 11). Since 2011, the ASX has faced competition from foreign infrastructures in some markets, including Chi-X for cash equities trading and the London Clearing House Limited (LCH Ltd) and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) for some over the counter (OTC) derivatives clearing.

44. FMIs are subject to strong supervisory oversight though enforcement powers should be strengthened further. Supervisory oversight of FMIs by the RBA and ASIC is well-established, with supervisory expectations importantly strengthened over the past few years. Legal and regulatory frameworks for FMIs are generally clear and transparent; and regulatory requirements sufficiently detailed due to the adoption of the PFMI and subsequent guidance. The FSAP recommends that the authorities strengthen enforcement powers for the supervision of CCPs and SSSs to promote compliance with regulatory requirements and to take corrective actions in accordance with the PFMI, as well as to promote effective competition between FMIs (given that one entity operates several systemic FMIs). Steps should also be taken to further enhance already close cooperation between domestic and foreign authorities in case of a crisis event affecting FMIs.

45. Further attention is warranted to strengthen ASX Clear’s governance and risk management framework to promote compliance with the authorities’ guidelines. ASX Ltd and the authorities are encouraged to consider the impact of the current governance structure on compliance with risk management requirements. Additional improvements to risk management systems should be considered to facilitate separation of house and client accounts, implementation of concentration limits on collateral, holding of adequate pre-funded liquid resources and improvements in the operation of intraday margin calls. Operational risks should also be further addressed.

46. The authorities should prioritize finalization of the special resolution regime for FMIs. Some progress has already been made. The CFR authorities are in the process of drafting legislation that establishes a resolution regime for FMIs consistent with international standards and that incorporates feedback from stakeholders on a past consultation paper.33 To finalize the regime, the authorities will need to address issues specific to Australia’s financial market structure, such as clearing and settlement facilities that are part of a vertically-integrated exchange group, the dominance of a few domestic financial institutions and a few global banks, and issues regarding the diversity and capacity of private liquidity providers.

F. AML / CFT

47. The authorities have made some progress in addressing the main short-comings identified in the last FATF assessment of 2015.34 The 2015 assessment found that Australia had strong legal, law enforcement, and operational measures for combating money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT), as well as for combating proliferation financing, but FATF also identified important areas for improvement. Since the assessment, Australia has strengthened aspects of its AML/CFT legislative framework,35 undertaken ground work to expand the AML / CFT regime to cover all designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs) and through its “Fintel Alliance” established an innovative public-private partnership to improve the sharing of financial intelligence to better pursue those who launder proceeds and fund terrorism.36 In addition, AUSTRAC has refined its supervisory model, reorganized its supervisory teams, focused supervision on higher ML/TF risk firms, introduced a new system to assess responses to self-reported breaches of compliance, obtained record financial penalties for breaches of requirements, and collaborated with other agencies to publish ML / TF risk assessments.

48. However, there is scope for further improvements to the AML / CFT regime ahead of the next FATF assessment planned for 2020. The AML/CFT regime should be expanded to cover all DNFBPs, including lawyers, real estate agents, and trust and company service providers. The planned increases in staffing at AUSTRAC during 2018–2019 could help strengthen onsite supervision of compliance by banks and high-risk remitters, especially in regard to customer due diligence requirements. The authorities are also recommended to make more frequent use of formal enforcement actions to encourage compliance as well as to strengthen data collection.

Crisis Management and Financial Safety Nets

49. The recently enacted Crisis Management Act confers new powers on APRA to resolve financial institutions (banks and insurance companies) in distress.37 It strengthens APRA powers regarding conglomerate groups, statutory management, directions, transfer, conversion and write-off of capital instruments, stays, foreign branches, the Financial Claims Scheme (FCS), wind-up, and resolution planning.38 In particular, it provides that the statutory management tool can be applied in a group context; provides new statutory management powers in relation to foreign-owned ADIs; widens the scope of the directions powers; and broadens the use of the FCS to finance business transfers. APRA has started to translate the new powers into prudential standards and internal work processes.

50. APRA has made progress in developing recovery planning requirements for the banking industry, extending these from large to smaller banks. APRA has provided guidance to ADIs on recovery planning, which suggests that they should conduct regular tests focusing on internal escalation processes, functioning of crisis management teams, and determination of communication plans. In recent years, APRA has concluded a thematic review and benchmarking exercise of recovery plans submitted by the larger ADIs. APRA provided entity-specific feedback on the plans, which outlined the key areas assessed as requiring improvement. APRA has asked for revised submissions which it plans to update on an annual cycle. APRA plans to extend its recovery planning work to include foreign-owned ADI subsidiaries and branches.

51. Recovery planning should be better integrated within the risk management framework and operational testing exercises of the largest banks. Recovery plans should become an integral part of the bank’s risk management framework and should thus be consistent and integrated with the bank’s stress testing and capital and liquidity planning exercises. A guiding framework for a set of triggers and early warning indicators should be developed by APRA to highlight when recovery options might need to be activated. Regular tests of recovery plans should be undertaken. APRA’s work on a pilot resolution planning project, along with a resolvability assessment, will be fed into a framework for establishing credible resolution plans, which would use as a basis for resolving a failed or failing institution. Recovery and resolution planning requirements for financial conglomerates should also be applied on a group basis.

52. Notwithstanding the recent progress in strengthening the resolution framework, steps to operationalize these tools still need to be completed. While the mechanics of the bridge bank and asset separation tools are established, the modalities to finance the relevant operations should be clarified. Since the resolution tools are untested in Australia, efforts should be maintained to conduct intra- and cross-institutional crisis simulation tests. Also, given the significant interconnectedness and potential spill-over effects, the Australian authorities should enhance cooperation with the New Zealand financial regulators within the Trans-Tasman Council of Banking Supervisors (TTBC) in the context of bank resolution by advancing the focus from generic resolution issues to the formulation of specific resolution plans, including funding strategies. The authorities should also consider introducing a statutory recognition of action taken by foreign regulators.

53. More needs to be done to ensure that the authorities are well-positioned to resolve a systemically important bank or to address a systemic banking crisis. While it is important to ensure, as is the case in ongoing work, that banks bear the costs of their own failures through an increase in their loss-absorbing capacity39 (in the form of contractual bail-in instruments), the resolution authority should be able, upon entry into resolution, to convert or write down any contingent convertible or contractual bail-in instruments, whose terms had not been triggered prior to entry into resolution. To facilitate effective resolution, retail investors’ exposure to complex loss-absorbing instruments should be subject to strong investor protection.

54. The authorities should also introduce an ex-ante funded deposit insurance scheme (FCS) and a statutory bail-in regime, based on best international practice. The goals and operational modalities of the Financial System Stability Special Account, the standing budgetary authorization for financial crisis management purposes, should be also clarified. The “no creditor worse off” regime should be added as an additional legal safeguard to the bank resolution framework.

55. The RBA is encouraged to formalize the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) framework and draw up clearly defined conditions for it. As crises tend to escalate at a rapid speed, the RBA would benefit from a more predefined emergency liquidity assistance framework. This should include, inter alia, modalities for solvency assessment (moving from point-in-time to a forward-looking assessment of viability), applying and receiving government indemnity, and for decisions whether the RBA can lend to an undercapitalized bank in a recovery or possibly in a resolution mode. The framework should consider applicable risk control measures for lending to banks beyond the CLF. The IMF recommends that ELA should only be provided to solvent financial institutions on a temporary basis against adequate collateral.

Figure 18.
Figure 18.

Nonfinancial Corporate Sector

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2019, 054; 10.5089/9781484398999.002.A001

Source: ABS National Accounts
Table 7.

Australia: Status of Key Recommendations of the 2012 FSAP

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Appendix I. Banking Sector Stress Testing Matrix (STeM)

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Appendix II. Key Macroprudential Policy Measures, 2014–181

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Appendix III. Report on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSC)

Basel Core Principles of Effective Banking Supervision

A. Introduction

1. At the request of the Australian authorities, this assessment of the implementation of the Basel Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision (BCP) is part of the Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP) undertaken by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during June 2018.1 It reflects the regulatory and supervisory framework in place as of the date of the completion of the assessment. It is not intended to represent an analysis of the state of the banking sector or the crisis management framework, which are addressed in the broader FSAP exercise.

2. An assessment of the effectiveness of banking supervision requires a review of the legal framework, and a detailed examination of the policies and practices of the institution(s) responsible for banking regulation and supervision. In line with the BCP methodology, the assessment focused on banking supervision and regulation performed by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and did not cover the specificities of regulation and supervision of other financial institutions.2

B. Background Information and Assessment Methodology

3. This assessment was performed according to the revised BCP methodology issued by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) in September 2012.3 Since the previous assessment conducted in 2012, the BCP standard was comprehensively revised. The BCPs represent a framework of universally applicable minimum standards for sound supervisory practices. It is, therefore, important to note that this assessment cannot and should not be compared to the previous exercise, as the revised BCPs have a heightened focus on corporate governance and risk management, their practical application by the supervised institutions, and the assessment performed by the supervisory authority. The revised BCPs also place additional emphasis on the effectiveness of a supervisory framework not only through providing supervisors with the necessary powers to address safety and soundness concerns but also by heightening the focus on the actual use of those powers in a forward-looking approach.

4. The Australian authorities opted to be assessed and graded against both the essential and additional criteria, the highest standards of supervision and regulation. To assess compliance, the BCP Methodology uses a set of essential and additional assessment criteria for each principle. The essential criteria (EC) provide the foundational elements on which to gauge full compliance with a Core Principle (CP). The additional criteria (AC) are recommended best practices against which the authorities of some more complex financial systems may agree to be assessed and rated. The assessment of compliance with each principle is made on a qualitative basis, using a five-part grading system: compliant, largely compliant, materially noncompliant, noncompliant, and not applicable. The assessment of compliance with each CP requires a judgment on whether the criteria are fulfilled in practice. Evidence of effective application of relevant laws and regulations is essential to confirm that the criteria are met.

5. An assessment of compliance with the BCP is not, and is not intended to be, an exact science. The assessment criteria should not be seen as a checklist approach to compliance but as a qualitative exercise involving judgement by the assessment team. While compliance with the BCP can be met in different ways, compliance with some criteria may be more critical for the effectiveness of supervision, depending on the situation and circumstances in a given jurisdiction. Nevertheless, by adhering to a common agreed methodology, the assessment should provide the Australian authorities with an internationally consistent measure of the quality of their banking supervision framework in relation to the BCP.

6. The standards were evaluated in the context of the Australian banking system’s structure and complexity. The BCP must be capable of application to a wide range of jurisdictions whose banking sectors will inevitably include a broad spectrum of banks. To accommodate this breadth of application, according to the methodology, a proportionate approach is adopted, both in terms of the expectations on supervisors for the discharge of their own functions and in terms of the standards that supervisors impose on banks. An assessment of a country against the BCP must, therefore, recognize that its supervisory practices should be commensurate with the complexity, interconnectedness, size, risk profile and cross-border operations of the banks being supervised. The assessment considers the context in which the supervisory practices are applied. The concept of proportionality underpins all assessment criteria. For these reasons, an assessment of one jurisdiction will not be directly comparable to that of another.

7. The assessment team reviewed the framework of laws, regulations, manuals and other materials mainly provided by APRA. The team held extensive meetings with APRA officials and additional meetings with the Australian Treasury, the RBA, AUSTRAC, ASIC, banks, external audit firms, and the Australian Banking Association. The authorities provided a BCP self-assessment, responses to additional questionnaires, and access to supervisory documents and files, staff and systems.

C. Overview of the Institutional Setting and Market Structure

8. APRA is responsible for the prudential regulation and supervision of Authorized Deposit-taking Institution (ADIs) in Australia. APRA is also responsible for the prudential oversight of general, life, and private health insurance companies, and most of the superannuation industry. In performing and exercising its functions and powers, APRA is to balance the objectives of financial safety and efficiency, competition, contestability and competitive neutrality and, in balancing these objectives, is to promote financial stability in Australia.

9. Australia’s financial regulatory framework include three other financial sector authorities responsible for financial regulation. These are as follows:

  • The Treasury has responsibility for advising the Government on financial stability issues and on the legislative and regulatory framework underpinning financial system infrastructure.

  • The RBA is Australia’s central bank responsible for monetary policy as well as the safety and efficiency of the payments system and for overall financial stability.

  • ASIC is responsible for the registration and supervision of corporations and, in the financial sector, for licensing of financial service providers, credit providers and market conduct.

10. In addition, the Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) is the primary coordinating body for Australia’s main financial sector agencies. It comprises the RBA (Chair), APRA, ASIC and the Treasury. The CFR ensures a structured, multilateral coordination process across the relevant agencies. However, each member is fully responsible for discharging its own responsibilities within its statutory mandate. The CFR’s objectives are to promote stability of the Australian financial system and contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of regulation.

11. AUSTRAC administers Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. It is Australia’s Financial Intelligence Unit to fight serious and organized crime and terrorism financing. It is also Australia’s regulator for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CTF), overseeing the compliance of more than 14,000 Australian businesses ranging from major banks and casinos to single-operator businesses.

12. Banks and other ADIs are the most significant component of the system. They represent nearly 67.6 percent of all APRA-regulated financial system assets, equal to around 2.3 times the level of nominal GDP. Banks accounted for 98.8 percent of ADI assets in March 2018. The general insurance, life insurance and superannuation industries together account for around 32.4 percent of total APRA-regulated financial assets.

13. Australia’s four major domestic banks dominate the ADI sector, accounting for 76.4 percent of total ADI assets in March 2018. Each of the major banks has consolidated group assets that rank them among the top 50 banks worldwide, but their businesses are not global and generally focus on the domestic and New Zealand markets. The rest of the ADI sector comprises 4 mid-sized banks and a few other small Australian owned banks (9.8 percent of total ADI assets), and 51 foreign-owned banks, 44 branches, and 7subsidiaries (12.6 percent of total ADI assets). Building societies and credit unions account for the remaining 1.2 percent of total ADI assets in Australia with their share gradually declining over the last few decades.

D. Preconditions for Effective Banking Supervision

14. The Australian economy is experiencing relatively benign macroeconomic conditions with growth trending upwards while inflation remains low. See the section on Background and Vulnerabilities earlier in the FSSA for more details about the macroeconomic policies and situation in Australia.

15. The CFR is the coordinating body of the main financial sector agencies involved in promoting financial stability. Both the RBA and APRA have specific mandates to promote financial system stability. The CFR is not a statutory body and hence does not have a legal personality, nor does it have powers separate from its member agencies. Its members share information and views on developments in the financial system, discuss regulatory reforms and other issues related to areas where responsibilities overlap, and coordinate responses to potential threats to financial system stability.

16. Australia has a well-developed public infrastructure, including an independent judiciary system, comprehensive business laws and standards, and a number of dispute resolution mechanisms. There is a strict separation between the Judiciary on the one hand, and the Parliament and Executive on the other. Australia’s legal system provides a secure framework for the operation of contracts between parties and offers a transparent and fair mechanism for resolving disputes about contracts. Australia has a number of options available for resolving disputes without going to a court or tribunal. These include mediation, conciliation, conferencing, neutral evaluation, and arbitration.

17. Australia has comprehensive requirements for independence of auditors and accounting and auditing standards that are aligned to international standards. The Corporations Act contains extensive requirements for auditor independence. Auditors and audit firms must be registered with ASIC before they can conduct an audit for Corporations Act purposes. ASIC is also responsible for auditor oversight and ensures audit firms are complying with their auditor independence and audit quality obligations. Australia adopted Australian equivalents to International Financial Reporting Standards (A-IFRS) for reporting periods beginning on or after January 1, 2005. Accounting standards in Australia are made by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) who is involved in the IFRS standard-setting process and reviews the IFRS text to ensure they are appropriate for Australia’s legal, economic, and institutional environment. Australian auditing standards are made by the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AUASB) and are based on the International Standards on Auditing.

18. The legislative reforms enacted through the Financial Sector Legislation Amendment (Crisis Resolution Powers and Other Measures) Act 2018 significantly expanded crisis resolution powers, and more clearly defined APRA’s mandate regarding resolution planning. These reforms also provide APRA with formal direction powers related to resolution planning and removing barriers to the resolvability of regulated entities or groups. Such a direction could require an ADI to address barriers to orderly resolution, such as making changes to ADIs’ systems, business practices or operations in order to make them more resolvable. APRA intends to develop its formal prudential framework for resolution planning, with a view to starting consultation on a prudential framework on recovery and resolution planning in 2019. APRA has been conducting work on recovery planning of banks where it initiated a pilot recovery planning exercise for large and medium banks and followed it with a thematic review focused on large banks.

19. In October 2008, the Australian Government established the Financial Claims Scheme (FCS) for ADIs and general insurers. The FCS is post-funded. The FCS used to apply to deposit balances up to A$1 million per account-holder per ADI, which was set in the context of the global financial crisis and was intended to reinforce depositor confidence. Based on the CFR’s recommendation, the Government reduced the FCS limit to A$250,000 from February 1, 2012.

20. Australia has a well-established framework governing company disclosure requirements and competition issues. Disclosure requirements are contained in the Corporations Act, and listed companies must also comply with the supplementary requirements in the relevant listing rules. Each financial year, entities that are subject to disclosure requirements must prepare a financial report and a directors’ report (containing information about operations, activities, and a range of other matters). There are similar requirements for half-year financial and directors’ reports. Australian competition law is contained in the Competition and Consumer Act which applies to all industries, including the financial sector. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is Australia’s competition regulator and is responsible for enforcing the prohibitions on anti-competitive conduct contained in the Competition and Consumer Act.

E. Main Findings

21. Since the previous FSAP, APRA has kept an active pace in implementing reforms to enhance the resilience of the Australian financial system. APRA has implemented key elements of the international regulatory reform agenda, at times going beyond the agreed minimum standards to provide additional resilience. APRA has focused on strengthening the capital framework, implementing Basel III liquidity standards, reinforcing sound mortgage lending standards, improving governance and accountability, and strengthening crisis management and preparedness. Other broad policy reforms have been also enacted, including on risk management and governance and introducing a phased approach to licensing. While APRA has been aligning its resources to evolving market needs by developing a new risk and data analytics function, it would need to continue enhancing its resources and skillset to match the evolution in banking services and risks. APRA has also increasingly focused its risk-based supervisory activities on reviewing banks’ practices and underwriting standards in the area of residential mortgages and commercial real estate lending, in addition to other risk areas.

22. APRA has achieved a high degree of compliance with the BCPs. Notwithstanding the revision to the BCP methodology, which raised the standards for achieving supervisory objectives, APRA has demonstrated clear progress in strengthening the effectiveness of supervision. This is most evident in the work of APRA on supervision of liquidity and credit risk, as well as the enhancement of banks’ capital adequacy requirements, including the planned implementation of an “unquestionably strong” capital framework in line with the recommendations of the 2014 Financial System Inquiry (FSI). APRA could further enhance its supervisory approach by: (i) performing periodic more comprehensive assessments of banks’ risk management and governance frameworks, (ii) incorporating banks’ management of non-financial risks in its supervisory assessment, and (iii) applying enforcement measures in a more active way.

Responsibilities, Objectives, Powers, Independence (CP1–2)

23. APRA has broad powers and clear responsibilities underpinned mainly in the Banking Act and the APRA Act. In addition to promoting financial stability, the APRA Act states that this objective is to be pursued while balancing other objectives such as financial safety, efficiency, competition, contestability and competitive neutrality. This can be a challenging balance to make but APRA seems focused on financial stability even as the banking sector is becoming more open to new types of activities and to more competition. Therefore, it may be useful to consider clarifying further the primary nature of APRA’s financial stability objective and that the other objectives are subordinate to the financial stability mandate.

24. APRA has clear powers to set and enforce prudential standards, but these can be disallowed by the Parliament. APRA has been applying a risk-focused and more proportionate approach to its regulation and supervision. However, the fact that its prudential standards can be disallowed by the Parliament weakens APRA’s prudential standard setting powers in achieving its statutory mandate even if this case seems exceptional and has not taken place to date. Having said that, APRA has successfully introduced many regulatory reforms over the last few years to implement international standards and the recommendations of the 2014 FSI.

25. APRA performs its operations based on a robust governance framework and a solid accountability mechanism. APRA has set internal policies and processes that allow efficient decision making in normal and stressed times. Governance is strengthened by internal risk management and internal audit committees consisting of a majority of independent members. APRA is subject to a strong accountability framework to the Parliament, the government, and the general public.

26. While APRA may currently have a reasonable degree of independence to meet its statutory goals, there are some constraints that could potentially impact this independence. The power granted to the Minister to issue directions to APRA about policies it should pursue is a matter of potential concern (since it could lead to a direct or indirect interference in APRA’s prudential standard setting powers) even if this power has never been exercised so far. Since objectives can be misaligned at times, it is always better to remove any potential loopholes in the framework. In addition, the APRA Act does not require public disclosure of the reasons for removal of an APRA Member. The statement of expectations (SOE) issued by the Government to APRA and APRA’s reply in its statement of intent (SOI) have served as a platform to publicly present the government’s priorities and how APRA would respond to them. Notwithstanding, it may be useful to clarify the objective of the SOE and ensure that it does not direct APRA’s priorities in a way that could conflict with its primary mandate of financial stability.

27. A more flexible and autonomous budget process and a relaxation of the constraints on the framework for staff employment and remuneration would allow APRA to better discharge its increasing responsibilities. While noting that APRA has received additional budgets over the recent years to implement new initiatives and projects, APRA is subject to “efficiency dividends”, and additional budget proposals (new policy proposals) need approval by the Government. There is some forward view of expected funding, but uncertainty over the medium-term budget may present difficulties for APRA’s resource planning. Therefore, it is important to provide APRA with higher flexibility and more autonomy in its budget planning and approval processes. In addition, the constraints on APRA’s staff employment and remuneration framework, such as the Australian Public Service (APS) workplace bargaining policy, limit APRA’s potential to attract and retain high quality staff. While some remuneration levers and individual flexibility arrangements seem to be available under APRA’s current enterprise agreement, the policy is creating challenges for APRA to attract and retain the highly specialized skills that it currently needs to better oversee the evolving risks in Australia’s banking sector, including those related to digital business models and cyber risk.

Licensing, Change in Control, and Acquisitions (CP 4–7)

28. APRA has a very thorough licensing framework. In assessing licensing applications, APRA follows criteria that are consistent with ongoing supervision requirements. It also reviews the proposed ADI strategy and financial viability, its business plan, the suitability of its owners and management, its governance framework, and its risk management framework.

29. APRA has recently introduced a phased licensing regime to open the way for new market entrants. The phased (or restricted) licensing regime will allow a more gradual approach to licensing that ensures closer follow-up by APRA throughout the licensing phase. The new ADIs are expected to have digitally focused business models. APRA has put limitations on the operations of these restricted licensees and requires them to have a two-year conversion strategy (to become full ADIs) and an exit strategy (with some resolution funds). APRA is recommended to adopt prudence as it implements this new approach and further develop the capacity and skills of its staff to oversee the new digital services offered by these firms.

30. The regime for significant change in ownership is another area where APRA’s independence and powers warrant strengthening. The change in significant ownership of banks is governed by the Financial Sector Shareholdings Act (FSSA) which gives the Treasurer the power to decide on changes in ownership stakes of more than 15 percent. While the Treasurer has delegated APRA for approving changes in significant ownership for banks with assets of less than A$ 1 billion, this is only a partial delegation and can be withdrawn if the Treasurer decides so. In addition, the criteria for approval of a significant change in ownership are based on “national interest” considerations which are not defined in the FSSA and may not give due consideration to the fitness, propriety and suitability of the significant shareholders. While the Treasurer practically seeks APRA’s advice about any prudential concerns in relation to decisions affecting banks with assets exceeding A$1 billion, such advice is not binding.

Supervisory Cooperation and Cross Border Supervision (CP3,12,13)

31. APRA has a good level of interaction with the various domestic authorities involved in regulating and supervising financial sector issues, but these relationships can be further enhanced with some agencies. APRA has a good level of cooperation with the RBA on various financial stability and systemic risk issues. This cooperation also takes place at the CFR which provides a platform for discussion of financial stability topics among the main financial regulators. Cooperation with ASIC has been intensifying over the recent period given the increasing topics of mutual interest, including on market conduct and governance issues. Building a more thorough interaction with ASIC will help further enhance APRA’s understanding of risks in the financial sector and the implications for APRA’s risk assessment of ADIs, particularly in regard to the new Banking Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR). On the other hand, cooperation between APRA and AUSTRAC has not been as extensive and is currently primarily focused on high-level issues. This relationship should, therefore, be brought to a new operational level involving different layers of the agencies’ hierarchies so that more substantive and entity-specific issues can be discussed on a much more frequent basis.

32. APRA has developed close working relationships with foreign regulators, particularly with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ), given the significance of banks’ cross-border operations in New Zealand. APRA conducts onsite reviews, particularly for the major banks’ subsidiaries in New Zealand and has contacts with other relevant regulators. APRA has conducted supervisory colleges for two of its banks, but the last one was about three years ago. While recognizing the shrinking global footprint of some Australian banks, there are still some Australian banks with a significant cross-border presence which may benefit from active supervisory colleges. In addition, APRA should implement its plan to develop a resolution planning framework and coordinate with foreign regulatory authorities to develop resolution plans for its major cross-border banking groups.

33. APRA consolidated supervisory approach is well integrated in its supervisory practices and activities. Prudential standards and financial data are collected on a consolidated basis. APRA’s recent introduction of a governance and risk management framework for conglomerates is a positive step. However, APRA should enhance its understanding and reviews of the risks that banks and banking groups can be exposed to as a result of the non-banking activities in the wider financial group and be prepared to take actions as needed.

Supervisory Approach (CP 8–11)

34. APRA’s supervisory approach is based upon the fundamental premise that it is the responsibility of banks’ boards and management teams to ensure the firm is operating in a prudent manner and in compliance with applicable laws and prudential standards. This is supported by a host of formal requirements and a reasonably full set of effective supervisory processes and tools with which to assess the firms and an appropriate set of authorities with which to enforce compliance when that is necessary.

35. A key challenge of this approach is achieving the right balance between relying on firms’ attestations/reporting and supervisors verifying with a high degree of confidence that the most critical governance, risk management and control processes are in place and effective. APRA’s well-conceived and well-executed risk-focused approach to supervising the banks is a good starting point from which to address that challenge. However, APRA’s supervisory oversight may benefit from a greater focus on the largest firms and on periodic ‘end-to-end’ reviews across the firms to review their systems and practices. APRA needs also to develop further its analysis of emerging risks across the system and continue to refine banks’ reporting requirements to that end.

36. Another challenge in APRA’s approach is finding the right balance between a desire to maintain good working relationships with firms and the willingness to take strong supervisory actions when needed. APRA’s preferred approach is working with the firms to get them to address supervisory concerns and/or weak practices. While this is not unique to APRA, it is often reasonable as long as it does not lead to delayed identification or remediation of material weaknesses at large banks. There seems to be scope for APRA to escalate the severity of its corrective actions in a quicker and more active way if the concerned bank is not effectively cooperating. This includes escalation from ‘recommendation’ to ‘requirement’ and also a more active use of formal corrective actions, such as directions.

Corporate Governance and Internal Audit (CP 14, 26)

37. APRA sets appropriate bank governance requirements, but assessments of board and senior management effectiveness could be better informed by weaknesses observed in reviews of risk management and controls and should be given greater consideration in the overall ratings of the firms. The PAIRS assessment process covers all the necessary areas but may, at times, obscure the understanding of the root causes of, or ultimate accountability for, problems at a firm. This may weaken the articulation of expectations, particularly given APRA’s supervisory philosophy which puts a strong emphasis on the role of the board and senior management.

38. APRA should better incorporate into assessments of governance the findings from assessments carried out by AUSTRAC and ASIC on AML/CTF and conduct issues, respectively. As the supervisor with responsibility for assessing overall risk management and governance practices in the banks, APRA’s supervision process for governance should incorporate assessment of conduct risk and AML/CTF practices where material. Increased cooperation with both agencies, as mentioned above, would foster the process of developing a more comprehensive assessment of banks’ risk profiles.

39. APRA could strengthen the emphasis on assessing the work of the internal audit function to inform APRA assessments of control processes. APRA does not collate the conclusions from its supervisory activities into a formal risk assessment of the internal audit function and has not performed an in-depth evaluation of the overall effectiveness of internal audit functions across the major banks for a number of years. Given the responsibilities and expectations placed on boards of directors, a greater emphasis on all aspects of internal audit effectiveness as an important element of governance by the board is warranted. In addition, the prudential standards should outline more comprehensively the main criteria and requirements for an effective internal control environment and internal audit function.

Capital (CP 16)

40. APRA applies a conservative regulatory capital regime and ADIs exhibit relatively strong regulatory capital ratios. APRA could increase the focus on the processes that support and inform the largest firms’ decision making around capital planning by undertaking more in-depth reviews of the inputs into and controls around ICAAPs and stress testing programs. The recent move towards putting in place ‘unquestionably strong’ capital benchmarks on top of the full and conservative use of Basel risk-based standards is a positive step in strengthening capital in the industry.

Risk Management (CP 17–25)

41. Since the last FSAP assessment in 2012, APRA has issued an integrated risk management standard (CPS 220). The standard requires regular attestations and reporting of its effectiveness by the board and management relative to the size and risk profiles of the firms. This has been a positive development as firms are more focused on the importance of complying with prudential standards around risk governance, including risk management and controls requirements.

42. Supervision of risk management places a strong emphasis on the responsibilities of the board. This is well supported by a solid, if understaffed in some areas, supervision program for assessing risk management across the major risk categories. The increased use of ‘thematic reviews’ looking at the same set of risks and risk management practices across groups of firms is a good practice, which should continue to be utilized to the greatest extent possible for the largest firms.

43. APRA’s supervisors have been increasingly assessing banks’ credit risk management framework and practices, particularly focusing on assessing banks’ underwriting practices and serviceability assessments. While these reviews should be continued to ensure credit risk management gaps are being addressed, APRA should also consider performing more thorough periodic analysis of banks’ credit risk management frameworks, particularly for the major banks. The current risk reviews on concentration risk should be further enhanced to examine the impact of concentration in types of collateral, particularly real estate. APRA should also go ahead with its plan to revise its prudential standards on credit quality (particularly in relation to the treatment of problem assets) and related parties to be further aligned with international standards.4

44. Since the last FSAP, APRA has taken many actions to strengthen its capacity, tools, and prudential framework in relation to oversight of liquidity risk. It has established a team of risk specialists dedicated to oversight of liquidity risk. It has also implemented the LCR and the NSFR requirements for major banks. The October 2017 RCAP confirmed that Australia’s Basel III LCR is overall compliant with Basel requirements. In addition, the prudential framework provides a thorough set of requirements and guidance in relation to liquidity risk management.

Disclosures and Transparency (CP 27–28)

45. APRA regulations and the Corporations Act require significant disclosures that enable the public to understand the risks in the banks and banking industry. APRA requires a wide range of Pillar 3 disclosures including quantitative and qualitative elements. Banking statistics are made available to the public on a monthly and quarterly basis. All Australian incorporated banks are required to issue audited financial reports to the public on an annual and half-yearly basis. ASIC reviews external audits, including with respect to asset valuations, and carries out ongoing surveillance of financial reporting.

Abuse of financial Services (CP 29)

46. While AUSTRAC has the authorities by law and rule, and the supporting processes needed to oversee money laundering and anti-terrorism financing, the significant reliance on firms self-identifying and reporting weaknesses has not always proved effective. Recent events have revealed that some banks processes for ensuring compliance were not working as reported, which resulted in failures to comply with rules and laws. AUSTRAC should consider steps it can take to increase the confidence it can get from firm’s internal reporting, including taking swift and formal action when it discovers banks’ control processes for ensuring compliance are missing key areas. This would likely require an end-to-end thematic review of these processes at the major banks on a periodic basis.

47. Appendix Table 1 offers a principle-by-principle summary of the assessment findings and conclusions.

Appendix Table 1.

Summary Compliance with the BCPs

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