Definition Of ‘Small Business’ Left Uncertain Amid Aussie Bank Reforms

Aus Eyes Small Business Definition Change

Australia’s banking industry continues to address misconduct at the largest of the nation’s institutions, with small business banking at the center of many of the regulatory efforts. But as the Australian Banking Association (ABA) prepares to introduce changes to the industry code of practice, the very definition of a “small business” remains in limbo, with significant implications for how small businesses are protected.

The ABA will announce the changes on Wednesday, reports in the Sydney Morning Herald said on Tuesday (Feb. 26), the result of recommendations made by Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne earlier this month. The ABA said it plans to accept those recommendations and implement changes “as soon as possible.”

The ABA is uncertain whether it will accept the Hayne recommendation to change the definition of small business, which would significantly impact how small business borrowers are protected. The current definition of a small business by the banks is a company with loan exposure of up to AUS$3 million ($2.15 million), but the Hayne recommendation suggests expanding that definition to a loan exposure of AUS$5 million (about $3.6 million) with fewer than 100 employees.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) cleared the new definition when it approved the ABA’s code of conduct changes last year, reports noted, though the Commission discussed the issue with the banking industry.

“The industry has serious concerns that this recommendation may have a material impact on access to credit for small business borrowers,” the ABA said.

ABA Chief Executive Anna Bligh said Australia’s banking industry “has taken the report and is acting with urgency to ensure lasting reform occurs without delay,” though the ABA has not yet reached a decision on whether or not to accept the definition change.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chief Executive Rod Sims is calling for greater competition in the nation’s banking industry after a review found that the top four banks – ANZ Bank, Westpac, CAB and NAB – control 75 percent of the market share.