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New Zealand banks ordered to scrap all incentives tied to sales

Wellington

NEW Zealand banks have been ordered to take steps to reduce the risk of bad behaviour, including scrapping all incentives linked to sales.

In a report on bank culture and conduct released on Monday by the Reserve Bank and the Financial Markets Authority, the regulators said that they identified "significant weaknesses in the governance and management of conduct risks" that require remediation. One of the key requirements is that banks explain by March how they will remove all sales incentives.

"The FMA and RBNZ conclude that the overall standard of banks' approaches to identifying, managing and dealing with conduct risk needs to improve markedly," they said. "However, based on their findings, the FMA and RBNZ do not consider that widespread misconduct or poor culture issues currently exist across banks in New Zealand."

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The four-month review of 11 retail banks was prompted by misconduct coming to light overseas, particularly in Australia, where a royal commission uncovered a litany of wrongdoing, ranging from charging dead people for services to lying to regulators. New Zealand's four largest banks are Australian-owned, raising questions about whether the same things were happening in New Zealand.

The regulators said that they will give individual feedback to banks, which will be required to provide a plan to address the issues identified by the end of March. Banks will be expected to implement changes to their incentives programmes no later than the first performance year after Sept 30, 2019.

"In March 2019, we will ask all banks how they will meet our expectations regarding incentives, and we will report on their responses," the regulators said. "Any bank that does not, at that date, commit to removing sales incentives for salespeople and their managers will be required to explain how they will strengthen their control systems to sufficiently address the risks of poor conduct that arise with such incentives."

RBNZ governor Adrian Orr said that New Zealand banks' low cost-to-income ratios suggest they can afford to invest more in systems to reduce risk to customers.

It's good that the banks are highly profitable and well capitalised, but "they have one of the world's lowest cost-to-income ratios, which we have to question," Mr Orr said at a press briefing in Wellington. "It's this cost-to-income ratio that leads to a lot of the profitability. We're here saying, 'have you invested sufficiently across things that are important for the long-term sustainability of your business?'"

Finance minister Grant Robertson said the government would look closely at the final findings of Australia's royal commission, anticipated in February, and ask the RBNZ and FMA to study them to determine if further action is needed in New Zealand.

Monday's report said that while the principal responsibility for developing strong governance and management frameworks for conduct risk remains with banks, current regulatory settings do not provide sufficient scope for regulators to hold banks to account for their conduct. It set out a number of options the government could consider to address these issues, but said further policy work will be required. BLOOMBERG