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Big Changes Loom In Australia's Wealth Management Landscape

Lachlan Colquhoun Sydney March 28, 2010

Big Changes Loom In Australia's Wealth Management Landscape

The Australian wealth management landscape could be set for major changes this week with NAB reportedly close to announcing final terms on its A$13 billion bid for AXA Asia Pacific.

A long seduction by NAB executives, including visits to Paris by the bank’s senior executives, seems to have worked its charms on AXA, which has also been pondering a slightly inferior offer from AMP, Australia’s biggest insurer.

At this point, it seems that only the intervention of competition regulator the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) can stop NAB’s bid to becoming the largest player in the country’s mid-tier wealth management market.

In terms of Australia’s A$1 trillion-plus superannuation - or pensions - industry, the AXA acquisition is crucially important for market leadership.

After a decade of acquisitions and consolidation, the NAB has a 15.4 per cent market share, the CBA has 13.6, Westpac 11.2 and ANZ 8.4.

In third position is AMP with 12.3 per cent, while AXA is in sixth place with about 7 per cent. Hence, any player which buys AXA becomes the market leader.

In that context, ACCC approval for the NAB bid may be harder to get than applying for a simple rubber stamp. There is a strong feeling in government and regulatory circles that the Big Four banks, also known as the Four Pillars, have become too powerful, and their influence has only increased over the period of the global financial crisis. AMP and its advocates say Australia needs a “Fifth Pillar” and AMP is the only player which could legitimately hope to fill that role.

While the AXA drama plays out, other Australian banks are pursuing their own separate wealth management strategies. ANZ, which has boosted its domestic wealth management offering with the A$1.76 billion deal to buy out its funds management joint venture partner ING, is expected to announce new branding for the venture later this year.

Under the current agreement, the ING brand can only be used until November, and the expiration of that agreement presents a significant new branding opportunity, and a whole new separate identity is tipped.

The head of ANZ’s domestic operation, Phil Chronican, sent an email to staff last week saying the wealth business “will be best positioned for success with their own distinct brand identity, name and logo.”

“The decision to continue with a specialist brand identity has been an important one for ANZ and the ING wealth businesses,” Chronican said.

“Fundamentally it recognizes that successful wealth businesses need to be positioned as specialists in the eyes of customers and of key intermediaries, such as financial planners.”

Meanwhile, fellow Big Four rival CBA has said it is looking for “bolt on” acquisitions for its offshore wealth management business.

Speaking at a Credit Suisse investment conference in Hong Kong last week, CBA chief executive Ralph Norris said the bank has been adding more resources to its emerging markets capability driven from its office in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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