Kate Carnell calls banks to account over closures

The Australian, January 5, 2018

The rift between the small business ombudsman and Australia’s largest lenders has widened further, with Kate Carnell set to pursue the big four banks over their decision to end banking services with more than 100 customers ­offering remittance services through Western Union.

As the threat of being ensnared in a legal stoush with anti-money-laundering regulator Austrac continues to loom large, following the explosive suit against Commonwealth Bank late last year, lenders may be too aggressively ending business banking relationships with newsagents who offer Western Union services.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has met with Austrac and Western Union after more than 100 small businesses, many who were newsagents offering remittance services, came to the ombudsman complaining that they had been “de-banked” by one of the big four lenders.

Speaking to The Australian, Ms Carnell said it was now time to consider — separately to Kenneth Hayne’s banking royal commission — whether banking services should be classed as an essential service.

“If we move to a system where our electricity providers and telecommunications providers were able to decide who the good and bad guys are, you end up in a pretty ordinary spot,” she said.

“Obviously, your power can be cut off if you don’t pay a bill. A telco can choose not to deal with you if you don’t pay your bills. But we don’t have a situation where electricity companies can say we’re not going to switch your power on because we don’t like your business.”