Suncorp agrees to another ACCC delay on takeover decision

Suncorp ACCC ANZ Bank takeover delay

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced it will delay by a fortnight its decision on ANZ Bank’s request to acquire tier-two rival Suncorp Bank, with the regulator blaming the postponement on the big four bank’s tardy response to an independent review into the merger.

The ACCC said it will now hand down its decision to approve or reject the takeover request on Friday, 11 August – two weeks after its planned decision date of Friday, 28 July.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) today, Suncorp Group said it has accepted the competition regulator’s request for a further extension to its scheduled decision date.

The ACCC noted that its decision to delay its verdict was due to a nearly three-week lag by ANZ to respond to an ACCC-commissioned Independent Expert Report (the ‘Starks review’). As well, when ANZ did submit its response (on Monday 18 July) to the regulator, it said, the bank had well exceeded an imposed 50-page limit.

The ACCC wrote in its letter requesting the review extension: “The ACCC has concerns about the limited time your client has given to the ACCC to review and evaluate the substantial new material provided by ANZ before the 28 July 2023 statutory deadline.

“It is important that the ACCC has the opportunity to meaningfully consider the new information provided by ANZ and take it into account in its decision making.”

It added: “As a consequence, the ACCC considers that an extension to the timeframe of two weeks is both necessary and appropriate, and we now seek confirmation from ANZ that it agrees to the extension.”

The ACCC was initially set to hand down its decision within 90 days of ANZ officially lodging its merger request (on 2 December 2022) – the standard review period for an ACCC merger authorisation review.

This was then delayed by a further seven weeks – from 12 June 2023 to 28 July 2023 – as the ACCC reviewed further contributions to a consultation in early April.

Despite arguments to the contrary from evidence gathered by the regulator, Suncorp said it maintains its view that the sale “is in the best interests of its customers, shareholders and employees and will deliver public benefits for Queensland and the broader Australian public.”

As a deal sweetener, ANZ and Suncorp have also promised to establish a new technology hub in Brisbane to be populated by at least 700 technology specialists.

The Independent review, conducted by Mary Starks, a partner at advisory firm Flint Global, concluded that the acquisition of the largely Queensland-based Suncorp Bank “has a real chance of resulting in a substantial lessening of competition in the national market for home loans, and the local/regional markets for agribusiness banking and SME banking”.

Should the takeover be approved, the banks confirmed that they are scheduled to complete the transaction by the second half of the calendar year 2023.

This piece was first published in FST Media’s sister publication, Financial Newswire.