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ACCC launches currency conversion inquiry

December 13, 2018

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has revealed that it is commencing an inquiry into foreign currency conversion services.

“Whether you’re buying Euros from your bank for an upcoming trip, sending money to family in Indonesia, or you’re a small business trading with suppliers in New Zealand, foreign exchange services are used by Australians every day,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“The World Bank has reported that Australians sent around AU$8.8 billion ($6.3 billion/€5.5 billion) overseas in 2016. Yet they also found that Australia is the third most expensive G20 country for consumers and small businesses to send money from.”

“This means that if you send AU$1000 ($723.5/€635.8) overseas from Australia, on average you’ll pay AU$9 ($6.5/€5.7) more than if you sent an equivalent amount from the United Kingdom, and AU$23 ($16.6/€14.6) more than if you sent it from the United States. Given the amount of funds Australians remit, these higher charges can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars each year across the economy,” Mr Sims said.

“We will be examining why major companies in Australia, including the big four banks, seem to be able to consistently charge high prices.”

The ACCC will examine price competition amongst suppliers of foreign currency conversion services and consider how easily potential entrants to the market can compete.

Core to the ACCC’s inquiry will be the way prices are presented to customers. The ACCC notes the Productivity Commission recently found that consumers struggled to understand and compare the different types of prices charged for international money transfers.

“The exchange rate you google is not the exchange rate you get from the big four banks. The difference is known as the ‘mark-up’, and it’s often a big part of the price consumers pay when converting currency,” Mr Sims said.

“Many consumers have complained to the ACCC about these high mark-ups, as well as the transaction fees that often apply on top of that.”

“We are keen to hear from consumers, consumer advocacy groups, small businesses, and foreign currency suppliers on their experience on a range of issues, including transparency of pricing, costs, barriers to entry, and other factors affecting competition in the sector,” Mr Sims added.

“The ACCC will conduct this inquiry with an open mind, but with a view to making recommendations where appropriate.”

The ACCC’s inquiry is initiated under Part VIIA of the Competition and Consumer Act (2010) and will afford the ACCC with compulsory information gathering powers. The inquiry has received the necessary approval from the Treasurer of Australia as required by law.

The ACCC is expected to provide its final report to the Treasurer in May 2019.

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