Lenders and brokers under surveillance

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ASIC says lenders and brokers must ensure that consumers are not provided with unsuitable interest only loans.

ASIC has announced a targeted industry surveillance to examine whether lenders and mortgage brokers are inappropriately recommending more expensive interest-only loans.

With many lenders, including major lenders, charging higher interest rates for interest-only loans compared with principal-and-interest loans, lenders and brokers must ensure that consumers are not provided with unsuitable interest-only loans.

Building on earlier work on home lending standards, ASIC also said that eight major lenders would provide remediation to consumers who suffered financial difficulty as a result of shortcomings in their past lending practices.

ASIC deputy chairman Peter Kell said since 2015 eight lenders examined by ASIC had improved their practices for inquiring about expenses to determine the consumer’s financial situation and capacity to make repayments.

“Rather than obtaining a single monthly living expense figure and then relying on a benchmark figure to assess suitability, borrowers’ actual figures for different categories of living expenses (e.g. food, transport, insurance, entertainment) will now be obtained,’’ he said.

“This will provide lenders with a better understanding of consumers’ expenses.

“In addition to typical hardship processes, lenders will individually review cases where consumers suffer financial difficulty in repaying their home loans, and determine whether they have been impacted by shortcomings in past lending practices.

“Where appropriate, consumers will be provided with tailored remediation, which may include refunds of fees or interest.

“As interest rates are currently at record lows, and were falling in the lead up to 2015 and during 2016, ASIC does not expect lenders to identify high numbers of consumers who are now experiencing financial difficulty due to past lending decisions.

“Nevertheless, these additional actions will ensure that consumers are not disadvantaged.

The eight lenders are Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Firstmac Limited, ING Bank (Australia) Limited, Macquarie Bank Limited, National Australia Bank Limited and Pepper Group Limited.

Mr Kell said home loans were the biggest financial commitment most people would ever make.

“In assessing whether borrowers can meet loan repayments without substantial hardship in the short and longer term, it is important that lenders can collect and rely on information which provides an accurate view of the consumer’s financial situation,’’ he said.

“This is especially the case when interest rates are at record low levels.

“Lenders and mortgage brokers must also ensure that consumers are being provided with the home loan product that meets their needs.

“Lenders and mortgage brokers need to think twice before recommending that a consumer obtain a more expensive interest-only loan.

He said ASIC would soon start checking to identify lenders and mortgage brokers who were recommending high numbers of more expensive interest-only loans.

“Data will be gathered using ASIC’s compulsory information-gathering powers from large banks, other banks, mutual banks and non-bank lenders.

“In an environment where many interest-only loans are now clearly more expensive than principal-and-interest loans, lenders and mortgage brokers must carefully consider the implications of providing borrowers with interest-only loans.

“While interest-only loans may be a reasonable option for some borrowers, for the vast majority of owner-occupiers in particular, an interest-only loan will not make sense.’’