Trail commissions may lead to "poor customer outcomes," – CBA chief

The bank "would support elevated controls and measures" on mortgage incentives, says outgoing CEO in 2017 letter

Trail commissions may lead to "poor customer outcomes," – CBA chief



A senior manager of the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) has admitted that upfront and trailing commissions for mortgage brokers can lead to poor customer outcomes.

During his 15 March testimony before the Royal Commission, executive general manager of home buying Daniel Huggins said the commission structure is linked to the size of the loan. The longer loan takes to pay off, the larger the trailing commission will be. “[T]hat can lead to a conflict – well, there is a conflict between – between the customer, you know, and – and the broker,” he added.

Huggins confirmed to Senior Counsel Assisting Rowena Orr that brokers can maximise their income by getting the largest possible loan approved to extend over the longest period of time for the customer to repay.

The bank knew about this as early as February 2017, according to a confidential letter by outgoing CBA CEO Ian Narev to Stephen Sedgwick, who was the independent reviewer for the Retail Banking Remuneration Review back then. Orr presented the confidential letter during the hearing.

“We agree with the reviewer’s observations that while brokers provide a service that many potential mortgagees value, the use of loan size linked with upfront and trailing commissions for third parties can potentially lead to poor customer outcomes,” said Narev in the letter.

“We would support elevated controls and measures on incentives relates to mortgages that are consistent with their importance and the nature of the guidance that is provided,” Narev added. These initiatives include delinking of incentives from the value of the loan across the industry, and the potential extension of regulations such as future and financial advice to mortgages in retail banking.

Another CBA submission attached to Narev’s letter said that broker loans are reliably associated with higher leverage compared to those applied through proprietary channels. “[E]ven for customers with an identical estimate of ex ante risk, loans through the broker channel have higher leverage… [and] loans written through the broker channel have a higher incidents of interest only repayments,” it added.

Huggins agreed with Orr that CBA’s submission lends some support to the case for discontinuing the practice of volume-based commissions for third parties. But he said there are a range of considerations that the bank would have to make.

“There is a first mover problem, in that the person who moved first would likely lose a lot of volume. The second problem is you create a conflict if one person, or half of the people move, and the other half don’t,” Huggins said.

According to Huggins, CBA has not stopped paying volume based commissions to brokers. He also confirmed the lender has not taken any steps towards ceasing its practice.

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