15 November 2023

Address to the Customer Owned Banking Association


I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.  

Thank you to the Customer Owned Banking Association for the opportunity to speak to you this morning.

Customer‑owned banks have a unique role in our economy, and one that is valued and respected by the government. As I’m sure you all regularly point out, five million Australians rely on mutuals, credit unions and building societies for their banking needs.

Customer‑owned banks have unique qualities that can make a real difference to customers. They are often locally‑run, and accordingly are able to provide a more localised, personal touch with customers, especially in regional areas. Many of them are keeping their branches open, even as others in country towns close their doors and take their business online.

The challenge of scams

But of course, customer‑owned banks also face some unique challenges.

Technology is becoming more sophisticated, and so too are the people who want to do harm in our economy.

This issue particularly starts to bite when it comes to scams.

It’s possible that some scam operations that are now targeting Australians could be more sophisticated, and better resourced than some Australian banks.

Of course that’s not a reflection on any bank, it’s just worth confronting exactly what we’re up against – highly sophisticated, organised crime.

The government’s fightback

After years of being left to fend for themselves, Australians finally have a government that recognises the scale of the scam problem, and that is taking up the fight.

In the budget, we announced an $86.5 million package to take on the scammers and protect Australians.

At the heart of it was $58 million to establish the National Anti‑Scam Centre, to bring together the best expertise and resources across government agencies, law enforcement and the private sector.  

The NASC’s first fusion cell, targeting investment scams, is at work right now, harnessing and sharing knowledge and disrupting scammers in the act.

Meanwhile, ASIC’s takedown service has snuffed out more than 2,500 investment scam websites and counting.

And the SMS register being set up by my colleague Michelle Rowland will give Australians confidence that texts they receive are really from who they say they are from.

Estimates tell us that Australians lost $3 billion to scams last year. And as awareness spreads, and people know that they have a place to report, we expect that reported numbers will go up some more before it starts to go down.

But for the first time, the fight is on.

The way forward

The banking industry has a huge role in all of this. Nobody with an interest in fighting scams can do it alone –not the government, not the banks, not digital platforms, not telcos, and not consumers.

I have heard plenty of stories of customer‑owned banks doing their bit.

There is the work Qudos is doing to raise awareness with their customers, and the investments they have made in digital ID and transaction monitoring.

There is Orange Credit Union, making a real difference for their members with Anti‑Scams forums in their local area.

And there is Beyond Bank, holding similar sessions, with bank staff out in the world, talking face to face with local customers.

This work matters.

I know it firsthand. This year I’ve run dozens of my own anti‑scams forums, in community halls and auditoriums all over the country, and every time I do there is a big turnout, and there are lots of questions, and there are notes being taken and heads being nodded.

Australians are spooked about scams, and they want to know how to protect themselves. Customer‑owned banks are uniquely placed to provide that support.

Both the government and the banks have a lot more work to do, and most of it needs to be done together.

The government will soon begin consultation on tough new obligations for banks, telcos and social media platforms.

We will set a high bar, but we will make clear where that bar is. Without codes, the line between the customer’s obligation and the bank’s obligation will never be clear.

We know that there are concerns about the ability of smaller banks to meet these obligations, and that is why we want to consult.

We want to hear the unique voice of customer‑owned banks.

We are realistic. We know that the banks represented in this room don’t have millions and millions of dollars to spend on gold plated IT systems and scam prevention software. We know you might need more time to get up to speed.

But we are also determined.

There can be no weak spots in our fight against scams.

If one part of our defence is weak, that part will become a target, and we will have succeeded only in shifting the problem from one part of the system to another. 

So there are two things we need you to focus on.

The first is the industry code for the banks. There are plenty of options for the sort of obligations that could apply, and that we will consult on, including:

  • obligations to have anti‑scam business plans in place;
  • stricter authentication requirements for bank account applicants, customers and payees;
  • methods to detect high‑risk transactions and provide appropriate holds or warnings to customers; and
  • procedures for consumers to quickly report and be notified of suspicious transactions or compromised accounts.

For a code to work, it needs to be responsive to changes in the ecosystem. It needs to be clear, it needs to complement the work happening in other parts of the scams ecosystem, and it needs to support collaboration.

It is in all our interests to work together and get this right.

The second thing I want you to focus on is mule accounts – accounts that are fraudulently used as a funnel for stolen money.

Sometimes, the account holder doesn’t even know their account is being used as a mule. Other times, they’ve sold their account to a scammer.

Either way, it’s a danger to the system.

It’s an issue that crosses multiple industries and multiple government portfolios, but it’s something we have to address, and something we in particular need to help customer‑owned banks to address.

We need to help you focus on them, and shut them down.


Beyond all of this, we will keep pushing the key messages about scam awareness and scam prevention.

I will keep running my forums around the country and talking to local people, and I trust the banks in this room will keep putting their local knowledge and their insights to work as well to keep the momentum going.

The government I am part of will not stop pushing. Too much money has already been lost, and too many people are already suffering, because of the scam spiral of the last decade.

We owe it to every Australian to fight these scammers, and fight them hard.

The spiral must stop with us.

Thank you very much.