Two of Australia’s “Big Four” banks — National Australia Bank and Westpac — have hit back at criticism they are suppressing competition by refusing to do business with cryptocurrency providers in the country, according to a report.

Fast facts

  • While neither of the banks have formal policies excluding crypto businesses, NAB chief executive Ross McEwan told a parliamentary hearing they choose not to service them and would only do so if they could manage the risks and if they were profitable. “We have to look at where does cryptocurrency go, along with … the reserve bank and regulators. And what’s the risk inside the bank of dealing with cryptocurrency providers as well.”
  • The banks were responding to testimony to a parliamentary hearing by global payments unicorn Nium, which said Australia is the only country of the 40 where it operates that it has had bank accounts shut down without explanation, as reported by the Australian Financial Review. Crypto exchanges have also felt the sting in the country, as Michaela Juric of Bitcoin exchange Bitcoin Babe told the same hearing she has been “debanked” 91 times in the country — including by all of the nation’s biggest four banks.
  • “We hold an exemplary compliance record in Australia, yet we have still been de-banked,” Nium’s Asia Pacific consumer head Michael Minassian told a Senate hearing.  
  • Debanking of crypto-related businesses is a central issue being examined by Australia’s Senate Select Committee on Australia as a Technology and Financial Centre, which seeks to re-evaluate the country’s existing crypto regulatory infrastructure. Speaking with Forkast.News previously in relation to debanking, Michael Bacina, partner at Piper Alderman, who also sits on the board of Blockchain Australia, said banks in Australia have moved into an “incredibly powerful position.”
  • “At what point do citizens’ ability to spend their own money on businesses and products that they would like face a barrier from banks deciding who they should be allowed to spend their money with,” Bacina said.
  • Amid these ongoing hearings, the Australia Securities and Investment Commission has issued a warning to investors against investing in crypto-asset financial products through unlicensed entities. The timing and the wording of the warning caused some confusion in the country where crypto exchanges are not required to be licensed as they are not considered to be offering a financial product by the regulatory body.
  • A recent report by aggregation firm states that one in six Australians own cryptocurrency — one of the highest rates in the world.