Law firm Maurice Blackburn has produced a range of documents obtained from the ANZ bank, which it says shows the bank was using unfair customer fees to prop up its profits.
It is part of a broader action against a total of eight banks, on behalf of 185,000 customers.
On the first day of a three-week trial involving ANZ at the Federal Court in Melbourne, Maurice Blackburn produced a range of documents the firm says must have been considered by the “top echelons of the bank”.
Most of the documents were obtained through the discovery process of the court, with some accessed through Maurice Blackburn’s research.
Senior counsel Michael Lee told court on Monday that the documents show the bank’s fee structure was designed to boost profits.
He said a 2009 document showed the bank was concerned that if it had to drop its fees, it would lose profits.
He told the court the document suggested the bank would need to “focus on a strategy to cover a revenue gap” in the event that it dropped its fees.
Speaking outside court, Andrew Watson from Maurice Blackburn said the internal documents showed two things.
“They show that at no stage was ANZ under any illusions that these fees were just covering costs, right throughout the history of those documents, there are constant references to the fact that if they were limited to just recovering costs, it would have a significant impact on profit,” he said.
“And the second thing they show is that when the fees were dropped in 2009, that was an exercise in trying to get around legislative changes, but that the intention of ANZ was to continue making a profit out of these fees.”
The documents cover a period of time between 2006 and 2009.
Another internal policy documents referred to in court was in relation to a management board meeting.
Mr Watson says it was clear from that document what the objective of management was.
“There was reference today in court to a management board meeting, where it was stated that the objective was to charge the highest fees possible,” he said.
“The documents go to management board level, so they go to the highest levels of the bank.
“The bank’s intention, right throughout, it’s clear, was to use these fees to make profit, it wasn’t aimed just at recovering cost, the fees bear no relationship to the cost, what they are is a way of making substantial profits.
“Indeed the evidence shows that these were a significant contributor to the profits of the transaction banking business.
“They were a significant portion of the transaction banking business, the precise proportion seems to vary a bit depending on which of the documents you refer to.
“Some of the documents seem to suggest around a half, but as I say it seems to vary a bit depending on which document you refer to.”
ANZ is not commenting on the trial, and is yet to make its opening submission, but a spokesman says the bank will vigorously defend itself.