Bank Holidays – Australia 2014

Holidays observed in Australia and bank offices of Australian Banks in Beijing, London and New York during 2014:

1-Jan New Year’s Day All States and Territories, London, New York, China
20-Jan Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York
26-Jan Australia Day All States and Territories
27-Jan Australia Day All States and Territories
(in lieu of Sunday, 26 January)
31-Jan Chinese Spring Festival China
3–4 February Chinese Spring Festival China
17-Feb Washington’s Birthday New York
3-Mar Labour Day Western Australia
10-Mar Adelaide Cup Day South Australia
Canberra Day Australian Capital Territory
Labour Day Victoria
Eight Hours Day Tasmania
18-Apr Good Friday All States and Territories, London, China
19-Apr Easter Saturday All States and Territories (except Tasmania, Western Australia)
20-Apr Easter Sunday New South Wales only
21-Apr Easter Monday All States and Territories, London, China
22-Apr Easter Tuesday Tasmania (not a state-wide public holiday)
25-Apr Anzac Day All States and Territories
1-May Labour Day China
5-May May Day Northern Territory
Early May Bank Holiday London
26-May Spring Bank Holiday London
Memorial Day New York
2-Jun Western Australia Day Western Australia
Dragon Boat Festival China
9-Jun Queen’s Birthday Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland
Queen’s Birthday/ South Australia
Volunteer’s Day
4-Jul Independence Day New York
4-Aug Bank Holiday New South Wales (not a state-wide public holiday), Australian Capital Territory
Picnic Day Northern Territory
13-Aug Royal Queensland Show Day Queensland (Brisbane area only)
25-Aug Summer Bank Holiday London
1-Sep Labor Day New York
29-Sep Queen’s Birthday Western Australia
Family & Community Day Australian Capital Territory
1–3 October Chinese National Day Holiday China
6-Oct Labour Day Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia
13-Oct Columbus Day New York
4-Nov Melbourne Cup Day Victoria (Melbourne metropolitan area only)
11-Nov Veterans Day New York
14-Nov G20 Holiday Queensland (Brisbane City Council area only)
27-Nov Thanksgiving Day New York
24-Dec Christmas Eve South Australia (part-day public holiday from 7.00 pm until 12 midnight)
Beijing Embassy Holiday China
25-Dec Christmas Day All States and Territories, London, New York, China
26-Dec Boxing Day All States and Territories (excluding South Australia), London, China
Proclamation Day South Australia
31-Dec New Year’s Eve South Australia (part-day public holiday from 7.00 pm until 12 midnight)

Reserve Bank kept Cash Rate at 2.5 percent

At its meeting today, the RBA Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 2.5 per cent.

Growth in the global economy is continuing at a moderate pace, helped by firmer conditions in the advanced countries. China’s growth slowed a little earlier in the year but remains generally in line with policymakers’ objectives. Commodity prices in historical terms remain high, but some of those important to Australia have declined.

Financial conditions overall remain very accommodative. Long-term interest rates and risk spreads remain low. Emerging market economies are once again receiving capital inflows. Volatility in many financial prices is currently unusually low. Markets appear to be attaching a very low probability to any rise in global interest rates over the period ahead.

In Australia, recent data indicate somewhat firmer growth around the turn of the year, but this resulted mainly from very strong increases in resource exports as new capacity came on stream; smaller increases in such exports are likely in coming quarters. Moderate growth has been occurring in consumer demand. A strong expansion in housing construction is now under way. At the same time, resources sector investment spending is starting to decline significantly. Signs of improvement in investment intentions in some other sectors are emerging, but these plans remain tentative as firms wait for more evidence of improved conditions before committing to significant expansion. Public spending is scheduled to be subdued. Overall, the Bank still expects growth to be a little below trend over the year ahead.

There has been some improvement in indicators for the labour market in recent months, but it will probably be some time yet before unemployment declines consistently. Growth in wages has declined noticeably. If these and other domestic costs remain contained, inflation should remain consistent with the target over the next one to two years, even with lower levels of the exchange rate.

Monetary policy remains accommodative. Interest rates are very low and for some borrowers have edged lower over recent months. Savers continue to look for higher returns in response to low rates on safe instruments. Credit growth has picked up a little, including most recently to businesses. Dwelling prices have increased significantly over the past year, though there have been some signs of a moderation in the pace of increase recently. The exchange rate remains high by historical standards, particularly given the declines in key commodity prices, and hence is offering less assistance than it might in achieving balanced growth in the economy.

Looking ahead, continued accommodative monetary policy should provide support to demand and help growth to strengthen over time. Inflation is expected to be consistent with the 2–3 per cent target over the next two years.

In the Board’s judgement, monetary policy is appropriately configured to foster sustainable growth in demand and inflation outcomes consistent with the target. On present indications, the most prudent course is likely to be a period of stability in interest rates.

Source: Reserve Bank of Australia

Trends in Consumer Payments in Australia – June 2014

The Reserve Bank of Australia conducted third Survey of Consumers’ Use of Payment Methods in November 2013. The survey used a diary and end-of-survey questionnaire to collect data on the use of cash, cards and a range of other payment methods, both at the point of sale and via remote channels (online, mail and telephone). The consolidated results of the survey was published by RBA in paper in June 2014. Complete paper can be downloaded here.

Following are the key trends highlighted by the consumer payments survey –

  • The 2013 data show that cash and cheque use has continued to fall. However, cash remains a key payment method, particularly for lower value payments and for older or lower-income respondents
  • The use of cards has risen significantly, and there has also been an increase in the use of PayPal.
  • The growth in the use of cards and the reduction in cash use are evident across households in all age and household income groups.
  • The strong growth in remote payments is one contributor to the observed change in the use of cash and cards.
  • The main contribution is from the increased use of cards at the point of sale, which is likely to reflect both growth in the availability of card terminals at merchants and changing consumer preferences as authentication methods have evolved.
  • In particular, the paper find some indication that the adoption of contactless technology, which lowers the tender time of card payments at the point of sale, may have increased card use.

The paper presents detailed information about the use of contactless card and smartphone payments by demographic group and payment type. It also provides an update on the payment of surcharges on card payments, including information about the value of card surcharges that were paid by consumers, and the payment of ATM fees.

Role of Reserve Bank in Australian Payments System

A safe and efficient payments system is essential to support the day-to-day business of the Australian economy and to settle transactions in its financial markets. Accordingly, the Reserve Bank of Australia has important regulatory responsibilities for the payments system and plays a key role in its operations.

The Payments System Board (PSB) of the Reserve Bank oversees the payments system in Australia. It is responsible for promoting the safety and efficiency of the payments system and through the Payment Systems (Regulation) Act 1998 and the Payment Systems and Netting Act 1998, the Reserve Bank has one of the clearest and strongest mandates in the world in relation to payments systems.

The Reserve Bank’s responsibilities for stability build on the long history of central banks’ involvement in this area. The introduction of real-time gross settlement (RTGS) in 1998 eliminated the build-up of settlement exposures between financial institutions as a result of the exchange of high-value payments and transactions in debt securities. In 2002, Continuous Linked Settlement (CLS) joined Australia’s RTGS system, allowing foreign exchange transactions involving the Australian dollar to be settled through CLS. The Reserve Bank, and other central banks whose currencies are settled through the CLS arrangements undertake cooperative oversight of CLS under an agreed protocol.

Under Part 7.3 of the Corporations Act 2001, the Reserve Bank has a formal regulatory role to ensure that the infrastructure supporting the clearing and settlement of transactions in financial markets is operated in a way that promotes financial stability. The Bank’s powers under that Part include the power to determine financial stability standards for licenced clearing and settlement facilities. The Reserve Bank implemented revised financial stability standards for central counterparties and securities settlement facilities in 2013. The Standards seek to ensure that clearing and settlement facilities identify and properly control risks associated with their operations, thereby promoting the stability of the Australian financial system. The Standards replaced previous standards determined in 2003 to incorporate changes to international standards for clearing and settlement facilities. The Standards for securities settlement facilities apply only to facilities that settle obligations in excess of $200 million in a financial year. This ensures that the Standards apply only to securities settlement facilities that could potentially pose a risk to the stability of the financial system, exempting small systems from unnecessary regulation.

Australia was among the first countries in the world to make efficiency of payment systems a statutory objective of the central bank. In pursuit of this mandate, the Reserve Bank has encouraged a reduction in cheque-clearing times and the take-up of direct debits as a means of bill payment, and taken a number of steps to improve the competitiveness and efficiency of card systems. Initially the latter focus was on credit card systems. In 2001, the Bank designated the Bankcard, MasterCard and Visa credit card systems as payment systems under the Payment Systems (Regulation) Act. Designation is the first step in the possible establishment of standards and/or an access regime for a payment system. After extensive consultation, the Bank determined Standards for the designated schemes which lowered interchange fees and removed restrictions on merchants charging customers for the use of credit cards, and imposed an Access Regime which facilitates entry by new players.

The interchange fee Standard requires the fees paid by transaction acquiring institutions to card issuing institutions to be no higher, on a weighted-average basis, than a cost-based benchmark. Initially separate benchmarks were calculated for each scheme but, in 2006, the Standard was amended to provide for the calculation of a common benchmark to cover both the MasterCard and Visa schemes. The amended Standard does not apply to the Bankcard scheme, which was closed at the beginning of 2007. The common benchmark applying from 1 November 2006 is 0.50 per cent. This compares with the average benchmark interchange fee for the preceding three years of a little under 0.55 per cent.

Under the Standard on merchant pricing, merchants are permitted to impose a charge on customers who pay with credit cards. Previously, the rules of the MasterCard and Visa schemes prohibited such charges. American Express and Diners Club have agreed voluntarily that merchants can impose charges on customers who pay with their cards. American Express has also agreed to amend its contracts with merchants to allow them to encourage their customers to pay with another card or payment method. The Board decided in May 2012 to vary the standards relating to merchant surcharging to allow the card schemes to limit surcharges to the reasonable cost of acceptance. The decision to vary the Standards reflected the Board’s concerns about the increase in cases where surcharges appear to be well in excess of acceptance costs or where surcharges are ‘blended’ across card schemes or products even though merchants’ acceptance costs may be considerably higher for some cards than others. The varied Standards came into effect on 18 March 2013.

The introduction of Access Regimes has allowed specialist credit card institutions (SCCIs), authorised and supervised by APRA, to apply to participate in the credit card schemes, as issuers or acquirers. Formerly, the scheme rules required that participants be deposit taking institutions authorised by APRA.

In 2004, the Reserve Bank designated the Visa Debit system and the EFTPOS debit card system as payment systems under the Payment Systems (Regulation) Act 1998. After extensive consultation, the Bank determined Standards for the setting of interchange fees for both systems, and the removal of the ‘honour all cards’ rule in the Visa system. It also determined an Access Regime for the EFTPOS and Visa Debit systems.

Under the current Visa Debit and eftpos interchange fee standards, weighted-average multilateral interchange fees in each of these systems are required to be less than 12 cents per transaction (paid to the issuer), with compliance points on 1 November every three years after 2006 or any time the scheme varies its interchange fee schedule. Bilaterally-negotiated interchange fees in the eftpos systems are required to be less than 12 cents per transaction. These eftpos interchange fee benchmarks replaced earlier requirements which required bilateral interchange fees in the eftpos system to be between 4 and 5 cents per transaction (paid to the acquirer).

The ‘honour all cards’ Standard requires the removal of the requirement that merchants accepting Visa credit cards also accept Visa Debit cards. It also requires that Visa Debit cards be identified both visually and electronically to allow merchants to decline acceptance if they so choose.

The EFTPOS Access Regime is relatively limited in nature. It was designed to complement an Access Code, developed voluntarily by the industry, which addresses most of the aspects of access to the EFTPOS system. The Access Regime sets a cap on the price that an existing participant can charge an entrant seeking to establish a connection and sets out provisions that will ensure that negotiations over interchange fees are not used to frustrate entry. The Visa Debit Access Regime is similar to that for the Visa credit card scheme, allowing the eligibility for participation of SCCIs.

During the course of the development of these reforms, a MasterCard-branded debit card was released in Australia. The RBA indicated that this new scheme debit system would be subject to the same requirements as the Visa Debit system. Both schemes were given the opportunity to voluntarily comply with the reforms. MasterCard provided an undertaking to this effect, but it was necessary for the Bank to formally impose the interchange Standard and the ‘honour all cards’ Standard on the Visa Debit system.

In 2008, the Reserve Bank designated the ATM system as a payment system under the Payment Systems (Regulation) Act. After extensive consultation, the Bank determined an Access Regime for the ATM system which supported complementary industry-based reforms. The Access Regime sets a cap on the connection cost that can be charged to new entrants to the ATM system and prohibits the charging of interchange fees except in specific circumstances. It also includes a prohibition on the charging of fees for establishing direct clearing/settlement arrangements and allows the Bank to exempt certain arrangements from compliance with aspects of the Regime where this is in the public interest.

The ATM reforms, which came into effect on 3 March 2009, were designed to: make the cost of cash withdrawals more transparent to cardholders and place downward pressure on the cost of ATM withdrawals; help to ensure continued widespread availability of ATMs by creating incentives to deploy them in a wide variety of locations, providing consumers with choice and convenience; promote competition between financial institutions; and make access less complicated for new entrants, and therefore strengthen competition. The reforms have resulted in customers now being charged directly for withdrawals by the ATM owner and the elimination of ‘foreign’ ATM fees.

The Bank consults closely with participants in the payments industry. Bank officers represent the Bank on a number of formal industry committees responsible for the day-to-day management of payments clearing systems and are engaged regularly in informal meetings with industry representatives and other regulators.

The Reserve Bank is a member of a number of international groups focusing on payments. It has contributed to work undertaken by the Bank for International Settlements on Core Principles for Systemically Important Payment Systems: foreign exchange settlement risk; retail payments and their clearing and settlement systems; and securities settlement systems, see Disclosure Framework for Securities Settlement Systems. The Bank is also represented on the EMEAP Working Group on Payment and Settlement Systems which, amongst other publications, has produced a guide to payment systems in East Asia and the Pacific: Payment Systems in EMEAP Economies.

Detail on the structure and operations of the Australian payments system can be found in Payment Systems in Australia (Red Book) and the activities of the Bank’s Payments System Board are reported in its Annual Reports.