You know that bank you’ve seen on TV with the cool logo and the friendly ad? It might look like an energetic young challenger – but in reality it’s probably owned by one of the big four.

Even more important – it may not actually offer you a better deal.

As the major banks saw their trust evaporate and customers switch for better deals, they simply launched or bought out brands that seemed more friendly and caring. So beware!


So who owns what?


  • UBank, MLC, Bank of New Zealand – all owned by NAB


  • St George Bank, Bank of Melbourne, Bank SA, RAMS – owned by Westpac


  • Bankwest, Aussie, Colonial First State – owned by Commbank


  • Virgin Money, Investec Bank – owned by Bank of Queensland


(Finder summarises the history of mergers and acquisitions here.)


Why have so many brands?

A key reason behind this multi-brand approach is “there’s a good chunk of the population that, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to do business with a big bank”, as the head of Westpac’s Australian Financial Services division, Brian Hartzer told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2013.

Confusion marketing is a well known technique to confuse consumers. Having sub-brands out there does confuse customers into believing they’re banking with a local or independent bank, as a 2015 survey commissioned by the Customer Owned Banking Association showed. Only 52% of the 1,000 people surveyed realised that St George was owned by Westpac, and only 29% were aware that RAMS was owned by Westpac.

Those findings have led a number of smaller institutions like credit union CUA and People’s Choice credit union to call for more transparency around ownership of sub-brands.

It all comes down to the dollars

Emotional and institutional trust issues aside, the question is not so much about who owns your lender, but if they’re giving you a better deal. Does a sub-brand with a cheekier marketing approach save you money?

Doing the calculations on a $20,000 secured car loan using Finder, Westpac’s loan (comparison rate of 9.67%) will cost you $23,441 in repayments over three years, plus $432 in monthly service fees ($12 a month) and a $250 application fee.
Total = $24,123

Westpac-owned St George has a comparison rate that’s slightly lower at 9.6%, and a slightly lower application fee ($195), but the total payments still amount to $23,378 and you need to add on that same monthly service fee ($432 over three years), which makes a total of $24,005.
Total savings compared to Westpac = $118.

(Note that Westpac-owned Bank of Melbourne offers the same 9.6% comparison rate as St George, the same application fee and monthly fees as St George.)

Compare that to credit union CUA mentioned above. First up, its secured fixed car loan has no monthly service fee or application fee so expect to save $432 from the get-go. CUA’s loan has a comparative rate of 6.92% which translates to $22,162 in repayments over three years.
Total savings compared to Westpac = $1,632.

Of course you need to be eligible for the loans, and you need to check other fees, e.g., early repayment fees, dishonour fees and redraw fees, to make a proper comparison. But in that one small example you can see that a smaller-bank image doesn’t necessarily mean mate’s rates when it’s owned by a big-four bank.


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