During the past weeks, at least 17 Australian Bitcoin companies received official letters from Westpac Banking Corporation and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, informing them that their accounts would be closed without any further explanation.
Amongst the companies affected by this move are the exchanges BitTrade and Buyabitcoin. BitTrade’s founder, Ron Tucker (who also serves as chairman of the The Australian Digital Currency Commerce Association) spoke to the Australian Financial Review about how banking institutions hadn’t been forthcoming with their reasons or any possibilities of an appeal process:
“Our members have been unable to obtain any formal clarification on the reasons for closure, except for references to policy or risk. Just what policies or risks these are have not been specified, … The industry is more than happy to talk to the banks about their concerns. However, neither the association nor its members have been given the opportunity.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is set to begin an investigation into whether the closing of these accounts constitutes an unlawful practice by the banking institutions involved. The ACCC’s involvement was sparked due to the request of Senator Matthew Canavan who expressed his skepticism about the bank’s motives:
“It appears to me to be an amazing coincidence that a number of large banks have all of a sudden decided to deny services to fledgling Bitcoin and digital currency operators, … They are clearly competitors to their business model, albeit small ones at this stage, and there are clear laws that we’ve got against businesses refusing to supply other businesses if they do so for an anti-competitive purpose.”
Senator Sam Dastyari echoed the calls for an inquiry, suggesting that banks were abusing their positions by refusing to deal with these small traders. The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) shared several complaints it had received from small-time Bitcoin traders who had been blacklisted from a number of national banks due to the nature of their business.
The banks involved in this alleged discrimination against Bitcoin include the Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac, Bank SA, St George, Bank of Melbourne, Bank of Queensland, Rams and BT Superfund.
The Australia Banker’s Association has apparently been in touch the Bitcoin Association of Australia during the past few days in order to let them know they were looking into ways to re-establish services for Bitcoin traders in the future.