The Big Four Banks: The Complete Guide (2024)

Australia holds the fourth‑largest pool of investment fund assets in the world and also the largest in Asia. A key factor contributing to the strength and stability of the country’s financial system, even in turbulent times such as the global financial crisis, has been the preeminence of its Big Four banks.

The Big Four dominate Australia’s financial landscape, with combined assets at the end of 2023 worth more than $3.85 trillion—that’s more than double the size of the country’s economic output. Many Australians directly own shares in these banks, while most others have indirect stakes through their superannuation funds.

How the Big Four Became the Big Four

Each of the Big Four banks—Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, National Australia Bank, and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ)—have a lengthy history, starting life at a local level and then gradually increasing market share by swallowing up smaller rivals during periods of financial turmoil.

The deregulation of the banking sector several decades ago also increased their share of the financial system from around 50% in the early 1980s to around 80% at present.

In 1990, then Labor treasurer Paul Keating introduced the ‘four pillars policy’ under which the government pledged to reject mergers between the big four banks in order to preserve a level of competition. However, that has done little to prevent the takeover of smaller players.


Once publicly owned, Commonwealth Bank is the youngest of the big four banks, founded by the Australian government in 1911. It initially acquired the State Savings Bank of Tasmania in 1912, then over the decades took over other state banks in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria and New Zealand, before being fully privatised in 1996. It has since acquired BankWest during the 2008 GFC, as well as financial services firm Colonial and Aussie Home Loans to become the country’s biggest bank today.

The deregulation of the banking sector several decades ago also increased their share of the financial system from around 50% in the early 1980s to around 80% at present


Westpac is Australia’s oldest bank, starting life in 1817 under the name of Bank of New South Wales. It was renamed Westpac after acquiring the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1981 followed by smaller deals. Its status as Australia’s second-largest bank was cemented by a mega-merger with St George Bank during the global financial crisis in 2008.


It was formed in 1982 through the merger of two century-old banks—the National Bank of Australasia and Commercial Banking Company of Sydney. Since then, NAB has acquired and divested banking businesses in the UK and US, as well as financial services firm MLC, and taken over the Bank of New Zealand.


ANZ traces its history to the Bank of Australasia, founded in London in 1835, which merged with Union Bank of Australia in 1951 to form the Australia and New Zealand Bank. It took over the English, Scottish & Australian Bank in 1970 to form the present day Australia & New Zealand Banking Group. Since then ANZ has acquired several smaller players including Bank of Adelaide, Grindlays Bank and New Zealand’s PostBank.

The country’s fourth-largest bank is set to get bigger after the Australian Competition Tribunal this week overturned a decision by the competition regulator, allowing ANZ’s $4.9 billion takeover of Suncorp’s banking arm.

Comparing Australia’s Banking System

Australia’s four major banks are counted among the world’s largest banks by market capitalisation and also rank in the top 25 globally for the safest banks. They are also some of the most profitable in the world.

As the Big Four continue to rake in profits and get bigger, they have increased market dominance and made it harder for smaller banks to compete in the already consolidated industry.

The Big Four account for roughly 75% of market share in Australia’s banking sector. While this concentration is not unique internationally, it is certainly much higher than in many other developed countries.

Some countries where the top five banks account for more than three-fourths of the market include Canada and Sweden. However, among other developed economies, the top five banks only account for roughly 40% market share in Germany, the US and UK, and around 50% in France and Japan.

The impact of this concentration has been heightened in the case of Australian banks because of their focus on mortgage lending, which generally tends to be more profitable than other forms of lending. A two-decade boom in property prices has resulted in Australia’s banks having more exposure to real estate than their counterparts in other countries.

While mortgages account for more than 60% of all bank lending in Australia, this proportion ranges between 20% and 35% in other developed markets like the US, UK and Germany.

Big Four Profits

Australia’s major banks have been an investor-favourite for years because of their strong profitability and the hefty dividends they generate.

The Big Four banks delivered a record full-year profit of nearly $32.5 billion in FY2023, a 12.4% improvement over the previous financial year. The Commonwealth Bank accounted for the largest share of this windfall at $10.2 billion, followed by NAB at $7.7 billion, ANZ with $7.4 billion and Westpac at $7.2 billion.

The biggest contributor to surging profits was an increase in their margin on loans. The ‘net interest margin’— which is the difference between the interest rate banks pay for money and what they receive on lending that money—has expanded steadily as the Reserve Bank lifted interest rates over the past 18 months to an 11-year high of 4.35%.

According to RBA data on bank profitability, the Big Four banks averaged aggregate half-year profits around $15 billion over the last two years. By comparison, smaller Australian banks have aggregated six-monthly profits of around $2.25 billion over the same period.

Analysts say smaller regional banks are typically unable to compete with the Big Four, mostly because they can only access more expensive funding and have smaller marketing budgets. While bigger banks generate returns on equity above their cost of capital, smaller banks face a funding and operating cost disadvantage.

To get a sense of the funding handicap, consider the vast difference in household deposits held by major and smaller Australian banks at the end of FY22.

Household Deposits Held*

BankAmount Held
CBA$384.79 billion
Westpac$298.03 billion
NAB$200.24 billion
ANZ$170.42 billion
Macquarie Bank$60.34 billion
ING$49.22 billion
Bendigo & Adelaide Bank$43.89 billion
Suncorp$34.46 billion
Bank of Queensland$33.56 billion
*At end of FY22

Big Four Under Scrutiny

Australia’s four major banks have long faced allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and misconduct, particularly by their financial planning and wealth units. This has resulted in several investigations by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission as well as Senate inquiries over the years.

In 2017, the Australian government was forced to set up the Hayne Royal Commission to inquire into and report on misconduct in the banking, superannuation, and financial services industry. This followed revelations in the media of a widespread culture of greed and instances of money laundering.

The year-long inquiry found that Australia’s big banks and financial institutions had repeatedly broken the law and put profits before people. It made 24 referrals for misconduct involving potential civil and criminal penalties for CBA, NAB and ANZ. Australia’s financial intelligence watchdog later sued Westpac for more than 23 million breaches of money laundering and counter-terrorism laws.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who are the Big 4 banks in Australia?

Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, National Australia Bank, and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) are known as Australia’s Big Four banks by virtue of their market share and market value.

What is the strongest bank in Australia?

Commonwealth Bank of Australia was the largest Australian bank in the 2023 financial year, by value of total assets. It held assets worth 1,252 billion dollars.

What is the most secure bank in Australia ?

The Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital ratio compares a bank’s capital against its risk-weighted assets to determine its ability to withstand financial distress. APRA requires a CET1 ratio of 10.25% from the major banks. According to the latest set of financial results, the CET1 ratio for the Big Four banks at the end of 2023 was: CBA 12.3%, Westpac 12.3%, NAB 12% and ANZ 13.1%

The Big Four Banks: The Complete Guide (2024)


What are the 4 largest banks? ›

Biggest Banks in the U.S.
Rank by Asset SizeBank NameNumber of Branches
1.Chase Bank4,700
2.Bank of America3,900
3.Wells Fargo4,500
6 more rows
6 days ago

Which is the No 1 bank of USA? ›

JPMorgan Chase, or Chase Bank, is the biggest bank in America with nearly $3.4 trillion in assets. It boasts a vast network of over 4,800 physical branches and more than 15,000 ATMs. With generous bonuses and promotions and a variety of products, Chase is a popular choice for consumers across the country.

Which banks are the Big 4? ›

Looking to compare term deposits from the big four banks? Check out the current rates on offer from ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac. 4.70% p.a.

Can check cashing services help you build credit? ›

B Check cashing services DO NOT help you build credit.

What big 4 banks are too big to fail? ›

Companies Considered Too Big to Fail

Bank of America Corp. The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Citigroup Inc. The Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

What bank is in all 50 states? ›

What bank operates in all 50 states? No bank currently operates a branch location in all 50 states, though several of the nation's largest institutions come close. Chase Bank, for one, has over 4,700 branch locations in 49 states and Washington D.C. Wells Fargo also offers around 4,600 branches in 36 states.

What is the safest bank in us? ›

Summary: Safest Banks In The U.S. Of April 2024
BankForbes Advisor RatingLearn More
Chase Bank5.0Learn More Read Our Full Review
Bank of America4.2
Wells Fargo Bank4.0Learn More Read Our Full Review
1 more row
Jan 29, 2024

What is the most trusted bank in us? ›

Following one of the most successful years in United's long history, United Bank has been named the Most Trustworthy Bank in America by Newsweek for 2023.

What is the strongest bank in the United States? ›

List of largest banks in the United States
RankBank nameTotal assets (billions of US$)
1JPMorgan Chase$3,898
2Bank of America$3,153
4Wells Fargo$1,909
82 more rows

What is the best bank to use? ›

Best Banks of April 2024
  • Capital One 360 Checking: Best online checking account.
  • Chase Total Checking®: Best for a large branch network.
  • Axos Bank Rewards Checking: Best for online account options.
  • Discover® Bank: Best for doing all of your banking at one place.
  • Synchrony Bank: Best high-yield savings account.
Mar 27, 2024

Who owns Chase bank? ›

Chase is the U.S. consumer and commercial banking business of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), a leading global financial services firm with $2.6 trillion in assets and operations worldwide. Si tienes alguna pregunta, por favor llama o visita una sucursal local de Chase.

Which is richest bank in world? ›

Chinese Banks Keep on Growing
RankBankTotal Assets
1Industrial and Commercial Bank of China$5.7T
2China Construction Bank Corp$5.0T
3Agricultural Bank of China$4.9T
4Bank of China$4.2T
46 more rows
Mar 19, 2024

What is the maximum amount you should ever owe on a credit card with a $1000 credit limit? ›

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends keeping your credit utilization under 30%. If you have a card with a credit limit of $1,000, try to keep your balance below $300.

Do check cashing places report to IRS? ›

If you cash your paychecks, you generally don't have to worry about the IRS monitoring your check cashing location. But this doesn't mean that you can avoid paying what you owe.

What app will cash a check immediately? ›

The top instant check cashing apps without verification include Ingo Money, Brink's Money, PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, Chime, and Flare Account. These apps allow you to quickly cash checks by taking photos with your phone for deposit into bank accounts or prepaid cards.

Who are the 5 largest banks in the US? ›

The five largest banks in the U.S., according to domestic assets, are Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Citibank and U.S. Bank.

What are the 10 largest banks in the USA? ›

The nation's biggest banks include both traditional retail banks and investment banks. While Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citi stand out as big banks, U.S. Bank, PNC Bank, Goldman Sachs, Truist Bank, Capital One and TD Bank round out the 10 largest banks in the U.S.

What are the 5 biggest bank in the world? ›

The largest five banks by market capitalization are JP Morgan & Chase, Bank of America, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Wells Fargo, and China Construction Bank. The sixth through eighth largest banks, while smaller in market cap than the top five, are still significantly large.

What is the Big 6 bank? ›

The Big Six refers to the major banks of Canada. The list includes the TD, Royal Bank, the Bank of Montreal, Scotiabank, CIBC, and the National Bank. A Schedule II bank is a subsidiary of a foreign bank that is authorized to accept deposits within Canada and is regulated by the federal Bank Act.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kelle Weber

Last Updated:

Views: 6516

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (53 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kelle Weber

Birthday: 2000-08-05

Address: 6796 Juan Square, Markfort, MN 58988

Phone: +8215934114615

Job: Hospitality Director

Hobby: tabletop games, Foreign language learning, Leather crafting, Horseback riding, Swimming, Knapping, Handball

Introduction: My name is Kelle Weber, I am a magnificent, enchanting, fair, joyous, light, determined, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.