ANZ New Zealand has reached a "negotiated settlement" with the Fair Play on Fees group that launched legal action on behalf of some of the bank's customers in 2013 over alleged excessive fees.
"On 29 September 2016, Fair Play on Fees and ANZ reached a negotiated settlement of the representative action relating to certain fees with ANZ making a contribution to Fair Play on Fees’ costs. ANZ does not admit any liability and all claims against it will be withdrawn. Details of the settlement are otherwise confidential," a brief press release issued by law firm Bell Gully, on behalf of both Fair Play on Fees and ANZ, said.
The release made no mention of any payout for the thousands of ANZ customers who signed up to Fair Play on Fees' representative legal action. Both an ANZ spokesman and Fair Play on Fees' Andrew Hooker said they couldn't comment beyond the Bell Gully statement. At one point Fair Play on Fees said it had signed up 14,700 ANZ customers to the case.
News of the settlement comes after the Australian High Court, that country's highest court, ruled in favour of ANZ in two appeals over fees in July. Although the Australian case was a separate case, and brought against ANZ Australia by a different group to the New Zealand case, Fair Play on Fees' cases against ANZ NZ, Kiwibank, BNZ and Westpac NZ had been stayed pending the outcome of the Australian appeals.
The ANZ-Fair Play on Fees settlement begs the question as to whether the cases taken against the other NZ banks will also be settled. Hooker wouldn't comment.
A Kiwibank spokesman said his bank had no comment "as issues involving Fair Play On Fees and Kiwibank are still before the court." A Westpac NZ spokeswoman said, "We haven’t heard from them for some time. As we have always said, any customers who have queries should contact us direct."
And a BNZ spokesman said, "At this stage we don’t have any further update other than what is in our most recent disclosure statement that the proceedings relevant to BNZ are currently stayed and that the potential outcome of these proceedings cannot be determined with any certainty at this stage."
Fair Play on Fees consists of Australian funder Litigation Lending Services, New Zealand lawyer Andrew Hooker and Australian law firm Slater & Gordon. Penalty, or exception, fees in dispute between Fair Play on Fees and the banks included credit card late payment fees, unarranged overdrafts (account out of order fees), rejected payments on deposit accounts (dishonour fees), and exceeding credit limit (over limit fees).
Fair Play on Fees' action against the banks kicked off in March 2013, with cases ultimately filed against ANZ NZ, Kiwibank, Westpac NZ and BNZ on behalf of thousands of their customers. The group also pledged to sue ASB but never did so.
Fair Play on Fees described the legal action against the banks as the biggest class action in NZ history, and claimed in 2013 that the "excessive" fees in dispute added up to about $1 billion over six years. In 2013 Litigation Lending Services, which stood to receive 25% of any winnings obtained through the legal action, estimated its costs at $3 million to $4 million.
Bell Gully represented ANZ in the case.