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Comm Bank gets green light to buy Count Financial

THE Commonwealth Bank has been given the green light to forge ahead with its $373 million acquisition of Count Financial, one of the biggest networks of financial planners, after the competition watchdog found the move would be unlikely to "substantially" reduce competition.

THE Commonwealth Bank has been given the green light to forge ahead with its $373 million acquisition of Count Financial, one of the biggest networks of financial planners, after the competition watchdog found the move would be unlikely to "substantially" reduce competition.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission cleared the way yesterday for Commonwealth to become the first bank to take advantage of reforms - still being steered by the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten - which aim to remove conflicts in the industry and make financial advice more transparent.

There are concerns the reforms will lead to a slew of mergers among small-end players in the financial advice industry.

The bank is now free to take control of Count's near 18 per cent stake in Mortgage Choice, the country's largest finance broking network, and its near 8 per cent stake in advisory firm DKN Holdings. The acquisition has been endorsed by Count's board.

It is the first major deal by a bank since NAB was barred from making a $13.3 billion move on wealth manager AXA Asia-Pacific.

The head of wealth management at Commonwealth Bank, Annabel Spring, said in a statement the bank intended to run the planning network on a "stand-alone basis".

Rod Sims, the new chairman of the ACCC, said the deal would increase Commonwealth Bank's presence in the financial planning and mortgage referral markets, but he was confident it would "continue to be constrained by a number of other significant financial planning dealer groups, mortgage broking firms and investment product suppliers". He found the takeover would not raise "significant competition concerns" in life insurance or superannuation. It is expected the deal will boost the bank's adviser numbers from 1220 to more than 1850.


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