Australian regulators say the country’s big financial institutions are taking too long to fully investigate possible systemic misconduct involving fees for financial advice that was not provided to clients.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issued an update on internal reviews by Australia’s major financial services firms (AMP, ANZ, CBA, Macquarie, NAB and Westpac) to uncover possible systemic “fees-for-no-service” failures at the firms.
ASIC said the firms are taking too long to complete these reviews, adding that it would welcome new enforcement powers to beef up its ability to speed up the banks’ future remediation efforts.
So far, the firms have collectively paid, or offered, approximately $350 million (all figures in Australian dollars) in compensation to customers who were charged fees for financial advice they didn’t receive. The firms have also set aside another $800 million for potential compensation for systemic failures that have yet to be fully assessed — reviews that remain incomplete.
“These reviews have been unreasonably delayed,” said ASIC commissioner Danielle Press. “ASIC acknowledges that they are large scale reviews — they relate to systemic failures over long periods with reviews going back six to 10 years… However, we believe the institutions have failed to sufficiently prioritize and resource their reviews, particularly as ASIC advised them to commence the reviews in mid-2015 or early 2016.”
The regulator said the primary reasons for the delays included firms’ poor record-keeping and systems, firms taking an overly legalistic approach to determining the services they should have provided, and firms failing to use customer-centric methodologies for identifying and compensating harmed customers.
In the meantime, ASIC has welcomed the prospect of new enforcement powers.
“We are pleased the government has agreed to adopt recommendations from the 2017 ASIC Enforcement Review Taskforce Report, which includes a directions power. This would allow ASIC to direct… licensees to establish suitable customer review and compensation programs,” Press said.
ASIC is also conducting its own investigations, and has said that it plans to take enforcement action against firms that are found to have engaged in misconduct.
In Canada, securities regulators are considering measures that would prohibit mutual funds from paying fees to discount brokers for ongoing service and advice that can’t be provided by these kinds of firms. Several large asset managers are also facing proposed class action lawsuits over the issue. These suits have not been certified as class actions, and the allegations have not been proven.