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BFCSA: ASIC doubles wealth investigations - ie Two Investigations for 2019!!

Posted by on in ROYAL COMMISSION URGENT
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ASIC doubles wealth investigations

Australian Financial Review Apr 15, 2019 12.00am

Edmund Tadros

 

The corporate regulator is investigating 90 cases of potential wrongdoing in the wealth management arms of major banks and financial institutions, double the number it was looking at last September.

The update on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission's wealth management project, made during a Senate estimates hearing, also revealed that the regulator has beefed up its staffing of the investigations to 70 from 45.

In addition, 76 of those investigations have involved the regulator using its powers to force companies to produce information, said Tim Mullaly, ASIC's executive director of financial services enforcement.

"Currently in that project, there are now approximately 90 investigations afoot. Since September, that's an increase of 45 investigations ... so it is a significant amount," he told the Senate estimates hearing.

He said that 14 of the 90 matters were at the litigation stage, with these cases made up of two criminal matters, six civil matters and six administrative matters.

ASIC's Wealth Management Project is focused upon the financial advice businesses of the big six: ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac, Macquarie and AMP.

In March, ASIC told parliament that about 20 of the matters under investigation involved potential criminal offences.

The number of investigations show the extent to which ASIC has become more aggressive in its approach to regulation after the banking royal commission.

The delay in finalising matters was partly due to the complexity of some of the investigations and also the behaviour of some of the companies under investigation, Mr Mullaly said.

'AMP caused a delay'

He singled out the behaviour of AMP as one cause of delay, citing the wealth giant's move to claim legal privilege over documents ASIC was seeking as part of its fees for no service investigation.

"We recognise that there's a significant public interest in us finalising our work as quickly as possible, but the matters of this nature have varying degrees of complexity, which sometimes makes it difficult to say we will have it done by a particular date," Mr Mullaly said.

"For example, as has been in the public domain, we've got a significant investigation in relation to fees for no service arising out of the conduct at AMP.

"We would have liked to be further progressed in relation to that, but we had to go through a civil case in relation to AMP around the production of information that they claimed [legal professional privilege] on. Those sorts of things inevitably delay us getting to the end result."

In March, AMP and law firm Clayton Utz abandoned its fight with ASIC over the production of documents after AMP withdrew its claim of legal privilege.

70 full-time staff

Mr Mullaly said in 76 of the wealth management cases, ASIC officers had served "compulsory notices" where institutions were required to produce information as part of the regulator's investigation.

"Just for the record – because I know it came up last time – at the moment there are approximately 70 [full-time equivalent staff] working solely in relation to this [Wealth Management] project," Mr Mullaly said.

"I think last time it was somewhere around 45. So we're trying to ramp it up. I should also say that is supported and supplemented by external resources – external law firms, barristers et cetera. That includes staff from a range of teams within ASIC."

During the hearing, Mr Mullaly added that ASIC is looking into 27 investigations relating to issues uncovered at the royal commission and hoped to finalise a batch of these at the end of May, and another batch at the end of June.

In a separate enforcement update last week, ASIC said it had brought 15 criminal and 66 civil matters legal cases relating to financial services in the courts and over the six months to December.

 

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