Making a real difference for real Australians

Opening statement by ASIC Chair, James Shipton at the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, 13 September 2019

Check against delivery

Introduction

Good morning Chair.

On behalf of my colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee.

Chair, I note this is our first appearance before a Committee of the 46th Parliament.

ASIC takes its accountability to the Parliament very seriously.

We recognise the paramount role that this Committee has in overseeing our work and holding us to account.

We also recognise the role parliamentarians, and committees such as this, have in developing policy and promoting important reform for Australia’s corporate and financial sectors.

We hope that over the course of this Parliament, and beyond, you will challenge us and evaluate our performance based on clear and consistent qualitative and quantitative measures.

This is why we are developing ideas as to how you, and others, can better assess and measure our performance on our initiatives.

We have highlighted these ideas in our recently released Corporate Plan 2019-23.

Our Corporate Plan outlines how we aim to achieve our vision for a fair, strong and efficient financial system for all Australians - through our internal change program (that we started in February 2018) and our key strategic priorities.

As part of our internal change program, we are positioning ASIC as a strategic and agile regulator, developing and using new regulatory tools and remedies, and scaling up the agency to deliver these goals.  

Chair, with permission, I would like to table our Corporate Plan 2019-23.

ASIC’s key strategic priorities

The strategic priorities we have identified in our Corporate Plan represent the most significant ways in which we are addressing consumer harm, punishing wrongdoing, and encouraging better culture and behaviour in the financial system and corporate Australia – including through a greater emphasis on fairness and professionalism.

Another thing that is different this year about our Plan is that we have highlighted the range of regulatory actions we propose to deploy in relation to each of our strategic priorities.

This is because we recognise that we need to utilise the full suite of our regulatory tools to achieve our goals. 

Our strategic priorities for the year ahead are:

First – High deterrence enforcement action

We are committed to effective enforcement action, particularly pursuing cases that have a high deterrence value and those responding to egregious misconduct. 

We have already been enhancing our enforcement focus. From February 2018 to August of this year there has been:

  • a 24% increase in the number of ASIC enforcement investigations, and 
  • a 130% increase in enforcement investigations involving the big six (or their officers or subsdiary companies).

Chair, I would also like to table here the ASIC Enforcement Update released on 18 August.

Secondly – Prioritising the recommendations and referrals from the Royal Commission

To this end, we are prioritising our work to meet the outcomes of the Royal Commission and are working with Parliament, the Government, APRA and other regulators to get the job done.

I would like to draw your attention to our ASIC Update released this week - which outlines in detail our work and planned actions in response to the Royal Commission. This follows the update we published in February.

Chair, I seek to table this Update.

Thirdly – Delivering as the primary conduct regulator for superannuation

In assuming this role, that is consistent with the Royal Commission’s recommendations, we will look to improve outcomes in superannuation through:

  • taking decisive regulatory and enforcement action to deter misconduct, and
  • the supervision and surveillance of superannuation trustees - with a focus on whether trustees act in the best interest of members and treat them fairly.

Fourth – Addressing harms in insurance

We will take enforcement and other regulatory action against mis-selling of insurance products and review concerning product features and practices.

We are taking action on the consequences of unfair contract terms and will look to address concerns in claims handling (while legislative reform is being implemented).

Fifth – Improving governance and accountability

We are conducting enhanced and intensive supervision of key firms, including via our Close and Continuous Monitoring (CCM) program and our Corporate Governance Taskforce.

These supervisory approaches are aimed at identifying cultural, organisational and management failings that may lead to conduct problems, breaches of the law and unfair outcomes.

The goal here is to help identify deficiencies before they become breaches of the law.

Also, we are committed to supporting and implementing the proposed conduct accountability regime. 

Sixth – Protecting vulnerable consumers

We are committed to taking regulatory action against the unfair treatment of vulnerable consumers by financial services providers.

Our new product intervention power and the design and distribution obligations will be vital to the protection of vulnerable consumers – by ensuring that financial products which are designed for and sold to them meet their particular needs and achieve fair outcomes. These regulatory tools are 'game changers'.

To this end, we have already proposed the deployment of the product intervention power in circumstances that we believe consumers are suffering significant detriment.

Seventh – Addressing poor financial advice outcomes

We will support measures to improve the professionalism of financial advisers.

We are also attuned to the potential misconduct and harms to consumers that may arise from the industry’s shift towards ‘general advice’ models.

And, we are also closely monitoring the potential harms that may result from larger institutions’ departing from the advice sector. 

Conclusion

In closing, there are high community expectations on not only the entire financial sector right now, but also on the regulators

ASIC welcomes the challenge – because Australians deserve a fair, strong and efficient financial system.  

Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before this important oversight committee.

My fellow Commissioners and I would be happy to take your questions.

Last updated: 13/09/2019 12:00