Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services - Opening statement - 15 July 2020

Opening statement by ASIC Chair, James Shipton at the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, Oversight of ASIC, the Takeovers Panel and the Corporations Legislation No.1 of the 46th Parliament, public hearing, Wednesday 15 July 2020, Parliament House, Canberra.

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Introduction

Good morning Chair and Committee members.

Representing ASIC today are: Deputy Chairs Dan Crennan and Karen Chester; Commissioners Cathie Armour, Danielle Press and Sean Hughes; and Executive Director, Assessment and Intelligence, Warren Day.

As COVID-19 continues to challenge the nation, ASIC is working to ensure our financial services industry operates in a manner that is not only resilient but also fair, strong and efficient for all Australians.

ASIC’s work is vital to ensuring confidence is maintained in our financial system.

To do this we are assessing and prioritising key vulnerabilities, and tackling challenges as they develop across our regulated sectors.

Where there is significant risk of consumer harm, ASIC will investigate enforce and prosecute breaches of the law.

ASIC’s important economic role

We recognise households are more vulnerable than ever and are taking an extremely precautionary approach to their finances and financial decisions. 

By ensuring the financial system remains fair, strong and efficient for all Australians, ASIC is performing an important economic role.

  • We are working to ensure that the very foundation of economic confidence – confidence in the system itself – remains intact.
  • Confidence that the system is fair, strong and efficient is an important bedrock for the recovery process.

To this end, ASIC’s five interim strategic priorities are:

  1. protecting consumers from harm at a time of heightened vulnerability
  2. maintaining financial system resilience and stability
  3. supporting Australian businesses to respond to the effects of COVID-19
  4. continuing to identify, disrupt and take enforcement action against the most harmful conduct, and
  5. continuing to build our organisational capacity.

These five priorities will help maintain the bedrock of confidence in our economic system.

We are working towards greater fairness, particularly by working with banks, insurance companies and managed investment scheme operators in relation to the treatment of customers.

We are making the system strong by protecting consumers from harm and bad behaviour, and enhancing consumer and financial information on our websites.

  • Financially resilient consumers will be better able to participate in the economy.

We are also making the system more efficient through our crucial capital market initiatives and relief efforts and assisting Australian business to get the capital they need to support the economy.

Protecting consumers from harm and enhancing information on MoneySmart

ASIC is acting swiftly to protect consumers – that’s real people – from harm during this time of heightened vulnerability.

Even when things are going well, many people find dealing with money and finances to be a stressful experience.

We acknowledge these challenges and the hardships that individuals and businesses are facing during prolonged periods of shutdown.

To assist Australians and businesses make well-informed decisions, we have increased our financial messaging:

  • Our consumer-focused messages are reaching Australians in significant numbers.
    • For example, well over a million consumers have visited ASIC’s MoneySmart website each month since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Our MoneySmart COVID-19 hub is also continually updated to reflect the common financial decisions many consumers are navigating in the current environment.

Difficult times, such as now, bring out the best in Australians. Unfortunately, they can also bring out the worst in a small number of people.

This is evident from the 20% year-on-year increase in reports of misconduct received by ASIC since April.

We have also seen a rise in the number of scam reports from Australian consumers. 

These scams can be loosely grouped into three categories:

  • fake cryptocurrency term-deposits
  • fake investment schemes, and
  • scams that start via romance sites.

As financial scams can take many forms, we have enhanced our messaging on our websites.

Ensuring Australia’s equity and capital markets continue to operate fairly and efficiently

Maintaining the fairness, strength and efficiency of Australia’s equity and capital markets has been, and will continue to be, vital for Australia’s economy.

To achieve this, we have:

  • expanded our markets supervision work
  • ensured investors are appropriately informed
  • provided regulatory relief for capital raising, shareholder meetings, reporting requirements, and financial advice; and in doing so
  • we have placed market fairness at the forefront of everything that we do.

These efforts have assisted Australia’s capital markets to remain strong and efficient, and has resulted in listed companies raising nearly $31 billion in 144 transactions since the pandemic began. This figure is only outdone by the United States, that is a significantly larger economy and capital market to ours.

Our actions supporting Australia’s capital markets has enabled them to step-up and support Australian companies, and the economy as a whole, when it is most needed.

Closing

In closing, ASIC will continue to play its important role in ensuring that the financial infrastructure and system – the bedrock of our economy – remains fair, strong and efficient so that it can support Australians and Australian businesses in this time of economic strain.

We look forward to taking your questions.

Last updated: 15/07/2020 12:00