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Are Australian banks all cowboys?

BIScom Subsection: 
Editorial Staff

Hardly a day goes by without a report of bad conduct by one of Australia's banks. It's not as if there are many of them and the result is that each of them is in the news for all the wrong reasons on an increasingly frequent basis. This time it's ANZ with a classic of charging fees but providing no service.

Really. How is this different from someone knocking on the door of an elderly couple, telling them there's a hole in their roof and saying "I'll repair it for a price of X" but collecting the money and doing nothing?

ASIC, Australia's "Prudential regulator" which, inter alia, supervises banks, has entered into what's called "an enforceable undertaking" with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) under which it doesn't get punished, as such, but it does have to do various things that will cost it money and add more weight to the criticism of its own (and the banking sector in general's) conduct.

Mr Peter Kell, deputy chairman of ASIC put it into perspective when he said "Our report into fees for no service in October 2016 identified the major financial institutions' systemic failures in this area, which required affected customers to be fairly compensated and to be provided with the services that they have paid for."

Note that the investigation was into the conduct of more than one financial institution. In the ANZ case, "an investigation found that ANZ had failed to provide documented annual reviews to more than 10,000 'Prime Access' customers in the period from 2006 to 2013."

ASIC's statement of the ANZ failings are amazing: one has to ask the brutal question - how is this not being referred for criminal prosecution?

This is what ASIC said:

"he EU follows an ASIC investigation into ANZ in relation to ANZ's fees for no service conduct concerning the Prime Access service package which was offered to ANZ's financial planning customers for an annual fee from 2003. A key component of the package was the provision of a documented annual review of the customer's financial plan.

As a result of the investigation, ASIC was concerned that:

ANZ had failed to provide documented annual reviews to more than 10,000 Prime Access' customers who had paid for those reviews
ANZ did not have adequate systems and processes in place to ensure that the Prime Access service, including the provision of documented annual reviews, was provided to Prime Access customers
from as early as 2008, ANZ Financial Planning was aware of a number of confirmed instances in which documented annual reviews had not been provided to Prime Access customers, and that there was a risk of a broader issue in relation to further Prime Access customers not being provided with documented annual reviews, but the conduct continued until 2013, and ANZ did not breach report the conduct to ASIC until August 2013, and
ANZ failed to comply with section 912A(1)(a) of the Corporations Act which provides that a financial services licensee must do all things necessary to ensure that the financial services covered by the licence are provided efficiently, honestly and fairly and a condition of its Australian financial services licence.

ANZ acknowledged in the EU that ASIC's concerns were reasonably held."

So, there's an acknowledgement of what amounts to dishonesty.

What have ANZ got away with doing?

"ANZ, among other things, to:

- pay a community benefit payment totalling $3 million
- provide an audited attestation from ANZ senior management to provide 'reasonable assurance' that the bank has, since 2014, provided documented annual reviews to customers who were entitled to such reviews, and
- provide further audited attestations from ANZ senior management as to the improvements that the bank has made to its compliance systems and processes, and that the design and implementation of those systems and processes will seek to ensure documented annual reviews are provided in accordance with the ANZ Prime Access package.
- compensate its Prime Access customers who, in the period from 2006 to 2013, did not receive the documented annual reviews that they were entitled to. The compensation program is nearing completion and as at 28 February 2018, ANZ has paid AUD46.81 million (including earnings) in compensation to these customers (with the total compensation estimated at AUD46.85 million).

So, just to clarify: the bank took almost AUD50 million from customers for services that it did not provide and it is able to say "we've given the money back so no harm, no foul." Just try that if you're an unemployed, widowed mother of four young children and you try to replace the loaf of bread you stole from a supermarket.