Facing Upcoming Media Onslaught, Australian Financial Watchdog Barks Back

After a Senate inquiry had already called for an investigation into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission performance, for its

asic-logoIn recent weeks the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had to deal with a lot of criticism over its role in a baking scandal. Today, Greg Tanzer, the Commissioner of AISC, decided to respond to some critics in the Australian media.

The “CBA Scandal”, as it is known in Australia, revolves around the actions of a group of financial planners at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) accused of putting clients’ funds into risky investments without their permission, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars lost. ASIC is accused in having delayed investigating the matter despite being approached by whistleblowers before it was discovered, and of enforcing only very weak sanctions against the CBA and the perpetrators.

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Last week an editorial in the Australian Canberra Times went further, stating that since its creation ASIC’s regulatory touch has been “so light as to be almost non-existent.”  It also claimed that it has been notably reluctant to prosecute offenders, preferring to do deals on the side instead. ASIC’s “inability to investigate and prosecute” was attributed to a subconscious motive not to get too much in the way of corporate interests and said it arguably was set up with precisely that in mind. It concluded by stating: “Ordinary Australian investors need protection too, and as it is now configured the ASIC is clearly not up to the task.”

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Now Mr. Tanzer has set out to publicly defend the organization he leads. Attacking the editorial as being “Fact-Free”, he presented statistics to prove the point: “In the last three years, ASIC has completed more than 550 investigations. We have banned more than 130 people from giving financial advice and more than 220 directors from managing a company. ASIC has also completed more than 70 civil and 80 criminal cases and entered into more than 50 enforceable undertakings to address compliance failures or dodgy conduct. We suspended or varied more than 70 Australian financial services licences and Australian credit licences and obtained over $300 million compensation for investors.”

Will ASIC Seek a Tighter Grip?

Two weeks ago, an Australian Senate inquiry into the scandal demanded that a “Royal Commission”, a national-level investigation panel, would be set up to look into the conduct of Commonwealth Bank and into ASIC, which it accused of being complacent in its investigation of the rogue bankers. “ASIC didn’t pay sufficient attention to the whistleblowers who raised serious concerns about the conduct of one of the most serious offenders,” said Senator Mark Bishop.

While the matter does not involve any FX or CFD brokers, ASIC will be under increased public pressure from now on to deal very harshly with all the firms under its domain, including brokers. Additionally, many brokers based in Australia rely on the reputation of ASIC as a competent regulator to attract foreign traders and a scandal like this might tarnish that.

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