AMP says it “strenuously denies” allegations it may have committed a criminal offence by misleading regulators about fees for services its customers never received.
The wealth management giant has revealed almost 16,000 of its customers paid fees for financial advice they didn’t get but said it was already helping an Australian Securities and Investments Commission investigation before the matter was aired at the banking royal commission last week.
Responding to the banking royal commission on Friday, AMP said it “can only have been of assistance” to ASIC by providing the regulator with a report on the fees scandal prepared by law firm Clayton Utz.
The commission heard the report, which AMP billed as independent, was subjected to board review before it was handed to the regulator last October.
AMP said “there is no evidence” to suggest that the board, including former chairman Catherine Brenner and former chief executive Craig Meller, acted inappropriately in relation to the preparation of the Clayton Utz report.
“AMP strenuously denies the allegation by Counsel Assisting that it is open to find that it has committed a criminal offence in providing to ASIC in October 2017 a report prepared by Clayton Utz,” AMP said on Friday.
The company rejected claims more than 700 emails went between AMP and Clayton Utz about the content of the draft report saying it had been “overstated”.
It also revealed that 15,712 customers since 2008 had paid financial advice fees despite not receiving advice.
In most cases fee charges were the result of administrative error, AMP said, while a minority were cases where charging of fees was authorised.
Last week senior counsel assisting the commission Rowena Orr QC outlined a series of possible misconduct findings against AMP for misleading ASIC, including breaches that carry criminal penalties.
She said AMP and its advice businesses misled ASIC 20 times about the nature and extent of its fees-for-no-service practice.
AMP on Friday said while its misrepresentation to ASIC is “plainly unacceptable”, there were only seven misrepresentations, not 20.
The commission also heard there was misconduct around the Clayton Utz report, which went through 25 drafts with changes from the company before being given to ASIC.
Ms Orr said AMP staff including Mr Meller, Ms Brenner, group executive for advice Jack Regan and particularly general counsel Brian Salter, either marked up or suggested amendments.
Clayton Utz chief executive partner Rob Cutler on Friday said it was “simply not true” that the firm was involved in misleading ASIC and said the report was not compromised.
AMP described the report as “uncompromisingly direct and comprehensive” and said it concerned matters subject to an ongoing ASIC investigation that began in 2015.
It refuted allegations Mr Meller and Ms Brenner sought to improperly influence the content or findings of the report but pointed to Mr Salter, saying it did not know the extent of his involvement in preparing the report.
“Irrespective of Mr Salter’s involvement … there is no evidence before the royal commission that Mr Salter made any changes that Clayton Utz did not agree with, or that Clayton Utz does not stand behind the report,” AMP said.