The corporate watchdog has revealed it has more than 1000 investigations and surveillance operations under way, as a royal commission probes the banking and financial sector.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has come under fire for not being tough enough the sector, whose rip-offs are being exposed in the Hayne royal commission.
The Turnbull government acknowledged this by proposing in April a raft of changes to boost ASIC’s powers and available penalties.
New ASIC chairman James Shipton told a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra on Friday that confidence in the financial sector is ‘under threat’ because of the deep and significant problems over the past decade.
He said ASIC had over 1000 regulatory interventions under way, including 800 surveillances and nearly 250 investigations.
‘We will do our very best to represent the Australian public, to get a professional and efficient financial system that goes to serve communities as opposed to being the master of the economy,’ Mr Shipton said.
He said the financial services sector should not wait for the royal commission to report, or ASIC knocking on their doors, before taking action to remove conflicts of interest.
‘It really behoves the financial sector itself to recognise now and immediately the challenge and the task at hand.’
Liberal MP and chair of the committee Sarah Henderson said the Australian people had heard through the royal commission a litany of stories of ‘cover-up, misconduct, gross failings, consumer injustice, unlawful profiteering and even deliberate deception to ASIC’.
Acknowledging the depth of the problems, Mr Shipton said his commission had a ‘strong enforcement record’.
‘Since 2011 ASIC has obtained 160 criminal conviction, 19 of which have occurred this financial year,’ he said.
ASIC had also completed 140 civil penalty cases, 24 of them this financial year, and banned over 800 people from providing financial services or credit, with 390 people banned from being directors.
As well, the commission had recovered more than $320 million in compensation for consumers so far this year, out of nearly $1.8 billion since 2011.
Mr Shipton said ASIC looked forward to the new enforcement powers, which would deliver a ‘fair, strong and efficient financial system’ for all Australians.
These include increased criminal and civil penalties for corporate misconduct and new powers to strip wrongdoers of profits.
There will also be new rules around the design and marketing of financial service products.