On behalf of my fellow Commissioners, I am pleased to present this report outlining ASIC’s work and achievements in 2019–20.
It has been an extraordinary year for global markets and for the financial system in Australia.
Australia faced significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and those challenges continue. As the nation’s corporate, markets, financial services and consumer credit regulator, ASIC is committed to making a real difference in the way our economy and our community weather this difficult time.
In the period from March to June 2020, we responded rapidly and strategically to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, coordinating our responses with the Council of Financial Regulators Crisis Management Working Group.
We were focused on ensuring that the system, although under stress, continued to be strong and efficient. In March, we issued directions requiring large equity market participants to limit the number of trades they executed each day. In May, once we were satisfied that activity had stabilised, we revoked the directions. We provided relief to facilitate virtual shareholder meetings and extended the period for lodging financial reports.
We responded rapidly to the needs of companies to raise capital quickly by giving temporary relief to enable certain ‘low doc’ offers to be made to investors, even if they did not meet all the usual requirements. These initiatives assisted Australia’s capital markets to remain strong and efficient and resulted in listed companies raising over $31 billion since the pandemic began.
We recalibrated our regulatory priorities to allow us and the entities we regulate to focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary changes we made to our priorities included the deferral of some activities and the redeployment of staff to address issues of immediate concern, including protecting vulnerable consumers, maintaining the integrity of markets, and supporting businesses.
Our work to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was guided by five strategic priorities, published in June 2020. These priorities were:
protecting consumers from harm at a time of heightened vulnerability
maintaining financial system resilience and integrity
supporting Australian businesses to respond to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
continuing to identify, disrupt and deter the most harmful conduct, including through enforcement action
continuing to build our organisational capability in challenging times.
These priorities addressed what we saw as the greatest threats and harms in the pandemic environment, such as the vulnerability of consumers to unscrupulous conduct, the challenges to market integrity, and the pressures faced by businesses.
Importantly, the key functions of our normal day-to-day operations – including registry operations and services, receipt of whistleblower reports and breach and misconduct reports, and general contact points for industry – remained available to those who relied on them.
We postponed the ASIC Annual Forum, originally scheduled for March 2020, in order to ensure that we could deliver a high-quality event for domestic and international participants that includes some face to face interaction between attendees. We plan to hold the next ASIC Annual Forum in 2022.
From April to June 2020, we regularly published updated information about the timing of our key outputs over the coming months to help industry with planning and resource allocation, as part of the transition of the business community to a post-pandemic world.
To help Australian consumers and businesses make well-informed decisions in the COVID-19 pandemic environment, we continually updated our Moneysmart website to reflect the common financial decisions many consumers were navigating. Over a million consumers visited ASIC’s Moneysmart website each month during the pandemic.
In addition to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian businesses and consumers faced significant challenges as a result of the devastating bushfires that affected many parts of Australia in the summer of 2019–20. ASIC was one of many agencies that supported individuals and businesses affected by the bushfire crisis and its aftermath.
Importantly, across this year ASIC also continued the change program we began in 2018, including our ongoing work to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry (Royal Commission).
This change program included:
continuing our accelerated enforcement strategy, led by the Office of Enforcement and underpinned by our ‘Why not litigate?’ operational discipline
continuing to implement our more intensive supervisory approaches, including close and continuous monitoring, and targeted reviews of corporate governance practices in large listed entities
strengthening supervision of the superannuation sector, as we work towards our expanded role as the primary conduct regulator in this sector
using the new regulatory powers and remedies given to us
supporting the Government’s legislative reform agenda and implementing reforms as they are passed by Parliament.
We also continued to strengthen our capabilities to support our vision by enhancing our capability in data and technology, improving our strategic planning and communication, implementing systems to better record and report what we do, and making it easier for stakeholders to interact with us.