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ASIC says nine insurance litigation cases underway

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The corporate regulator says nine cases of enforcement litigation regarding misconduct in insurance were underway at the start of the year as part of its push to pursue more court action.

One criminal case and eight civil cases of insurance misconduct are in progress, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) says in its latest enforcement update.

Across all financial service types, there were 16 criminal and 61 civil litigation matters in progress. In the last half of 2020, enforcement results by ASIC included 37 cases of financial services misconduct, two of which related to insurance.

Last year, ASIC recorded a 64% increase in civil penalty proceedings and a 36% increase in the number of criminal proceedings commenced, when compared to 2018. There were five court proceedings in pursuit of COVID-19 interim enforcement priorities.

“When it came to our enforcement work, we focused on conduct that looked to exploit the economic environment which resulted from the pandemic,” ASIC Commissioner Sean Hughes said, pointing to miss-selling as a key area.

ASIC says it used increased resourcing to fast-track Hayne royal commission referrals. Of 45 of these investigations, only 11 remained at the end of last year. Seven resulted in litigation that has been completed, resulting in total penalties of $77.65 million being imposed and $159.8 million in civil penalties imposed by the courts.

The latest report shows 27 individuals were charged in criminal proceedings and 194 criminal charges laid. Four people were imprisoned, while 22 individuals were removed or restricted from providing financial services or credit, and 28 were disqualified or removed from directing companies.

Some 107 investigations commenced and 211 investigations are ongoing.

In the largest punitive action in ASIC history, penalties totalling $75 million were imposed on derivatives provider AGM Markets and two of its authorised representatives for systemic unconscionable conduct targeting retail investors.

In September 2020, the Federal Court ordered two entities in NAB’s wealth management division to pay a total of $57.5 million in penalties for making false and misleading representations to superannuation members about plan service fees.

That was the largest penalty imposed in a matter referred to ASIC by the royal commission.

“We think this was another significant win for ASIC as it sends a strong message to the industry for the need for transparency and openness when they are charging fees,” Mr Hughes said. “The consumer needs to come first.”

Earlier this month, ASIC announced it has started Federal Court action against Westpac, alleging it sold add-on consumer credit insurance (CCI) to customers who had not agreed to buy the policies. The action relates to credit card repayment and flexi-loan repayment protection policies sold to about 384 customers in 2015.

ASIC says new priorities for its enforcement work are currently being developed for the 2021/22 financial year.