BANK BOARDS will have to find new ways to incentivise staff, according to the University of NSW (UNSW) Centre for Law Markets and Regulation (CLMR) director, Dimity Kingsford Smith.

Bringing clarity to the September 28 release of the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, Professor Kingsford Smith said remuneration arrangements were crucial in rebalancing the current prominence of the financial voice in banks.

“The Commissioner’s view is that currently much of the misconduct ‘can be traced to entities preferring pursuit of profit to pursuit of any other purpose’,” Prof. Kingsford Smith said. 

“Finding and instilling purposes that motivate bank staff to treat customers well may be the Commissioner’s biggest challenge to bank boards.”

Prof. Kingsford Smith said banks and their executives should also be prepared for more ongoing scrutiny internally and externally on non-financial risk and customer welfare.

She said the interim report showed there was a need for greater focus on the customer, stronger regulatory action and “greater use of sanctions at the higher levels such as civil penalties and even prosecution”.

“Amongst the many questions raised by the Commissioner, are reservations about whether more regulation would be useful, although in areas such as mortgage broking he suggests that legal clarifications would be helpful,” Prof. Kingsford Smith said.

“Rather, he raises many questions, in a climate of sharpened political will for regulatory reform, and better resourcing for regulators.

“Boards used to their banks influencing the regulatory agenda, will have to respond.”

Prof. Kingsford Smith said there would be more external regulatory scrutiny of banks and this would require greater responsiveness to regulatory requirements such as breach notices, and more resources for remediation of customers and faulty systems like misleading website disclosure or fees for no service.

She suggested banks would have to better resource legal compliance, internal audit and risk processes so that these areas could have greater authority over banks’ business units.

“Banks should also scrutinise executive performance on failure to ensure customer financial well-being and bank reputation, and consequences should include haircuts on executive remuneration and even loss of tenure,” Prof. Kingsford Smith said.

“Banks need to ‘do it right, and put it right for customers’ – cost, complexity, broken processes and lack of information are no excuse.

“These problems are all in the control of boards and executive leadership. 

“This includes considering remuneration arrangements so that the mind-set and practices of dealing with customers changes.”

She said banks needed to manage the gap between community expectations of customer treatment and the standards set by the law.

“The Commissioner holds nothing back in his expectation, shared by the community, that banks should comply with the law,” Prof. Kingsford Smith said.

“He and counsel assisting have often asked witnesses, did you understand you were breaking the law? And, to regulators, why did you not enforce the law?

“In his report the Commissioner observes, ‘Compliance appeared to have been relegated to a cost of doing business’.”

Prof. Kingsford Smith said remediation had been tardy and inadequate when risks realise losses to customers.

“The community finds this unacceptable, and the Royal Commissioner seems to share this view.”

www.unsw.edu.au

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By Andrew Powell >>

THE Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) Single Touch Payroll reporting change came into effect on July 1 this year, and with it came some tumbleweeds and the chirps of crickets.

It is one of the most important changes to payroll practices in recent memory in Australia; its magnitude only matched by how underdiscussed it was.

Despite its clear importance to the operations of a business, the fact of the matter is many organisations across the country have not put the systems in place to affect the change to their reporting systems. 

Whether this is because businesses are simply taking their time to get their houses in order or have no idea about the change won’t matter in the end, as there is one immutable truth they should be aware of already: the ATO never takes ignorance as an excuse.

For those unaware of the change – and there will be quite a few in that category – it requires companies with 20 or more employees to report to the ATO payments such as salaries and wages, Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) withholding and superannuation information from their payroll solution each time employees are paid, rather than once at the end of each financial year. This will extend to businesses with fewer than 20 employees for the start of FY19.

It effectively streamlines the process of payroll reporting: once the system is in place, the ATO will have all of the information at hand for the end of the Financial Year, and one of the key benefits of the change is the reduction in reporting for both businesses and employees.

It will spell the end of payroll summaries and the stresses that come with the rush to report at the end of each year – for large enterprises and their payroll departments, it’s the loss of a high level of annual stress.

But for many enterprises those stresses are set to continue, as there’s a chance their systems aren’t set up for the change – some software suppliers may not have had their STP solutions ready for July 1, and it was therefore compulsory for them or their clients to seek a deferral from the ATO to 'be ready' for September.

It’s incumbent on businesses to immediately start discussions with their software or ERP (enterprise resource planning) providers to determine whether said provider has sought and obtained a deferral to September and determine how far away a software upgrade is – because if said provider hasn’t started the certification process by now, they likely won’t make it there by September because the process of obtaining STP certification is arduous.

It can take months, if not a full year, to obtain certification as there are myriad tests that need to take place before a go-live date. Further, there is a rigorous process that needs to be passed with regards to tax, legal and regulatory requirements.

This isn’t as easy as flicking a switch – and it’s why the lack of discussion about the change has been so alarming. Businesses need to start talking about this change.

They need to talk about how well they are equipped to process the new requirements. They need to talk to their software and ERP providers about what they’re doing to get their systems updated and ready to go, and if they aren’t, then they need to know the process that is in place to get them up to speed.

They need to speak to these providers about what is expected from them and what the benefits and, perhaps more importantly, the penalties are to non-compliance.

This new way of reporting is live, now. The ATO gave businesses enough warning about it that non-compliance at this stage is not really an option and they need to start considering how they can make the transition as soon as possible.

www.riministreet.com

  • Andrew Powell is the general manager Asia-Pacific for Rimini Street, a company which provides IT engineering and systems support to enable companies to extend and improve the use of their enterprise software suites and innovate into the future.

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IF THE WORK of law researchers at QUT is an indication, buying and selling property will soon become a safe and seamless online experience.

However, the QUT law academics warn that digital success will require a thorough overhaul of existing property laws in Queensland.

QUT Commercial and Property Law Research Centre professor Sharon Christensen said an overhaul of the 43-year old Property Law Act was sorely needed to simplify the process and “save time, money and a lot of paper”. 

“Technology being applied to real estate agency and legal practice is moving ahead faster than the law,” Professor Christensen said. “Our recommendations would validate electronic contracting in land sales including the use of electronic signatures.

“This would facilitate digitisation of the ‘front-end’ of the real estate transactional process. It would complement the existing electronic conveyancing system, which already exists through PEXA (Property Exchange Australia) for the settlement and registration process.

“It would also complement the increasing number of pieces of government information already available online.”

Prof. Christensen  said for an entirely digital land sales process to work, client  identity would need to be checked at the outset.

“At the moment you have to have a lawyer do a 100-point identity check before engaging the PEXA process which must be undertaken through a lawyer,” she said.

“An identity check for an e-signature would be needed so that the process could then be digitised from the signing of the contract to the registration of the land in the owner’s name.”

Prof. Christensen said the review’s recommendations, if enacted, would legally validate the electronic processes already in use.

“Digitisation of most processes is going to happen anyway so the recommendations are just bringing property law into the 21st century,” Prof. Christensen said.

QUT’s 1000-page Property Law Act 1974 – Final report  recommends modifications to many aspects of Queensland’s property law and transactions including co-ownership, the creation of electronic deeds, together with simplifications to the law affecting mortgages, leases and  easements.

The centre’s comprehensive review of Queensland’s Property Law Act is online and open for submissions until end-August.

www.qut.edu.au

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THE Australian Business Number (ABN) plays a critical role in the tax system, but registering an ABN without planning and forethought may be contributing to the black economy rather than acting as a deterrent, according to the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).

“Whilst we applaud a simple, efficient system, there are not enough checks and balances to ensure the registration of an ABN is appropriate or not,” IPA chief executive officer, Andrew Conway said.

“The ease of applying for an ABN online by applicants who do not understand the legislative test for eligibility and their obligations, has resulted in many obtaining one when not entitled. 

“People involved in sham contracting who would otherwise be employees of a company fall into this category.

“There are also individuals applying for an ABN to legitimise a business which does not fully comply with its tax obligations," he said.

“The extension of reportable payments to high-risk industries illustrates how the ABN system has been deliberately misused with the cash economy alive and well.  

“When the building and construction sector was subjected to mandatory reporting in 2012, a whopping $2.3 billion of revenue was reported in its first 12 months," Mr Conway said. "Mandatory reporting is being extended to other high-risk sectors to reign in the cash economy.

“When the ABN system was introduced in 2000, it was supposed to hinder the black economy by strengthening the integrity of the tax system but that has simply not been the case.  

“Applying for an ABN is an important step and there needs to be more rigour in the process as it is effectively your ‘licence’ to do business.  We welcome the Government's consultation on reforming the ABN system to arrest current deficiencies and provide greater system integrity.

“Accountants are well placed to educate applicants of the rights and obligations of having an ABN and more importantly, to vet the applicant’s credentials for commencing a business that meets ABN eligibility criteria," he said. "This check and balance function will no doubt help the government and the ATO in the longer term.

“We urge individuals considering starting a new business, not to just jump online and apply for an ABN but to have a meaningful discussion with their accountant first and to understand what it takes to run a business and your obligations,” Mr Conway said.

publicaccountants.org.au

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THE February 26 appeal decision by the Federal Court of Australia in Chowder Bay Pty Ltd v Paganin resulted in the valuer and the developer dodging a bullet by the skin of their teeth – and it’s a lesson to all in the property industry according to Mullins Lawyers.

Six investors had sued the valuer on the basis his valuation of the project at $67.8 million was misleading and deceptive. Mullins Lawyers special counsel Gordon Perkins said this valuation had resulted in the bank advancing money to the developer, which in turn resulted in a loss to the investors.

The investors argued in court that if the valuation had been accurate (estimated at about $45.5 million), the bank would not have financed the development and they would have sold the undeveloped land and recovered their money. 

“The argument failed because the valuers had qualified their valuation and the bank was a sophisticated user of valuations,” Mr Perkins said. “The outcome may have been different had the end user of the valuation not been as sophisticated as the bank.”

The Chowder Bay project attracted 23 investors at $500,000 each to develop a former caravan park in Western Australia into a residential resort.

The court was told that the investors were to receive one residential apartment each on sale of the remaining development and the developer was to receive several apartments. The bank was to finance about 45 percent of the sale price of all of the apartments.

When arranging the valuation, the developer gave the valuer a list showing the sale prices of the apartments and the 23 apartments to be given to the investors as ‘sold’.

“The valuer seemed to be unaware of the true consideration for those ‘sales’ but ultimately was aware they were to investors and inserted appropriate qualifications into the valuation,” Mr Perkins said. “The developer defaulted when sales of the remaining apartments were not sufficient to repay the loan before it expired. The bank appointed a receiver to the development and sold the apartments.”

Assessing the merits of the claim, the trial judge examined all of the circumstances surrounding the valuation and found that the bank was not misled or deceived as the assumptions and qualification by the valuer were clearly expressed. The bank’s knowledge of the transaction and its sophistication as a user of valuations were factors in this decision as was the qualification in the second valuation to the effect that the valuer had not seen the presale contracts and that the bank should confirm them.

The Court of Appeal supported the Judge’s reasoning in this regard and upheld the decision that the valuation did not mislead the bank. As a result, the case failed from an investor perspective.

Mr Perkins said there were several clear lessons from the case.

“Valuers need to consider to whom they are addressing their valuation and where appropriate to include sufficient explanation of unusual features and qualifications relevant to the degree of sophistication of the recipient,” Mr Perkins said. “Financiers should be aware of the basis for assumptions made by a valuer and specifically check matters raised by the valuer in any qualifications to the valuation.

“In this instance the argument was narrow and focussed on the valuation. A similar argument could have been raised by the investors to the effect that ‘they made a loss because the bank was negligent in making the loan. Had the bank been diligent and acted on the qualification they would not have made the loan and the investors would have recovered their money from sale of the undeveloped land’.

“Unfortunately the argument that ‘the bank should not have lent me the money’ arises too frequently for financiers to ignore this point. Developers, directors and their management must make sure that they fully and frankly advise valuers when instructing them.

“They should also ensure their financiers are fully and frankly advised of the nature of any special arrangements. Here the bank’s risk was that the sale of the remaining units did not occur in time to repay the loan.

“Although there was sufficient equity to protect the bank, had the developer been diligent, the issue could have been dealt with before the loan was drawn and the outcome for the developer and investors would have been different,” Mr Perkins said. “The developer and one of its directors misled the valuer by not advising the nature of the arrangements with investors described in the valuation as ‘pre-sales’.

“They were aware of the issue by the time of the second valuation. It’s possible they also misled the bank as to the nature of the ‘pre-sales’ to investors. This was not argued and nothing turned on the finding against the director and developer as the link with the loss claimed by the investors was broken (the valuer had not misled the bank).

“Had the outcome been different, the directors would have been liable for at least part of the loss. This scheme had more than 20 investors. If the investors each had paid less than $500,000 it would be a managed investment scheme requiring registration with ASIC.

“This was not relevant to the case above but we recommend that developers and others raising funds using trusts or other forms of investment vehicle check that their activities comply with the laws regarding managed investments,” Mr Perkins said.

www.mullinslawyers.com.au

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FOOD PRODUCERS are on the countdown to showing they are compliant with the new Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) legislation which comes into effect on July 1.

To assist, GS1 Australia is working closely with retailers to make sure their food suppliers are ready.

All companies that sell food priority products in Australian retail stores and online sites have until July 1, 2018, to change their labels to comply with the CoOL requirements.

By law, labels for priority food products grown, produced or made in Australia will have to carry the familiar Australian Made kangaroo symbol and bar chart, with accompanying text, that shows the proportion of Australian ingredients in the product. Non-priority foods only require a text statement of origin on their labels. 

GS1 Australia claims the new labels will provide Australian consumers with clearer and more meaningful country of origin information, so they can make more informed choices about the food they buy.

“Our collaboration with the retailers supports the shared vision of providing consumers with clearer information about the origins of their food,” GS1 Australia’s head of data and digital content services, John Hearn said.

“It also provides food suppliers with solutions to upload and share their CoOL attribute data with retailers who use our digital services.”

Mr Hearn said GS1 Australia’s suite of digital content services provided an easy solution for suppliers to provide their CoOL information to retailers.

The Data and Digital Content Services team at GS1 Australia have added the CoOL data fields to the National Product Catalogue (NPC) – GS1 Australia’s synchronisation solution that helps businesses exchange standardised supply chain information with their trading partners.

This means that food suppliers can enter CoOL attribute product data in the NPC and forward this information to retailers from a single location.

“Smart Media, our complete digital marketing solution for sharing digital content and photography with retailers and online marketplaces, also supports the Country of Origin Labelling data requirements of all major retailers,” Mr Hearn said.

To further assist suppliers and their trading partners, the GS1 Barcode Check Verification Report has also been updated to include CoOL legislation images as they appear on the finished product.

“GS1 Australia’s support so far has assisted the enablement of many food suppliers to be ready for July 1,” Mr Hearn said.

“An increasing number of suppliers are now populating CoOL attributes in the National Product Catalogue with many more suppliers in the pipeline to complete the legislative requirements.

“It is great to see that many food suppliers are populating the CoOL fields in the National Product Catalogue and we encourage all of them to start uploading content, so they are ready and compliant with the CoOL legislation,” Mr Hearn said.

He said this collaborative success story further demonstrated GS1 Australia’s commitment to the continued exchange of quality data between trading partners.

To assist in understanding the food labelling laws, GS1 has created a video supported by Coles and Metcash.

Further information is also available on the Australian Government website.

www.gs1au.org

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) has urged small businesses to prepare themselves to manage mandatory data breach reporting laws, effective February 22.

“If an unauthorised entity accesses anyone’s personal information from a business computer system, where it is likely to result in serious harm to that individual, that data breach will have to be reported to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), as well as the individual affected,” Ombudsman Kate Carnell said. 

“An unauthorised entity could be an employee, an independent contractor or an external third party, such as a hacker (via cyber attack). Serious harm to an individual may include physical, psychological, emotional, financial or reputational harm.”

Ms Carnell warned this legislation carried significant financial penalties, and would affect any small business that collected personal information from their customers, and staff.

“Small businesses can’t afford not to understand what the new laws mean to them, and yet I’ve read a new study reporting 44 percent of Australian businesses are not fully prepared,” she said.

“Another report by Telstra last year found 33 percent of small businesses don’t take proactive measures to protect against cyber breaches.

“With penalties of up to $360,000 for individuals and $1.8 million for organisations, the impact of a breach on a small business is devastating.”

Mrs Carnell said information on what a breach is, how to report a breach, or how to take steps to avoid notification in a timely manner can be accessed from the OAIC website.

“With the new laws commencing in around three weeks, I suggest small business operators also read our Cyber Security Best Practice Guide,” Ms Carnell said.

Small businesses in categories that must comply with the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme can be determined through the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

www.oaic.gov.au

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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