The Australian corporate regulator has increased investigations into wealth management firms by more than 200% over the past year as it pursues a new enforcement approach.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission's most recent six month enforcement update reveals it started 77 new investigations into misconduct and secured close to A$20m in compensation and remediation for Australians between January and June.
During the first half of the year, 10 individuals were charged in criminal proceedings brought by ASIC, 70 criminal charges were laid, six people were imprisoned and six received non-custodial sentences.
As I have said publicly over the past year, ASIC has a clear resolve. The Office of Enforcement is ready to deliver on the public's expectation to hold wrongdoers to account"
About 103 people were banned from providing financial services and 29 disqualified from being directors of companies. In the same period last year, just 68 people were banned from providing financial services or credit.
It also oversaw 577 individuals charged for strict liability offences, compared with 518 during the same period one year ago. The bulk of the regulator's enforcement action is focused on the smaller end of town.
The report also revealed 29 people have been banned from directing companies, up 45% from last year. The report also revealed A$19.2m was paid in compensation to consumers and investors and A$370,800 in fines were paid.
The ASIC enforcement update for January to June 2019 revealed that the commission has increased investigations by 20% and increased investigations into wealth management groups by 216%.
ASIC is in the process of deploying A$404m of additional government funding following the royal commission into banking financial services and has launched an 'Office of Enforcement', which is made up of a specialist team for markets matters and one for financial services.
Deputy chair of ASIC Daniel Crennan said that the Office of Enforcement had allowed ASIC to continue to pursue its new enforcement approach.
"ASIC's enforcement work has a core focus on deterrence, public denunciation and punishment. We continue to pursue this work via our ‘Why not litigate?' enforcement approach," he said.
ASIC was also continuing to implement many of the recommendations from the royal commission final report.
"Many of the tools are now in place to deliver a stronger legislative, enforcement and regulatory framework with tougher penalties. The government has proposed additional new laws to further strengthen ASIC's enforcement powers," said Crennan.
Crennan added that the commission was working hard to stay accountable to the public and to continue to deliver on their expectations.
The Office of Enforcement is working on 13 matters referred to ASIC by the Royal Commission as well as further matters that were case studies during the Royal Commission hearings.
"As I have said publicly over the past year, ASIC has a clear resolve. The Office of Enforcement is ready to deliver on the public's expectation to hold wrongdoers to account," he said.