This year was a period of significant achievement for the Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC). We kept a strong focus on monitoring banks’ compliance with the Banking Code of Practice (Code) and sharing good practice guidance to improve industry standards and outcomes for bank customers.
Banks’ organisational capability
In response to concerns that too often banks identify ‘human error’ as the cause of Code breaches the BCCC published a landmark report in February 2021 about how they should build organisational capability to improve compliance with the Code. This report will influence our future monitoring work.
An impactful communication strategy, effective learning and development, and having fit-for-purpose systems, processes and technology – with the needs of customers and employees at their centre – are all crucial to banks’ efforts to meet their Code Obligations.
The BCCC recently released an extensive report into banks’ compliance with guarantee obligations. We have serious concerns about failures to consistently provide full disclosure of key information to guarantors – a finding supported by the performance audits conducted by banks.
We intend to follow up in 2022 on how banks have implemented the report’s recommendations, which are focused on guidance for lending staff, improved monitoring, better record management practices, taking non-compliance into account when enforcing guarantees and banks’ guarantee related data capability.
In light of the pandemic we provided banks with an extended reporting deadline and excluded some data requirements to give banks some relief at the start of the year. Nevertheless, breach reporting remains at the core of our monitoring program.
Banks have reported approximately 20,000 breaches for three consecutive reporting periods since the Code came into effect in July 2019. We have commended banks’ efforts to build capability to identify non-compliance and remediate customers. However, banks need to increase their focus on preventing breaches and the community expects improvements to be made in a timely manner.
The BCCC regularly receives reports from customers about banks’ conduct. While we focus on investigating priority issues, we are grateful to everyone who has taken the time to inform us about their concerns. One of our targeted investigations this year, initiated as a result of multiple breach allegations from customers, led to the BCCC applying its second naming sanction for serious and systemic breaches of the Code.
The BCCC and its predecessor Committee have been monitoring banks’ compliance with the Code’s cancellation of direct debits obligations for over 10 years. Our periodic mystery shopping activities have continually indicated very low compliance rates. Our research from this past year indicates there has been a marked improvement in bank staff awareness of their obligations. While more work is needed, we welcome the improvements that have occurred.
We will soon conclude an inquiry conducted into the vulnerability, inclusivity and accessibility provisions of the Code. We look forward to sharing best practice initiatives which will be especially pertinent in light of the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.
The year ahead
In addition to new monitoring activities, including an inquiry into the Code’s deceased estate obligations, the BCCC plans to conduct several follow up monitoring activities in 2021–22 and will seek to ensure banks implement our better practice recommendations.
The BCCC is also committed to building strong relationships with stakeholders as well as enhancing data and monitoring capabilities to improve our operations. We recently published a new three-year Strategic Plan, updated Operating Procedures and a Business Plan for the year ahead. We have also welcomed the opportunity to commission a thorough review of our activities.
The Australian Banking Association (ABA) announced it has engaged Mike Callaghan AM PSM to conduct a review of the Banking Code at the end of 2020–21. In accordance with our Charter obligations, we have appointed Phil Khoury to review the BCCC and anticipate he will report on his findings later this year. Mr Khoury is engaging with Mr Callaghan to ensure their reviews are appropriately coordinated.
I want to thank my colleagues Anne O’Donnell, Gordon Renouf and Cat Newton for their dedicated support and expertise during the year. Gordon’s term on the Committee came to an end in May 2021 and I express my gratitude to Gordon for his invaluable contribution over nine years to the BCCC and its predecessor Committee, as the consumer representative. Cat Newton was appointed in May by the consumer representatives on the Board of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) as the BCCC’s new consumer representative for a three-year term.
I would also like to acknowledge the BCCC’s Small Business and Agribusiness Advisory Panel and the many other stakeholders who have assisted our work throughout the year, including AFCA, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the ABA, banks and consumer stakeholders, who have provided invaluable contributions.
In March 2021, after more than five years in the position, Sally Davis retired from her role as the BCCC’s Chief Executive Officer. I would like to thank Sally for her outstanding contribution to the BCCC and wish her every success for the future. The BCCC’s Investigations Manager, René van de Rijdt, has done an excellent job as acting CEO since Sally’s departure. Under the leadership of both Sally and Rene, the staff continued to provide excellent support to the Committee over the last 12 months.
Ian Govey AM