Regulators ASIC and APRA make Covid-19 the top priority

Regulators ASIC and APRA make Covid-19 the top priority

Australian regulators will put aside consultations on non-essential matters as priorities are recalibrated to tackle the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) will be predominantly focused on the issue until at least 30 September, although it will also afford priority to matters where there is the risk of significant consumer harm, serious breaches of the law, risks to market integrity or time sensitive issues.

ASIC emphasises it is committed to working constructively and pragmatically with the firms it regulates, whilst mindful they may encounter difficulties in complying with their regulatory obligations due to the impact of Covid-19.

"ASIC has immediately suspended a number of near-term activities which are not time-critical," the regulator states.

"These include consultation, regulatory reports and reviews, such as the ASIC report on executive remuneration, updated internal dispute resolution guidance and a consultation paper on managed discretionary accounts.

"ASIC will also suspend its enhanced on site supervisory work such as the Close and Continuous Monitoring Program."

The regulator adds relief or waivers from regulatory requirements will also be provided where warranted, for example in relation to secondary capital raisings and audits.

"ASIC has already indicated a 'take no action' stance in relation to the timing of AGMs until 31 July and the conduct of AGMs by electronic means. 

"ASIC will also work with financial institutions to further accelerate the payment of outstanding remediation to customers. ASIC will take account of the circumstances in which lenders, acting reasonably, are currently operating when administering the law."

Key business as usual functions will be maintained including registry operations and services, receipt of whistleblower, breach and misconduct reports and general contact points for industry.

Meanwhile, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has suspended the majority of its planned policy and supervision initiatives in response to the impact of the virus.

The decision is intended to allow APRA-regulated entities to dedicate time and resources to maintaining their operations and supporting customers, while also enabling APRA to intensify its focus on monitoring and responding to the impact of a rapidly changing environment on entities' financial and operational capacity.

APRA is therefore suspending all substantive public consultations and actions to finalise revisions to the prudential framework that are currently underway or upcoming, including consultations on prudential and reporting standards.

The regulator's refocused supervision effort will involve frequent communication with entities, monitoring key financial settings, such as capital and liquidity, and responding accordingly. These engagements will be conducted virtually, unless absolutely necessary, and will continue as long as necessary.

"Australia's financial system is strong and resilient, and a key reason is that APRA's current prudential framework is fundamentally sound and incorporates international best practice," says Byres.

"APRA set out an expansive policy and supervision agenda in January, but right now it is more important that banks, insurers and superannuation trustees as well as APRA devote their energy and resources to responding to the impact of Covid-19.

"We will be working with financial institutions to balance the need for timely data and information on current conditions with institutions' ability to effectively manage their own response. Given the rapidly evolving environment in which everyone is operating, we will continue to closely monitor the extent and impact of COVID-19 on APRA-regulated entities to consider if any further modifications to our supervisory and policy activities are necessary."

Updated at 13:20pm AEDT on 23 March 2020.

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