Witnesses are ready and waiting to tell their stories to the banking royal commission


The Royal Commission into the financial services sector starts hearing its first witnesses on Tuesday.

They've been waiting.

"It's horrific, not only financially but health, on our time, emotionally," says Elliot Sgargetta, close to tears.

"Physically, as a young family, it's knocked us around."

Mr Sgargetta got into a dispute with NAB about a $24,000 fee at the end of a mortgage.

Disputing that $24,000 has cost him his mortgage broking business, potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and ten years of battles in the county court and Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal.

Both determined in NAB's favour.

What will the royal commission be looking for?

The first public hearings of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry will focus on consumer lending: the area where most Australians encounter banks.

The commission says some of the case studies that Commissioner Kenneth Hayne will examine over the next fortnight include:

  • Residential mortgages: with a focus on NAB's 'Introducer' program, Aussie Home Loans' fraudulent brokers and CBA broker arrangements
  • Car finance: with a focus on the practices of Westpac/St George and ANZ/Esanda
  • Credit cards: Westpac's unsuitable credit card limit increases and Citi's imposition of international transaction fees.
  • Add-on insurance products: CBA's credit insurance in connection with home loans, personal loans and credit cards.
  • Credit offers: ANZ's unsuitable pre-approved overdraft offers.
  • Account administration: ANZ's account administration errors and CBA's unsuitable overdraft facilities and failure of automated systems.

The commission is shaping up as a potential cleansing of the dirty laundry of Australia's banking system.

And it comes as the dominance of the 'Big Four' banks in Australia is being cemented, and the proportion of credit cards, mortgages, business loans and total deposits they hold is rising.

What's in the 'black box'?

Financial Counselling Australia chief executive Fiona Guthrie hopes the commission sheds some light on the banks' internal processes.

"We don't understand what's in the 'black box' around the way these lending decisions are made," she said.

"We don't understand how managers have been incentivised to put in place products that don't really work for people.

"When it's laid end-to-end, we'll get an idea of the systemic nature of this conduct, the pattern of conduct that has gone on for 10 or 15 years. We don't know that at the moment".

The Royal Commission has extraordinary powers to call witnesses, compel them to answer questions and demand documents.

It's already been surprising.

At the initial public hearing in February, Commissioner Hayne whipped the banks for, essentially, not doing the homework he'd requested.

"In important respects, some large industry participants had sought to respond by giving examples of misconduct rather than by specifically detailing the nature of the misconduct they have identified," he said.

Major financial institutions had threatened to miss a deadline to provide additional information on misconduct.

But the four major banks changed their tune and — when contacted by the ABC — said they had submitted the requested information on time.

This month Commissioner Hayne rejected CBA's application to keep secret elements of a $10 million settlement with clients concerning over-selling insurance policies

The CBA wanted to keep parts of an employee statement about an insurance product confidential.

Commissioner Hayne agreed to keep the clients' details confidential, but not the bank's communications, either internally or with the regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

That's what we know so far and from Tuesday, it's on.

ABC News chief economic correspondent Emma Alberici explains the commission's aims and the scope of the mission.

Original Article

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