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ASIC appeals for advice whistleblowers

The corporate regulator has called on advisers to dob in rogues and wrongdoers, describing the sector as a “target-rich environment”.

Speaking at a SPAA event in Sydney last week, ASIC senior executive leader, financial advisers, Joanna Bird said cuts to the regulator’s budget have meant ASIC needs to be selective about where to place its investigative resources.

“I would encourage you, where you see wrongdoing, to please report it to us,” Ms Bird said.

“I regulate a target-rich environment – we don’t struggle to find things – but the more information we have the better.

“[This information] can help us choose where we put our resources within that target-rich environment, by informing us about what is going on in the marketplace.”

Ms Bird acknowledged it can be “frustrating” for whistleblowers when the regulator seems slow to act on information, but she assured the audience of SMSF specialists that all tip-offs are treated seriously.

“Every piece of misconduct we receive is analysed, recorded and there for us to look at subsequently,” she said.

The lawyer and regulator also hit back at “reports in the media” suggesting administrative actions – such as licence conditions and banning orders – are an insufficient remedy to wrongdoing in financial services, arguing that “taking away someone’s livelihood” is a very serious regulatory action.

“Administrative actions are preferable [to other remedies such as criminal proceedings] because they have the ability to actually change the way a business is constructed and fix some of the problems,” she said.

At the same time, Ms Bird explained that the FOFA legislation has opened up new “civil penalties” that the regulator may take advantage of when scrutinising misconduct in financial advice, such as breaches of fiduciary duty.

The comments come as the government announces a new Office of the Whistleblower within ASIC and an ASIC-administered adviser register.