The corporate regulator has launched legal action against ANZ Bank after the lender allegedly used cleaners, real estate agents and fraudulent documents to sign up billions of dollars in home loans under a scheme that was heavily criticised in the banking royal commission.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) filed the lawsuit in the Federal Court on Thursday, alleging ANZ Bank had breached corporate laws by using unlicensed individuals to refer home loans applications to the bank for a commission.
ASIC alleges that in the five years to June 2020, ANZ Bank used the illegal ‘introducer program’ to sign up more than 50,000 loans worth more than $18.5 billion. In some cases, ASIC alleges these mortgages relied on fraudulent documents.
In September 2018, ASIC claims the introducer program contributed to around 10 per cent of all home loans sold by ANZ’s branch network in Australia. ANZ Bank failed to take appropriate steps to train the referral agents and ensure they were not collecting documents from potential customers that they were not authorised to, the regulator claims.
In its concise statement, ASIC claims many of these problems were identified by ANZ’s internal audit team in September 2016, but despite measures that were introduced to fix the problem, ongoing deficiencies were discovered in June 2020.
ASIC deputy chair Sarah Court said the regulator is concerned that some of these loans may have been granted on the basis of false information, and that some consumers took on debt they could not afford.
“If banks are going to accept referrals of consumers seeking a home loan from unlicensed individuals, who receive commission payments for the referrals, they need to make sure they have the right systems in place to properly process those referrals,” Ms Court said.
ASIC is seeking penalties and other orders from ANZ Bank, including for the bank to engage an independent expert to conduct a review of its existing home loan customer referral arrangements.
Introducer programs were heavily criticised during the banking royal commission and NAB was fined $15 million for its scheme, which included using at least one gym owner to grow the bank’s mortgage book. NAB had extensively used commissions as part of this scheme, paying introducers up to $1 million.
NAB formally closed its introducer scheme in late 2019 after then-interim chief executive Phil Chronican earlier that year concluded that axing the program was the “right thing to do.”
Royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s final report into the banks found the introducer schemes were “not incompatible with responsible lending obligations”.
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