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Opening statements

Opening Statement

Thursday 20 October 2016

Wayne Byres, Chairman - Senate Economics Legislation Committee, Canberra.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear today. I would like to provide a brief update on three important pieces of recent work by APRA:

  • Earlier this week, APRA published an information paper on risk culture - a topic that we have given greater attention to over the past few years. The paper focusses, amongst other things, on how Boards of regulated institutions have gone about the task of assessing the risk culture within their organisations, given the introduction of specific prudential requirements in this area from January 2015. Assessing risk culture is no easy task. But, as the global financial crisis showed, if an organisation has a poor attitude to risk-taking and risk management, it can ultimately threaten an institution’s financial viability. So one of our key messages is the need for continued investment of time and attention by senior leaders on this issue.

    Just as regulated institutions will refine and improve their own practices, we will continue to refine our approach and methodologies for making assessments of risk culture within regulated institutions. We will also, in particular, be looking more closely at the influence of remuneration arrangements on that culture.
     

  • As the Committee knows well, there have been some serious allegations of inappropriate and unfair treatment of life insurance claimants by The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited, trading as CommInsure. While ASIC has been dealing with the specific customer cases, APRA takes an interest in what these cases tell us about the strength of an institution’s governance, risk management and risk culture.

    Our work with CommInsure has targeted two main issues. First, APRA has engaged with the Board and senior management of CommInsure to gain assurance over the robustness and completeness of the independent reviews commissioned to investigate the allegations, and ensure to stakeholder and community expectations are considered through this process. We have also met with the whistleblower who brought the issues to light, and are considering whether the whistleblowing provisions in the Life Insurance Act designed to prevent the identification and victimisation of whistleblowers have been adhered to.

    Earlier this year, APRA also wrote to the Boards of all active life insurers, as well as to a selection of superannuation trustees, seeking information on the effectiveness of their governance and oversight mechanisms for matters such as claims handling, benefit definitions, rejected claims and customer complaints. Based on the responses received, we issued a report last week identifying areas in which insurers and trustees can improve their management of life insurance claims.

    APRA and ASIC have been working closely on all of these matters, which remain ongoing.
     

  • Finally, our supervisory work on housing lending standards continues. Given the environment of heightened risks, our objective has been to reinforce sound lending standards, particularly in relation to the manner in which lenders assess the capacity of borrowers to service their loans. Over the past year, we believe the industry has appreciably improved its lending standards. But risks within the housing and residential development markets remain elevated. We are therefore giving thought to how best to have improved standards firmly embedded into industry practice, such that they are not eroded away again over time.

With those remarks, my colleagues and I are happy to answer the Committee’s questions.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) is the prudential regulator of the financial services industry. It oversees banks, credit unions, building societies, general insurance and reinsurance companies, life insurance, private health insurers, friendly societies, and most members of the superannuation industry. APRA currently supervises institutions holding $6 trillion in assets for Australian depositors, policyholders and superannuation fund members.