Government to tighten its financial advice changes to rule out commissions

Finance Minister Matthias Cormann took over carriage of the FoFA legislation from Arthur Sinodinos. AAP/Alan Porritt

The government today is set to bow to public and industry pressure to ensure that commissions remain outlawed under its controversial financial advice legislation.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is expected to announce that a rewrite of the legislation proposed by a Senate inquiry will be undertaken.

The government has faced a storm of protest over its plans to water down Labor’s Future of Financial Advice (FoFA) law, weakening consumer protection and benefitting the banks by permitting the payment of commissions for “general advice” given by bank employees that dealt with bank products.

The government members of the Senate inquiry say in their report, tabled last night, that the legislation’s explanatory memorandum should make it clear “that it is not the government’s intention to reintroduce commissions”.

The provisions governing “conflicted remuneration” should be redrafted to make them clearer, the report says.

The distinctions between the terms “information”, “general advice” and “personal advice” should be made “much sharper and applicable in the practical sense” in relation to allowing exemptions from conflicted remuneration.

Bank employees would still be able to receive bonuses and incentives but not commissions related to products.

The report says a number of submissions strongly objected to the amendment broadening the exemptions from conflicted remuneration. They came not only from consumer groups but from a range of industry groups.

The bill’s intention is to enable a business, under certain circumstances, to give general advice to retail clients on its own products, the report says. The present law needs to be changed to remove “unnecessary complications” around the provision of general advice.

But the committee is concerned about the confusion surrounding the proposed changes “and the fear that they have the potential to reopen the door to commissions”.

The committee also notes the concerns about the possible misuse or misunderstanding of the term “general advice”.

Labor and the Greens put in dissenting reports opposing the government’s legislation.

Cormann took over carriage of the legislation from Arthur Sinodinos, who had to stand aside as Assistant Treasurer when called as a witness before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Sinodinos was seen as very sympathetic to the banks’ demands.

The pressure on the government to alter its legislation intensified because of the revelations about fraud by the financial planning business of the Commonwealth Bank, followed by the Bank’s bad handing of the scandal. The Bank has paid out $52 million in compensation to about 1100 customers but now could be forced to pay hundred of millions of dollars more.

The concessions on the financial advice legislation comes as today’s Newspoll shows the Coalition trailing Labor on the two party vote 47-53% The Coalition’s primary vote rose one point to 37% and Labor dropped one to 36%, in the past fortnight. Support for independents and micro parties has climbed to a record high of 17%.

UPDATE: Finance minister Matthias Cormann has delayed the announcement of FoFA reforms until tomorrow.