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At a liaison meeting between ASIC and professional licensing consultants in March this year, we were warned not to expect a return to the good ol’ days of 2 month turnarounds on AFS and credit licence applications – ever! It seems that ASIC considers 6 months to be an acceptable minimum. Here’s why.

According to ASIC, licence application assessment is a critical gatekeeper function in the battle against bad apples entering the industry. So its Licensing Division has been directed to intensify their scrutiny of applications.

In addition to the increased workload that this entails, the Division has been tasked with licensing 3 new sectors (accountants, platform based MDA providers and crowd sourced funding intermediaries). And at the same time, insufficient funding has been allocated to the Division.

As a result, staff numbers have been reduced from 35 to 25. This chronic under resourcing doesn’t look like being solved any time soon.

ASIC has extended its service charter

For many years, ASIC claimed to assess licence applications and variations within 28 days. This increased to 60 days in c. 2016.

But a 60 day timeframe hasn’t been achieved for a considerable time as illustrated by the table below, showing the time taken to assess applications for new or varied licences in the first 7 months of FY 2018.

Application Type 25% within 50% within 70% within 90% within
AFS 36 days 67 days 126 days 253 days
Credit 35 days 59 days 105 days 253 days

Indeed, in January 2018, ASIC only managed to finalise 115 of 685 existing and 90 new applications, i.e. the backlog was only reduced by 25!

Bowing to the inevitable, ASIC has altered its service level targets for assessing AFS and credit licence applications. We have now been conditioned to expect 70% of applications to be assessed within 150 days and 90% within 240 days.

That’s 5-9 months, give or take.

Applications will take longer to assess if they raise complex or new policy issues, or if ASIC is not given all the information they need.

This is making it more difficult for businesses launching new products and services to get to market. Indeed, some innovative businesses are exploring launching in other jurisdictions.

Some changes are on the cards which sound good in theory, but only time will tell whether sustainable improvement will be achieved.

An improved online licence application process

ASIC is developing a new online licence application, which aims to better “triage” applications. While we don’t know when it will be launched, we can tell you that:

  • The triage approach will ensure that only questions that are relevant to the applicant are asked - which will reduce confusion and potential for error
  • Most information and documents that are needed to assess the application will be identified and requested in the course of completing the application
  • Improved guidance on ASIC’s information requirements will be provided
  • Instead of additional proofs, applicants will be prompted to provide additional information about relevant topics (word limits will apply, so be prepared to be concise)
  • Applicants will be required to justify their answers and, where possible, provide information in diagrammatic form, e.g. transaction and money flow charts and organisational charts

The objective is a ‘one read’ review and analysis by ASIC to reduce double handling and the elapsed time currently taken up by multiple requests for additional information.

Enhanced examination of Responsible Manager capability

ASIC will more closely scrutinise representations made about Responsible Managers. This will include the following:

  • Checks on claimed experience - ASIC may contact past employers; in our experience, this already occurs with some applications
  • Specific good fame and character questions
  • Personalised business references, addressing Responsible Manager’s actual roles and responsibilities, rather than the current pro-forma approach
  • Substantive role verification – ASIC will consider the appropriateness of the responsibilities delegated to the Responsible Manager, remuneration, time commitment and reporting lines. Responsible Managers will be asked to justify their capacity and time availability to perform their duties
  • Certification from Responsible Managers and referees as to the true and correctness of the supplied information. ASIC takes this seriously, and will warn that it is a criminal offence to provide false or misleading information.

While ASIC’s efforts to simplify the licensing process are welcome, we predict that the increased scrutiny and complexity may well further protract and complicate the licensing process. Except for the simplest of applications, applicants are likely to continue to need professional assistance.

The Fold’s Licensing Team have assisted with over 500 licence applications, variations and Responsible Manager appointments in the past 16 years. We’d be happy to help with yours.

Author: Sónia Cruz

May 2018

Haydn Cooper commented on 22-May-2018 01:57 PM
The ideology of moving the goalposts so that the statistics fit what's occurring only occurs with Government as any commercial entity wouldn't stand a chance of staying in business. Their KPI's say it all; shameful. I suspect the figures for FY2018 include the merging of amended licence applications rather than for just applications because from what we've seen, the average time is more a 6 month minimum for even a straight-forward application.
Some examples of nonsense:
1. We were recently approached by a potential new lender as ASIC requested it produce Comparison Rates for what it's going to offer. This potential lender hasn't resolved either it's fees and charges as yet or any software because the opportunity they saw months ago has slipped by and they're now having to rethink their strategy and whether they'll even enter the market.
2. ASIC telling a potential lender who was going to offer SACC's that there were too many SACC lenders in the market.
3. ASIC asking for updated financials for a company that hasn't even started trading.
As you've noted, what ASIC is doing is more about control and a proper 'approval' of those entering or seeking to enter the marketplace than the actual granting of a licence application. Any new applicant having gone through this process and been granted a licence should be entitled to say "Approved by ASIC" but, besides being not allowed, ASIC will deny it ever was.

Perhaps industry needs to request the ACCC intervene because ASIC is having a negative effect on competition

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