June 5, 2020

The Federal Court of Australia has ordered the Commonwealth Bank pay a $5 million penalty for ripping off more than 8600 rural customers.

The court found that CBA had breached the ASIC Act and Corporations Act for failures with their AgriAdvantage Plus Package (AA+ Package), designed for farmers.

CBA sold customers the AA+ Package between May 2005 and December 2015.

The package entitled customers to benefits in the form of fee waivers, interest rate discounts and bonus interest on savings, in exchange for the payment of fees on 22 CBA products.

ASIC commenced proceedings against CBA on March 16, 2020.

CBA admitted that:

  • Contrary to the terms of the AA+ Package, it did not provide certain benefits to customers and, as a result, customers were overcharged fees and interest on loans and fees, and underpaid interest on savings. CBA also overcharged AA+ Package fees to certain customers.
  • The causes of its failures included the highly manual nature of its systems by which the AA+ Package benefits were applied, as well as having no systems or processes in place to check whether customers were receiving benefits.
  • A total of 8659 customers were impacted by CBA’s conduct on 131,542 occasions, in circumstances where the bank benefited from a total of $8,087,276.23 in incorrectly charged fees and interest on loans, and underpaid interest on savings.

In his decision, Justice Beach found that a penalty of $5 million was appropriate having regard to the number of contraventions, the prejudice to customers, the duration of the contraventions and the inadequacy of CBA’s internal systems and processes.

He said the penalty imposed recognised the gravity of the contraventions while taking into account mitigating circumstances, including that the contravening conduct was not deliberate and there had since been complete rectification and remediation.

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