Speeches

Speech to FinTech Australia

There is no doubt Australia has become a global leader in financial technology. Australia’s policymakers and market participants have made this happen.

FinTech Australia has played a big role in this transformation and I thank Rebecca and her team for the great work. Equally I acknowledge the leadership of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Minister Jane Hume. 

This has been a great collab (as you would say in FinTech) for Australia. 

According to KPMG, Australia was home to two of the top ten FinTech deals in the Asia Pacific in the past year.

Growth in the sector was exponential.

Last year more than 100 fintechs were added to the Australian economy, according to KPMG, that's now 733 active Fintechs.

Australia has developed more than half a dozen unicorns over the past few years. These include, Afterpay, Airtasker, Zip, SafetyCulture, Airwallex and JudoBank. 

For example, Airwallex was founded in Melbourne, and provides an exchange for finances across jurisdictions. The founders of the business were initially cafe owners. 

Recognising the impact of high international transaction costs, they asked the question all great founders inevitably ask: what if there was a better way? 

Australia’s development into a leading FinTech jurisdiction means consumers get better choices and we have more jobs. 

The Select Committee into Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology, which I chair, has since been re-badged as the Senate Select Committee on Australia as a Technology and Financial Centre. This committee was one of the world’s first special purpose FinTech inquiries.

We have issued two interim reports, making around 50 recommendations on making Australia a world-leading jurisdiction for FinTech.

Australia has shown leadership, it is paying off. 

The success of the Australian FinTech sector is in part due to a domestic banking sector which is ripe for disruption.

Ambition for this great country and all that it can offer - extraordinary people, vast natural resources, a quality of life and public institutions which are the envy of the world.

We must never forget how lucky we are. I never take for granted  the opportunity I have as a legislator to represent this country and shape the agenda for the common good. 

But it also requires humility. You can only achieve so much with public policy. At the core of my liberal philosophy is an understanding of the fact that policymakers are confined by inherent limitations. 

We can only have access to incomplete information, constituents have their own priorities, their own incentives, and may not necessarily react to our good intentions in the way we might want. 

Some of the exponential growth of the FinTeach sector can be measured - in consumer numbers, revenue, investment and share prices.  

There is also exponential growth which can’t be measured - in the scale and scope of innovation. It is the latter that is the primary concern of policymakers like myself. 

We are a very long way from the market in general terms and a very long way from the market in the FinTech space. 

This is a challenge faced by all governments.

However, at the very least it can start with a recognition of what we do not know. That’s why our “collab” is so important. 

The final push 

The recognition that we need to do more work on some key issues was the core imperative behind the extension of the committee until October 2020. 

The issues raised in the committee - debanking, digital assets, neobanking, the tax and regulatory environment as a whole - were of such a magnitude that the Committee could not, in good conscience, have come before you and said “our work is done”. 

This became most readily apparent when we applied our investigative lens to digital assets.

We, the Committee, want to hear more from you, the sector. 

This is why tonight, I am releasing the second and final issues paper for the Select Committee. Think of this latest issues paper as establishing the ‘problem’. 

Think of your submissions as helping solve that problem. 

As you may be aware, the extended committee will be applying special attention to four subjects: the regulation of cryptocurrencies and digital assets, the policy environment for neobanks, debanking of fintech and related products, instances of corporate law holding back investment, and options to replace the Offshore Banking Unit.  

We need your ideas and input on these topics before we close down the first special purpose parliamentary inquiry into FinTech.

The Current Climate 

I do want to address the issue of debanking. 

I know this is a major concern for the fintech sector. 

The experience is that some debanking activities have constituted conduct which could be viewed as anti-competitive. 

But the ACCC has often declined to act, despite agreeing, in principle, that debanking is a major issue for these projects.  

We’ve heard that debanking has been linked to an uncertain policy framework, especially in relation to FinTechs.

This concerns the access to payment infrastructure, we cannot have these entities being effectively shadowbanned by financial institutions merely because they pose a competitive threat. 

This is why the committee will be looking very closely at the existing policy framework around debanking - in particular the role played by regulators in enforcing existing laws relating to debanking. 

Our remit is broad - to gain a fuller understanding of debanking issues, including its causes and significance. 

We need to better understand the policy issues which may be leading to debanking - rather than the market issues. The market issues are up to the market to solve. The policy issues which are driving instances of debanking are for Canberra to solve. 

I will give you this commitment: we will not leave any policy issues which are driving debanking on the table. 

Similarly, the committee wants to have a close look at recent developments in the neobank sector. Events such as the closure of Xinja Bank and NAB’s purchase of 86400 has provided a spur to investigate the policy environment facing neobanks to ensure a robust competitive environment in the financial sector. 

I know that APRA has released a paper on this topic - it’s important that APRA go through its own process of finding out what’s not working. For example, why would a bank pay interest on deposits but not open a mortgage book? 

That is a question for APRA to think about as we maintain our policy of driving more banking competition. We don’t want investors to lose faith in Australia as a jurisdiction promoting neobanking. 

AFTCAG

Last year I convened AFTCAG - Australia as a Finance and Technology Centre Advisory Group - a team of women and men who are known leaders from finance, technology, and business. It was chaired by former Macquarie banker Andrew Low.

AFTCAG came up with 15 concrete recommendations for improving the competitiveness of Australia as a finance and tech centre.

These people know what they’re talking about, some of their recommendations and issues were adopted in the federal budget:

  1. The Government is investing $550 million to attract global talent.
  2. Finalising the implementation of the CCIV regime to encourage foreign investment and enhance the competitiveness of the funds management sector.
  3. Clarifying and simplifying the tax residency rules for globally mobile individuals.
  4. Providing greater certainty to foreign investors by providing them with an ATO concierge service, fast tracking advice to foreign investors about the implications of these transactions. 

Conclusion

Finally, Australia’s success isn’t guaranteed to continue.

This is a highly mobile market and regulatory competition will intensify as the world emerges from COVID.

We need to be humble, but ambitious, understanding of our own inherent limitations and using that understanding to advance policy that will provide a benefit to Australia.

We need to seize the initiative. As a first step, we need to hear from you about the specific obstacles you face.

I would encourage you to organise, talk amongst yourselves, advocate for reforms, and conduct your own analysis as to how you can shape the agenda. 

Let’s work together. I am proud of the work we’ve done, but we aren’t finished yet. We have time for some more “collab”.

Media: John Mangos  0401 392 624

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