Senate fintech committee re-opens inquiry to focus on COVID-19 aftermath

The committee is seeking guidance on the effects of the coronavirus on Australia's finance sector and what support is necessary in the wake of the pandemic.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology in October kicked off an inquiry to examine the size and scope of the opportunity for Australia financial technology (fintech) and regulatory technology (regtech) present.

On Friday, the committee announced it would re-open submissions in direct response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Since the committee finished its last round of public hearings in February, Australia's economic and financial environment has changed dramatically as a result of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic," it said.

"The committee is keenly aware that these rapid and unexpected changes will have a significant impact on the fintech and regtech sectors."

The committee said it would not press ahead with its previous timetable, allowing new submissions to be made until 10 April 2020.

"The committee has re-opened its inquiry submission process to enable submitters to provide further input to the committee on what the critical needs of the sector are at this time," it said.

It is hoping further submissions will provide information on what support is necessary in the short, medium, and long term, including post-coronavirus recovery, focusing on solutions that could be delivered swiftly by government and the private sector.

The inquiry to date has received over 155 submissions, with the big four banks, startup and incubator support systems, emerging payments networks, and federal government departments and agencies among those voicing their opinions on the sector.

With a pre-coronavirus focus, the main concerns raised by submissions were access to data under Australia's Consumer Data Right (CDR) and the support available to emerging players in the nation's finance sector.

Speaking on Monday, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims highlighted the importance of innovation in times such as these.

"If ever there was a time to expedite digital innovation, this is it," he said, speaking via a virtual briefing for the AFR Banking & Wealth Summit Crisis.

Sims said competition "must and will" survive the current crisis.

"While I do not know when the recovery will begin, we know there will be a recovery and when it begins there is reason to hope it will be fairly quick

"The economy will be assisted by sensible but clearly temporary immediate measures, and the ACCC will play a role in this. Recovery will be greatly assisted by the current competitive structure of the economy being maintained, and work continuing to be done on important economic reforms."

Sims said Australia must avoid a savage destruction of businesses, and of human and other capital, and that the nation must look after the economy's long-term health.

With nearly 700 fintech companies operating in Australia since 2018, Sims said fintechs are "innovative and responsive" to changing customer needs. He said they can bring much needed competition. 

He also said a key driver of reform, and greatly improved competition in financial services, will be the CDR.

"We may not know when the gains from CDR will kick in, but we can be certain they will be profound. Competition, consumers, and the economy will be benefit considerably," he said.

"Competition has a critical role to play in getting the economy running again post the COVID-19 crisis.

"It is important that the necessary short term measures do not give rise to long term structural damage to competition or market concentration, and that we continue to make progress with important reforms such as the Consumer Data Right."


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