AMP's submission to the banking royal commission attacks the conclusions of star counsel Rowena Orr

Rowena Orr. Image: Screenshot from webcast.
  • AMP has questioned conclusions made by Rowena Orr, the senior counsel assisting the financial services commission.
  • The company says she miscounted the number of times AMP made misrepresentations to ASIC.
  • AMP also says there is no evidence that former AMP chairman Catherine Brenner and former CEO Craig Meller acted “inappropriately”.

AMP, while still agreeing it gave false information to corporate regulator to ASIC and charged customers for something they didn’t get, is in vehement disagreement with Rowena Orr, the senior counsel assisting the financial services commission, over the possibility that the company may have acted criminally.

The financial services giant argued in a submission today that Orr miscounted the number of times AMP made misrepresentations to ASIC and that the number of emails about changes to a report into the fee-for-no-services issue was actually lower than that stated by the royal commission.

AMP also says there is no evidence that former AMP chairman Catherine Brenner and former CEO Craig Meller acted “inappropriately”.

Orr, a Queen’s Counsel and considered by her peers as a gifted barrister, has gained a following on social media from those impressed with the forensic skills she uses in the commission hearings to uncover core issues and for her ability to ask hard questions.

AMP today made a detailed submission to the commission, in which the counsel assisting is named 15 times, to “strenuously” deny Orr’s point that the company had “committed a criminal offence”.

The criminality, in Orr’s view expressed at the commission hearings, is centred on a report by law firm Clayton Utz, commissioned by AMP, and given to corporate regulator ASIC in October 2017.

The report, an investigation by Clayton Utz into the fee-for-no-service issue where customers were charged for financial advice they didn’t get, was changed up to 25 times at the suggestion of AMP. These changes, the commission was told, appeared aimed at limiting findings about the knowledge of senior executives of the fee-for-no-service issue.

Orr told the commission that senior managers at AMP knew that charging fees for no service was a breach of the law but this continued even after AMP had reported it to ASIC.

The Clayton Utz report is a 87-page review of documents and the result of interviews with 27 current and former AMP employees.

AMP argues that questions in the royal commission to senior AMP executive Jack Regan suggested or implied that then chair Brenner and now former CEO Meller sought to “improperly influence” the findings of the report.

“There is no basis for such a finding,” says AMP. “The evidence discloses no reasonable basis for a finding that either Mr Meller or Ms Brenner acted inappropriately.”

Clayton Utz removed Meller’s name from the draft report. AMP now says: “Clayton Utz explained the rationale as being that the inclusion of Mr Meller’s name, in circumstances where they had formed the view that he was not culpable, would attract unnecessary attention from ASIC.”

AMP also argues that the number of internal company emails about the Clayton Utz report was overstated by Orr.

“Counsel Assisting’s (Orr) questions to Mr Regan suggested or implied that more than 700 emails had been exchanged between AMP and Clayton Utz about the content of the draft report. That suggestion overstates the number of communications,” says AMP.

AMP argues that a spreadsheet, the output from AMP’s document management system, used by Orr actually double counts some of the emails sent about the Clayton Utz report.

Evidence given at the commission showed that AMP made false or misleading statements to ASIC at least 20 times.

However, today AMP argues that Orr got this incorrect.

“AMP recognises that any misrepresentation to ASIC is plainly unacceptable,” the company says.

“However, the number of separate misrepresentations said to have been made by AMP to ASIC was nonetheless overstated by Counsel Assisting.”

AMP argues that the evidence shows there were seven misrepresentations in 12 communications, and not 20 misrepresentations in 28 communications.

“.. it is respectfully submitted that it would be unsafe for the Commissioner to make any finding in respect of AMP’s communications regarding the Clayton Utz report,” says AMP.

So far 15,712 AMP customers have been compensated to a total of $4.172 million for the fee-for-no-service issue from July 2008.

“While AMP has remediated many customers, it acknowledges the process has been too slow,” the company says. “AMP is committing more resources and exploring ways to accelerate this process.”

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