ED HUSIC MPSHADOW MINISTER FOR THE DIGITAL ECONOMYMEMBER FOR CHIFLEY
TREASURER, THE (FINTECH) BUCK STOPS WITH YOU
I need to start this piece with a startling confession.
Treasurer Scott Morrison recently said something that made me pay attention.
A couple of weeks ago, the Financial Review reported that the Treasurer had addressed members of the Australian fintech community and issued a stern demand.
He told them hes counting on Australian fintechs not to stuff up the implementation of open banking reforms.
With just a few words, he implied that the success of his ideas rest not on the quality of his own work but on the capability of the fintech community.
The question that must be asked is: why isnt the Treasurer taking his own advice to not stuff things up?
When it comes to fintech reform, the smudged prints of a butter-fingered Treasurer are there for all to see.
Some quick examples.
Weve headed back to Parliament this week to resume sittings and debate a range of proposals that would help Australias fintech community. Or so youd think.
First example: equity crowdfunding. Its been nearly a year since the Treasurer introduced the second wave of equity crowdfunding reforms to federal Parliament.
They havent passed. Theyre stuck in the Senate.
Not because of the Opposition or crossbench. In fact, Labors biggest problem with the bill is that the reforms wont take effect quickly enough.
The real reason for the delay: the government simply cant be bothered to list the laws for debate.
The Government should be urgently pushing these reforms; after all theyre designed to fix the botched first round of equity crowdfunding laws the Coalition pushed through in early 2017.
Laws that people warned the Coalition for ages were too red tape and cost heavy.
The vacuum created by the introduction of a clumsy equity crowdfunding framework has pushed startups increasingly towards Initial Coin Offerings as an alternative pathway to raise capital.
The growth in ICO popularity makes you wonder if the latest equity crowdfunding laws will become another ScoMo dodo.
The fintech community wasnt responsible for these delays and stuff ups, Treasurer.
What about laws to fix up the lifeless fintech regulatory sandbox arrangements ushered in by the Coalition?
Arrangements that only four just four Australian fintechs bothered to use since they were announced in 2016.
Just to let you know how badly were performing, in roughly the same period of time the UKs sandbox hosted over 75 fintechs.
Again, the fintech sandbox changes are going nowhere because of poor parliamentary management.
And again, the fintech communitys not responsible for this, Mr Morrison.
Another example: the Treasurers announcement of a fintech bridge between the UK and Australia.
Local fintechs are already questioning the wisdom behind this arrangement when Australian fintechs havent had the chance to mature relative to UK counterparts.
A point compounded by the bigger concern to local firms: the lack of a complete, robust and properly functioning fintech regulatory framework.
Given the competitive and regulatory imbalance between the two nations, its no surprise to hear Aussie fintechs remark that the Treasurers fintech bridge is simply a platform for digital re-colonisation.
Theyre concerned the bridge will act as a one-way street allowing bigger UK fintech players to extract greater competitive advantage here as opposed to helping our fintechs secure a firm foothold in the UK market.
To rub salt into that wound, its worth pointing out that London is one of the few big markets where the Australian Government hasnt set up a startup landing pad.
The bigger question is: is the fintech community responsible for the fintech bridge arrangements and implementation, Treasurer? No.
Finally, comprehensive credit reporting reforms that are supposed to free up rivers of data for fintechs?
Debated and considered for years. Then introduced suddenly absent one vital part.
A crucial review by the Attorney-Generals department into future treatment of credit hardship provisions which will play a large part in future credit arrangements hasnt been finished.
Admittedly, Labor copped some heat from some fintech players for simply not waving through CCR reform without the hardship review.
The fact is the way the Government designed CCR reform wouldve led to very poor consumer outcomes, people whod hit hard times but done the right thing and entered into hardship plans with their bank.
While we support mandatory CCR in principle, waving through a botched and unfair model wouldve been unconscionable.
So the focus should firmly rest with the Turnbull government, who should never have botched CCR reform without the review being completed.
Again, the fintech communitys not responsible for that stuff up.
The problem for Mr Morrison is one witnessed at a wider scale within the Turnbull government.
Addicted to announcement, deficient with delivery.
Australias fintech community has a huge and valuable role to play.
Theyre working furiously to develop competitive alternatives to the offerings of bigger, well established financial services businesses.
Theyve got enough on their plate making sure their own ideas and firms succeed.
They dont need to be blamed for the poor planning that seems to characterise much of the Treasurers fintech reforms.
If the pressure to not stuff it up should rest with anyone, its not with the Australian fintech community.
Mr Morrison, if youre looking for the answer as to who needs to make sure they dont stuff up fintech reform the nearest mirror will do.
This piece first appeared in the Financial Review online on Monday 13 August 2018
TUESDAY, 14 AUGUST 2018
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ED HUSIC OPINION PIECE TREASURER, THE (FINTECH) BUCK STOPS WITH YOU
13 August 2018