The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has commenced civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court against Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) for allegedly overstating how much available funds and balances customers had on their credit card accounts, and charging fees and interest to customers who relied on this information when making withdrawals.
ASIC alleges that between May 2016 and November 2018, more than 165,700 ANZ customers were charged cash advance fees and interest for withdrawing or transferring money from their credit card accounts based on incorrect account balance being displayed on the ANZ website, ANZ app, and at automatic teller machines. The average cash advance fees and interest that were charged to each customer account was around AU$47, ASIC alleges.
"We are concerned that, over a long period of time, ANZ overstated the available funds and balances on credit card accounts, and nonetheless charged fees and interest to customers who relied on this information when making withdrawals," ASIC deputy chair Sarah Court said.
According to ASIC, the alleged misconduct is the result of "system errors" that misled customers between May 2016 and September 2021, and from September 2021 to believe their credit card balance and available funds were in credit, and that the balance would be available to withdraw from without incurring fees or interest.
ASIC also alleges that ANZ has not adequately fixed the problem and that customers continue to be affected.
In the court filing [PDF], ASIC alleges that in March 2018, ANZ commenced an internal investigation that ultimately identified 20 scenarios where credit card amounts and other accounts were affected by the miscommunication of available funds and balances. ASIC believes it was only after this investigation did ANZ begin implementing fixes to the some of the issues but is continuing to charge inflated fees and interest on impacted accounts.
"We say that ANZ has been aware of the unlawful charging since at least 2018 and the problem is still occurring today,' Court said.
As of the end of October 2021, ANZ has remediated over AU$10 million to more than 220,700 customers who were wrongly charged fees or interest between July 2015 to November 2018, but now ASIC is seeking court orders for the bank to remediate customers who have been wrongly charged since 2018.
The corporate watchdog is also seeking court orders that require ANZ to implement a system change so that where a payment is made to a customer's credit card account, it is not included in their funds or balance until the amount is cleared by ANZ and is available to use without being charged fees or interest. ASIC is also seeking declarations and pecuniary penalties from the court.
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