Australian Bank Fined for Breaching Self-Exclusion Request

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has been handed a fine of $150,000 for breaching a series of self-exclusion from gambling requests made by one of its clients. Australia’s Federal Court found the bank to be in breach of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 as they actively increased the credit limits of an account belonging to a known problem gambler.

Credit card being used to spend online.

Credit card users in Australia may be unable to use their accounts to make gambling-related transactions as pressure on the industry to take significant action mounts. ©Mediamodifier/Pixabay

It was the Australian Securities and Investments Commission that originally filed the case with the Federal Court. Following an investigation carried out by them on the financial transactions of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, it was found to be directly breaching serious aspects of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009. This was highlighted with a customer, Mr. David Harris, who was permitted an increase on his credit card despite self-excluding from gambling. All of this was in the bank’s records of Mr. Harris.

Mr. Harris reportedly told the bank in October 2016 that he was a problem gambler and does not want his credit limit increased until he can overcome his compulsive gambling. However, in January 2017 the customer made a request to increase his credit limit by more than $7000. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia agreed to the request and immediately made the funds available.

This was a failure of internal control systems at the bank, and a lack of responsibility for the welfare of its customers. Australia has tight controls on the gambling industry and regulates on all levels of the customer chain from the bank to the betting platform itself. In this case, the bank failed in its duty, and should not have allowed a self-professed problem gambler continues to extend his credit line.

Court Rules Bank Breached Several Credit Provisions

The Federal Court of Australia ruling on this case deliberated over the evidence of Mr. Harris’ accounts, assessing whether the bank had illegally increased his credit limits. They concluded that the bank had in fact broken several responsible lending rules as outlined in the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009. This includes the 130th section of the legal code, whereby the bank has a duty to inquire with an at-risk customer, in an attempt to understand if he planned gambling with the increased credit.

Investigators also discovered that the bank broke the 128th section of the legal code. This breach focuses on the actions taken by a bank to inquire with a customer before handling their request to increase credit. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia failed to investigate whether the increase in credit was for an adequate purpose, and in reality, they showed little motivation to understand what the extra cash would be spent on.

Finally, the court also saw the fact that the bank directly contradicted the previous request of the customer to not increase his access to credit as a major breach of protocol. The limit should have remained unchanged until the customer, Mr. Harris, was able to adequately control his compulsive gambling behavior.

All of the breaches together were seen as a serious contravention of a broader set of gambling laws related to responsible credit, gambling, and welfare of at risk customers. In all three regards, the bank failed in its obligations.

Judge Fines Commercial Bank of Australia $150,000

Justice Murphy, presiding over the case against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, determined that the breaches amounted to gross negligence on the part of the bank. As a result, the bank was ordered to pay the fine of $150,000 within 30 days of the ruling, which was announced on the 22nd of October. The bank was also forced to pay the legal fees of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission made the misconduct allegations of the Commercial Bank of Australia, specifically relating to a series of failures related to reporting on the credit requests of problem gamblers. As a result of inefficient control systems and poor oversight, the bank failed in one of its primary operational duties. Because of these failures, the bank failed to recognize the customer as a problem gambling before offering and applying a larger credit line to his account.

Justice Murphy also commented that the bank has taken measures to improve its handling of these cases in the future. These include specific processes to prevent the mismanagement of self-identified problem gamblers and broader measures to help customers manage the amount of credit expenditure they incur.

In December 2019, the Australian Banking Association launched a series of investigations into the relationship between online gambling and credit card spending. This consultation collected data from across the industry over a six month period and will hope to put forward evidence to the group of banks so they can better improve their player protection processes.

During the course of the consultation, the National Australia Bank also decided to implement a new feature into its bank accounts. This feature will allow customers the option to block gambling as a credit card expenditure. Bank Australia Group, a consumer-owned organization took a similar approach, saying it would no longer support gambling transactions from its credit card customer accounts.

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