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APRA commends super funds on tough year

The prudential regulator had mostly positive things to say around Australia's superannuation industry last year as it released its annual review.

The APRA 2020 Year in Review highlighted the difficult circumstances faced by those under its watch, with insurance companies being rocked by bushfires at the start of the year, and the super industry reacting to the government's early release scheme.

APRA chair Wayne Byres said impact on households and businesses across the country was profound and dramatic.

"APRA-regulated financial institutions (authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs), insurers and superannuation funds) have stood up to the challenge, both financially and operationally, and have continued to fulfil their critical roles in society and the economy," Byres said.

"This positive outcome reflects a long period of investment in financial and operational resilience, founded on a strong prudential framework."

Additionally, Byres said each industry has not only been able to withstand the events of the past year but played a part in helping cushion the blow from a severe economic contraction.

He said APRA now has an expanded role, identified in it's recently released corporate plan, outlining its four key objectives for the future.

These included maintaining financial system resilience, improving outcomes for super members, transforming governance, culture and remuneration accountability and improving cyber resilience.

"These areas reflected an expansion of expectations by government and the broader community of APRA's role, particularly with respect to a greater focus on non-financial risk and the behaviour of those in leadership positions within the financial services industry, as well as the emergence of newer and increasing risks such as those related to cyber resilience," Byres said.

"Increased emphasis on information-sharing and collaboration with peer agencies, particularly the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), was also prioritised."

Byres said COVID-19 required APRA to adopt a broad perspective when identifying and responding to the risks and vulnerabilities that threatened the stability of Australia's financial system.

"At the heart of the challenge was a collective action problem: that is, that steps by individual financial institutions to protect themselves from the economic impact of COVID-19, such as reducing their risk appetite and conserving their financial resources, could prove to be counter-productive if taken by all institutions at the same time," he said.

Byres added that despite the financial system holding up well as a whole, the full effect of the pandemic may not yet have been felt.

"To date, the financial system has stood up well to the shock caused by COVID-19," he said.

"However, while the financial system has proven to be resilient so far, it is yet to be fully tested: many support measures are temporary and the full impacts of the shock are yet to be felt."

Read more: APRAWayne ByresASICAustralian Securities and Investments Commission
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