Australia bank pays out over charging dead people

A woman walks past Westpac Bank signage in Melbourne.

Australian banking giant Westpac has admitted to breaking the law after it was hit with six lawsuits by regulators over its poor treatment of customers, including charging fees to dead people.

It will pay $81m (A$113m; £61m) in penalties, subject to court approval. The bank will also hand $57m of compensation to its customers.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) said Westpac needs to urgently improve its “poor compliance culture”.

“The conduct and breaches alleged in these proceedings caused widespread consumer harm and ranged across Westpac’s everyday banking, financial advice, superannuation and insurance businesses,” ASIC Deputy Chair Sarah Court said.

ASIC, Australia’s corporate watchdog, said one of the six investigations found the bank had charged more than $7m in fees over a 10-year period to more than 11,000 “deceased customers for financial advice services that were not provided due to their death.”

The regulator also said Westpac distributed duplicate insurance policies to more than 7,000 customers, causing customers to unnecessarily pay for two, or more, policies.

It also estimated that at least 25,000 customers were charged more than $5m in fees that had not been disclosed adequately.

ASIC said Westpac had admitted the allegations filed in the federal court.

“In each of these matters, Westpac has fallen short of our standards and the standards our customers expect of us.

“The issues raised in these matters should not have occurred, and our processes, systems and monitoring should have been better. We are putting things right and unreservedly apologise to our customers,” Westpac chief executive Peter King said in a statement.

It is the latest major regulatory blow for Westpac. In September last year, it agreed to pay a record $930m fine for the country’s biggest ever breach of money laundering laws.

The previous year, Westpac’s then-chief executive Brian Hartzer stepped down after the bank became embroiled in the money-laundering scandal.

Also in 2019, a national inquiry into Australia’s scandal-plagued financial sector proposed sweeping changes to the industry in an attempt to end rampant misconduct.

The Royal Commission – Australia’s highest form of public inquiry – spent 12 months investigating wrongdoing by some of the country’s biggest institutions.

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