THE DISTILLERY: Slippery liquidators

Scribes put in their two cents on financial industry reform, raising concerns over super regulation and a new ASIC report on liquidator misconduct.

The superannuation and insolvency industries are greatly in need of reform and there are efforts being mustered at government level. Two of Australia's leading commentators illustrate just how badly the systems can function. Given the direction that the Australian budget and economy appear to be heading, getting these two industries in order would be much appreciated.

Starting with The Australian's John Durie, we are informed of the utter silence with which the superannuation industry has met the release of the last leg of industry reforms.

"For big fund complexes such as AMP and the banks, the latter is on paper a bureaucratic nightmare, given each individual fund has to say how many BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, and Telstra shares it owns, and each complex has literally hundreds of individual funds. Those same hundreds of funds will also allow fund managers to hide behind layers of paper before detailing how much money they earn while they attack listed-company bosses for excessive pay. That's the way the system works."

Meanwhile, Fairfax's Adele Ferguson is similarly looking at the forces lining up against industry reform, specifically the murky world of insolvency.

"After all the promises by the federal government to clean up the insolvency industry, a report released on Wednesday by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission indicates that things are getting worse, not better. There are 682 liquidators in Australia and a report by ASIC into the supervision of the profession reveals that it received 437 reports of alleged misconduct involving registered liquidators in the past year, which is up slightly the previous year's 426 complaints. It is not known how many of the 682 liquidators received complaints, but it would be illuminating to know whether they were directed at a handful of liquidators or more broadly. Whatever the case, ASIC found that more than half of all the reviews it examined in 2012 were 'inadequate'."

Elsewhere, Fairfax's Elizabeth Knight is the only business writer this reporting season that's visited the issue of wealth management as an aspect of the banking results. That was a line in the big bank numbers most others avoided 12 months ago.

"One of the sleeper issues in this season's bank results will be the contribution from their wealth management business, which only a year ago were the divisions that none wanted to highlight. Wednesday's performance from Westpac's funds management offshoot, BT Investment Management, was worthy of a crow. Cash net profit for the half to March 31 was up a whopping 73 per cent and it is now making as much as it was before the global financial crisis. Only a year ago some banks – in particular National Australia Bank and ANZ – were under some pressure to write down the value of their wealth assets but insisted they needed more opportunity to turn them around based on the notion that they could cross-sell wealth management products to their retail and small business client base. To date, there is no real evidence this strategy has been successful."

Elsewhere, The Australian's Asia-Pacific editor Rowan Callick says the Gillard government's argument that the budget shortfall is an unexpected event doesn't fly when you look at the Chinese government's growth forecasts. The Australian government was simply hoping for a hand that was never going to be dealt.

The Australian's economics editor David Uren reasons that the Coalition could have a harder task balancing the budget than Labor because Tony Abbott has promised so many tax cuts to stimulate growth.

The Australian Financial Review's Jennifer Hewett remembers a time when former prime minister Paul Keating said the galah at the local pet store was talking about micro-economic policy. Today, Hewett reasons, such a conversation might have to take place abut productivity because higher incomes will no longer hide the real cost of declining productivity.

And finally, The Australian's Blair Speedy equates the battle between Woolworths and Unilever over the cost of bathroom necessities with the battle between German discounting giant Aldi with food major Nestlé back in 2006.

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