Jun 212019
 

Creators of ASIC’s ROCAP documents describe their process

Soon after the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issued a form titled Report On Company Activities and Property (ROCAP), the creators of the form – the Communications Research Institute (CRI) – published an article describing the process they went through, their standards and the results of tests carried out.

Form Design process

CRI form design procedure (Source: CRI)

The ROCAP – which replaced the Report as to Affairs (RATA) – is used in corporate insolvencies, where company directors are required to supply liquidators and other external administrators with details of a failed company’s present position, assets, liabilities and history.

Below is a copy of the article written in October 2018 by the head of CRI, Professor David Sless.

As the reader will see, CRI reports that “in the final round of testing (of the new form/documents) participants described the documents as ‘straightforward’ (and that) they easily followed both instructions and the related form-filling task.”

If that’s how the form and accompanying documents are received and processed in practice, it will be a welcome change. Because, by contrast, CRI says it found that “not a single director who participated in the CRI testing of the original RATA could use it appropriately”.

By now (June 2019) feedback to ASIC should indicate whether the new design developed by CRI has been a success, i.e., is regarded by directors and liquidators as more user-friendly and useful. CRI says that “once introduced, the forms and instructions will be carefully monitored and further refined or changed as needed.”


A NEW FORM HELPING FAILED COMPANIES
A Communications Research Institute (CRI) Model project

WHEN A COMPANY fails and an External Administrator is appointed, the Administrator sends a director of the company a form to complete by a set date. The form, known until now as the Report As To Affairs (RATA) had remained largely unchanged since the 19th century.  The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), which issues the RATA under the Corporations Act 2001, contracted CRI to develop a new design that would be:

  • user friendly,
  • consistent and logical,
  • visually appealing,
  • easy to read an complete.

CRI drew on its extensive research and practice in forms design spanning over three decades.  CRI collaborated and consulted throughout the project with ASIC and a diverse group of professionals, academics, industry bodies, and former company directors, all of whom contributed to the design of the new form. 

External administrators, in particular, who were the main RATA users told us that it failed to provide them with adequate information on the companies they administered.  CRI, in consultation with ASIC determined that the needs of administrators had to be taken into account in the redesign.

Receiving the RATA is an unhappy and often traumatic experience for company directors.  It marks the end of the company’s life, handing over its remains and final fate to an External Administrator who disposes of it and its assets in the best interests of its creditors.  The feedback showed that in that handing over, filling out the RATA was itself traumatic.

Tellingly, not a single director who participated in the CRI testing of the original RATA could use it appropriately.

The redesign involved all aspects of the form’s structure, language, layout, colour and content, and a change of name from RATA to are more easily understood name: ROCAP – Report on Company Activities and Property.  CRI undertook three rounds of designing, testing, and consultation with ASIC and stakeholders, followed by redesign.

The result is a totally new set of three documents to replace the RATA: Part A contains most of the RATA questions but in a totally new format, Part B contains new questions about the company records, history and management, and the third document contains detailed instructions for completing Parts A and B….

The instructions … are designed to exactly complement the questions, using the same numbering system throughout.

Observations from previous research shows that form users avoid reading instructions on a form because they see the task is primarily a form-filling task rather than are reading-and-form-filling task.  In CRI’s designs, the instructions are always in a separate document, physically removed from the form filling tasks.

Careful design refinement of the navigation between the two documents as a result of testing enabled easy navigation between the two.  In the final round of testing, participants describe the document as “straightforward”. They easily followed both instructions and the related form-filling task.  The new design meets all CRI standards for good information design.

Once introduced, the forms and instructions will be carefully monitored and further refined or changed as needed.

Professor David Sless

Communication Research institute – October 2018


My previous posts on this subject are titled “Framework of new Report as to Affairs (RATA) drafted by ASIC” and “ASIC notifies liquidators that ROCAP is to replace RATA”

I plan to post more articles about the new form and documents.


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Oct 122018
 

On 1 October 2018 the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released a draft of a new Report as to Affairs (commonly known as a RATA). A copy of this form, which includes detailed instructions, may be downloaded from my website or from this ASIC journal.

The new name of the report is to be Report On Company Activities and Property (ROCAP). ASIC intends releasing it in November 2018.

Analysis

Form apges

The following comments outline my preliminary analysis of the draft. Continue reading »

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Dec 192017
 
PhoenixThe Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has reported on two successful convictions against directors for breaching their duties, in that they engaged in illegal phoenix activities.

The reports are in two media releases, both published on 19 December 2017. Copies of the media releases appear below. But unfortunately, the media releases do not report on what, if anything, happened in relation to the assets of the stripped companies. If the only consequences of the phoenix activities were fines and, in one case, disqualification, there has been little in the way of deterrence.

As can be seen, one director was convicted and fined $5,000, and automatically disqualified from managing corporations for five years.  His company (Brimarco) had all its funds – $34,800  – taken and transfered to a related company, leaving behind debts of $2 million. The release does not say whether the $34,800, or anything at all, was recovered.

The other director was discharged without conviction upon entering into recognisance in the sum of $2,000 on condition that she would be of good behaviour for two years. She sold the assets of her company (Greenlay Enterprises) to a related entity for $20,000, which appears to have been less than their market value. To make matters worse, the related entity did not actually pay the $20,000.  The release does not say whether the assets, or an amount equal to their worth, or anything at all, was recovered.

Continue reading »

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Sep 282017
 
Consultation

The Treasury has today (28 September 2017) released a consultation paper on reforms to address illegal phoenix activity. The closing date for submissions by interested parties is 27 October 2017.

The paper is available for download from the Treasury website.

Below is the foreword to the paper, by the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, Minister for Revenue and Financial Services:

Phoenixing involves the stripping and transfer of assets from one company to another to avoid paying liabilities. It hurts all Australians, including employees, creditors, competing businesses and taxpayers, and has been a problem for successive governments over many decades.

Phoenixing has a significant financial impact – in 2012, the Fair Work Ombudsman and PwC estimated the cost of phoenixing to the Australian economy to be as high as $3.2 billion annually. It also undermines business’ and the public’s confidence in the corporate and insolvency sectors and the broader economy.

Companies fail for many different reasons, and it can be difficult to distinguish between those who are engaging in illegal phoenix activity and those who are simply involved in a failed company.  We are committed to helping honest and diligent entrepreneurs who drive Australia’s productivity, but we won’t tolerate those who misuse the corporate form, to defeat creditors and rip off all Australians. Continue reading »

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Directors get a safe harbour for insolvent trading

 ASIC, Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency Law, Regulation, White collar crime  Comments Off on Directors get a safe harbour for insolvent trading
Sep 202017
 
Ship entering harbour

 

From 18 September 2017 company directors will be able to seek shelter from liability for insolvent trading.

Previously, a director who caused a company to incur new debts (e.g., obtain goods and services on credit) at a time when the company was unable to pay its existing debts/liabilities, could – if the company was subsequently placed in liquidation –  be sued by the liquidator or by the creditor provider.

Now, the laws will “protect a director in relation to debts that a company incurs directly or indirectly  in connection with developing and taking a course of action that is reasonably likely to lead to a better outcome for the company than proceeding immediately to voluntary administration or winding up.” [Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Enterprise Incentives No. 2) Bill 2017, Explanatory Memorandum, paragraph 1.32]

For the full history of this legislation – which encompasses “Safe Harbour for Insolvent Trading” laws and “ipso facto” clauses – and to see a discussion of the key issues (35 pages in all), click on this link: Parliamentary Library’s Bills Digest No. 33 of 11 September 2017.

TO BE CONTINUED …

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Sep 132017
 
Phoenix

Media release, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, 12 September 2017:

The Turnbull Government is taking action to crack down on illegal phoenixing activity that costs the economy up to $3.2 billion per year to ensure those involved face tougher penalties, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, announced today.

Phoenixing – the stripping and transfer of assets from one company to another by individuals or entities to avoid paying liabilities – has been a problem for successive governments over many decades. It hurts all Australians, including employees, creditors, competing businesses and taxpayers.

The Government’s comprehensive package of reforms will include the introduction of a Director Identification Number (DIN) and a range of other measures to both deter and penalise phoenix activity.

The DIN will identify directors with a unique number, but it will be much more than just a number. The DIN will interface with other government agencies and databases to allow regulators to map the relationships between individuals and entities and individuals and other people.

In addition to the DIN, the Government will consult on implementing a range of other measures to deter and disrupt the core behaviours of phoenix operators, including non-directors such as facilitators and advisers. These include: Continue reading »

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Sep 112017
 
Logo with border

With the commencement on 1 September 2017 of the delayed parts of the Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016 (the ILRA), the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has updated some of the Information Sheets which it makes available on its website to the general public.

ASIC says  that “Information sheets provide concise guidance on a specific process or compliance issue or an overview of detailed guidance.”

Over time ASIC has issued about 36 insolvency information sheets and flow charts (click here for my list).  Below is a list of 15 which have recently been reissued.

In the past, nearly all ASIC’s information sheets have been available to download as printable sheets in PDF file format.  However, this facility has not (yet) been provided with the updated/reissued sheets, which are only available as text on ASIC web pages. The links below are to the relevant website pages.

ASIC INSOLVENCY INFORMATION SHEETS – REISSUED 1 SEPTEMBER 2017
Form Number
Title of Sheet
Date Updated
Link to ASIC site
INFO 39 Insolvency information for directors, employees, creditors and shareholders

1/9/2017

INFO 39
INFO 41 Insolvency: A glossary of terms 1/9/2017 INFO 41
INFO 42 Insolvency: a guide for directors 1/9/2017 INFO 42
INFO 43 Insolvency: a guide for shareholders 1/9/2017 INFO 43
INFO 45 Liquidation: a guide for creditors 1/9/2017 INFO 45
INFO 46 Liquidation: a guide for employees 1/9/2017 INFO 46
INFO 53 Providing assistance to external administrators – Books, records and RATA 1/9/2017 INFO 53
INFO 54 Receivership: a guide for creditors 1/9/2017 INFO 54
INFO 55 Receivership: a guide for employees 1/9/2017 INFO 55
INFO 74 Voluntary administration: a guide for creditors 1/9/2017 INFO 74
INFO 75 Voluntary administration: a guide for employees 1/9/2017 INFO 75
INFO 84 Independence of external administrators: a guide for creditors 1/9/2017 INFO 84
INFO 85 Approving fees: a guide for creditors 1/9/2017 INFO 85
INFO 152 Public comment on ASIC’s regulatory activities 1/9/2017 INFO 152
INFO 212 Illegal phoenix activity 1/9/2017 INFO 212
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Jun 292017
 

In reporting on the results of an investigation into the conduct of a Victorian registered liquidator operating as a sole practitioner, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has provided a list of procedures which the liquidator failed to carry out.  

The catalogue serves both as a guide to some of the duties that ASIC regards as important, and as a reminder to liquidators.

ASIC logo

Extract from ASIC Media Release 28 June 2017

ASIC’s concerns centred on alleged failures to:

  • conduct pre-appointment independence reviews;
  • send to third parties adequate ‘Day One’ correspondence;
  • properly investigate company affairs;
  • take steps to protect and secure assets in a timely manner;
  • adequately investigate potential illegal phoenix activities and taxation offences of directors and their advisors;
  • make sufficient requests of company officers for books and records;
  • seek prompt assistance from ASIC under the Liquidator Assistance program where the company director or accountant failed to provide adequate books and records;
  • undertake adequate review of voidable transactions, including unfair preferences and uncommercial transactions;
  • lodge complete reports with ASIC;
  • provide creditors with adequate reporting to enable informed assessment of remuneration requests and may have drawn remuneration he was not entitled to; and
  • comply with legal requirements to document work undertaken.

Not each and every one of ASIC’s concerns were found in all of the external administrations reviewed.

ASIC Commissioner John Price said, ‘ASIC continues its focus on registered liquidators who fail to carry out their legal obligations to carry out adequate investigations and report fully to creditors, including in circumstances suggesting pre-appointment illegal activity.

‘Creditors have every right to expect registered liquidators to act independently and competently – especially given their role as a fiduciary. The community needs to have trust and confidence in the administration of insolvent companies.

‘ASIC will continue to review and take action against liquidators whom ASIC believes fall short of meeting legal and professional standards.’

Continue reading »

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Penalties for White Collar Crime: Senate Report of March 2017

 ASIC, Offences, Regulation, White collar crime  Comments Off on Penalties for White Collar Crime: Senate Report of March 2017
May 292017
 
crime-cloud

Inquiries by Parliamentary committees can be a waste of everyone’s time. The Senate’s Inquiry into criminal, civil and administrative penalties for white collar crimes is a good example.

It began in November 2015 and ended in March 2017 (after pausing for 5 months because of the  election). It received 139 submissions, 2 lots of “additional information”, and had a public hearing at which 23 witnesses appeared. It’s report, which carries the grandiose title “Lifting the fear and suppressing the greed” (23 March 2017), runs to 108 pages. The committee said:

“A clear message to the committee from inquiry participants was that white-
collar crime and misconduct can cause serious harms, both at the individual level and
in the community as a whole.”

But despite this statement and the enormous amount of work that went into making submissions, conducting the inquiry and writing the report, media coverage has been almost non-existent. Perhaps news editors thought the subject matter was fairly dry, and/or that the report’s  recommendations were not particularly noteworthy or inspiring or controversial.  Such a conclusion would be understandable. To which I would add, that the report is unlikely to have much of an impact on how we deal with white collar crime.

 THE COMMITTEE’S RECOMMENDATIONS
Recommendation 1 That the government consider reforms to provide greater clarity regarding the evidentiary standards and rules of procedure that apply in civil penalty proceedings involving white-collar offences. paragraph 3.52
Recommendation 2 That the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) consider ways in which the accessibility and usability of the banned and disqualified register might be enhanced, in order to create greater transparency regarding banning and disqualification orders. paragraph 5.24
Recommendation 3 That the government consider making infringement notices available to the ASIC to respond to breaches of the financial services and managed investments provisions of the Corporations Act. paragraph 5.34
Recommendation 4 That the government amend the Corporations Act 2001 to increase the current level of civil penalties, both for individuals and bodies corporate, and that in doing so it should have regard to non-criminal penalty settings for similar offences in other jurisdictions. paragraph 6.55
Recommendation 5 That the government provide for civil penalties in respect of white-collar offences to be set as a multiple of the benefit gained or loss avoided. paragraph 6.56
Recommendation 6 That the government introduce disgorgement powers for the ASIC in relation to non-criminal matters. paragraph 6.57

The committee’s full report is available for viewing and download at the committee’s Parliament of Australia website.

Incidentally, insolvency practitioners will be disappointed that there are so few references in the report to insolvency and liquidation, although potentially recommendation 4 could have an impact in corporate insolvency.

The next part of this blog post contains extracts which reveal “The Committee’s Views”  and the “Table of Contents of Report”.

Continue reading »

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