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Westpac unit to 'vigorously' fight ASIC allegations in court

Westpac Banking Corp. subsidiary BT Funds Management Ltd. rejected Australian Securities and Investments Commission's interpretation of general versus personal advice, saying it will vigorously oppose the regulator's civil penalty proceedings against the company in the Federal Court.

The company's Dec. 22 statement came after ASIC said it was taking BT Funds Management and another Westpac subsidiary Westpac Securities Administration Ltd. for alleged violations, including providing personal financial product advice to customers when they were not authorized to do so.

ASIC said it initiated the civil penalty proceedings in connection with the companies' telephone sales campaigns targeting superannuation fund members. The regulator alleged that the companies provided personal financial product advice to customers and did not undertake a proper comparison of the superannuation funds as required by law.

Westpac Securities and BT Funds Management are not authorized to provide personal financial product advice under their Australian financial services licenses.

ASIC added that its case sets out 15 examples of alleged violations of the "best interests duty" obligation arising from the two telephone campaigns.

BT Funds Management CEO Brad Cooper contested the allegations.

"In each of the 15 conversations, ASIC is using as the base of its case, our customers were given a 'general advice warning' as is standard and a required part of our process," Cooper said. "We look forward to having the issue determined by the court to obtain important clarity for the industry."

The first hearing for the proceedings will be Feb. 2, 2017, in Sydney's Federal Court.