ASIC sends mixed signals to online pundits

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission's proposed loosening of regulations on licensing requirements for online investment advice has generated a mixed response from Australia's investment community.

In its Guidelines for Internet Discussion Sites paper, released on Wednesday, ASIC suggests alterations to commission policy, such that advisers are no longer required to hold ASIC licences to post investment advice in internet chat rooms, providing their advice is clearly accompanied with a disclaimer.

However, according to investment bank ABN Amro's head of compliance Michael Hains, the proposed alterations are inconsistent with current ASIC proposals to amend corporations law in favour of stricter standards for licensed investment advisers.

Allowing unlicensed investment advice to be posted on the internet while simultaneously tightening compliance standards for licensed advisors "doesn't seem to gel too well together", Hains said.

"ASIC allows people to say things on an internet discussion site but then, when advice is given by an adviser, there is nevertheless a very high level expected (from ASIC)."

"Anyone who's been in one of these discussion groups knows that things said are neither accurate nor true," he said.

Hains believes that the proposed regulatory amendments contradict the existing investment advisory licensing regime, which forces advisers to be "liable for what they say".

Meanwhile, the director of the University of Melbourne's centre for corporations law and securities evaluation, Ian Ramsay, welcomed ASIC's attempt to "encourage information in the marketplace" -- provided that any amended regulations have the requirement that unlicensed advisers clearly state that they are unlicensed.

Ramsay predicted that small-to-medium listed companies that struggle for publicity in the marketplace would thrive under looser online investment advice regulations.

"We are in an era where it's difficult to control information," he added.

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