ASIC launches small business hub as regulator addresses poor small business engagement

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has launched a new online hub for small businesses, in response to feedback that the regulator was “out of touch” with the small business community.

While ASIC regularly features in the news for its perusal of fraudulent behaviour and policing of securities and investments, the majority of businesses registered with ASIC are small.

ASIC senior executive leader of small business compliance and deterrence Brett Bassett told SmartCompany 96% of registered businesses are small.

“Long and short, the hub is off the back of an external stakeholder survey in 2010 and ASIC got slammed about our engagement with small business and we were told we were out of touch,” Bassett says.

“Between 2010 and 2012 we went out speaking with small businesses and we looked at what other regulators were doing here and overseas.”

From this research ASIC determined small businesses had a limited knowledge about ASIC and what it does, had little understanding of their compliance obligations, found it difficult to get the relevant information from ASIC and thought the information provided by ASIC was often difficult to understand because it was written in legal jargon.

“They don’t know who ASIC is, where we fit in the regulatory picture and why they need to engage with us,” Bassett says.

“The other thing was the information we were providing was long, complicated and time-consuming to read.”

The new small business hub adopts a no-nonsense approach and design with clear subheadings for small businesses to easily find the information they need, following the same colour scheme and layout as the normal ASIC site.

In a video introduction to the site, ASIC Commissioner Greg Tanzer says: “ASIC understands that as small business operators, you’re busy. Many of you work seven days a week. Your time is precious.

“We also realise that many of you manage all aspects of your business and may not have access to resources, such as accounting and legal advice, to help you know, understand and meet your legal obligations.”

The hub features information on starting and closing a small business, legal requirements for small business operators and one-minute guides on popular topics.

Bassett says the new information is a lot more “succinct for after-hours reading”.

“A lot of the information is to do with the registry and how proprietary businesses are obliged to update their company information,” he says.

“Updating the registry with directors’ details and new business names are the two biggest small business issues we deal with.”

Bassett says directors of proprietary companies are obliged to keep all their details updated, including if they move offices.

“They must also have a registered business name and, as part of being a proprietary, they have to pay an annual review fee, and if they don’t they will have to pay a late fee,” he says.

Bassett says if a business fails to meet their obligations there are two ways the regulator will deal with the issue.

“The number-one way we address it is a facilitative approach where we have a compliance program to help people understand their obligations and give them another opportunity to comply.

“But we do have the option of the big stick approach, which we take when there is appropriate evidence to do so. Keeping the register up-to-date is the main aim.”

To further small business engagement, ASIC will also be upping their presence at conferences.

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