Report on performance

Annual performance statement

I, Hamish McCormick, as the accountable authority of the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA), am pleased to present AFSA’s annual performance statement for 2017–18, as required under paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, this annual performance statement is based on properly maintained records, accurately reflects AFSA’s performance and complies with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

Hamish McCormick
Chief Executive and Inspector-General in Bankruptcy

Purpose

Our purpose is to maintain confidence in Australia’s personal insolvency and personal property securities systems through delivering fair, efficient and effective trustee and registry services, and risk-based regulation.

We deliver our purpose through our four goals, which are outlined below.

Our purpose is articulated in our corporate plan and corresponds to Outcome 1 in our Portfolio Budget Statements 2017–18. Outcome 1 comprises two programs:

  • Program 1.1: Personal insolvency and trustee services
  • Program 1.2: Operation of a national register of security interests in personal property.

Our goals

Our four goals, shown in Figure 3, are the rationale for everything we do and help us to achieve government objectives. Our goals shape our business priorities, measures and strategies, which in turn inform the planning, delivery, monitoring and improvement of processes for all our work.

Goal 1: Foster confidence

We ensure the public has confidence in the systems we administer.

Goal 2: Deliver value

We are financially sustainable and operate in a commercially sound manner.

Goal 3: Effective services

We deliver our services in a manner that meets the needs of clients and stakeholders.

Goal 4: Quality information

We deliver accessible, accurate and consistent information services, empowering clients and stakeholders to make informed decisions.

Figure 3: AFSA’s goals, 2017–18

Results

Our performance results during 2017–18 show that we delivered strongly against our goals and achievement of our purpose.

The performance outcomes relating to the measures from the corporate plan and portfolio budget statements (pages 119–122) have been organised according to the four goals set out in AFSA’s Corporate Plan 2017–18:

  • Goal 1: Foster confidence
  • Goal 2: Deliver value
  • Goal 3: Effective services
  • Goal 4: Quality information

We achieved nine of 12 performance measures for 2017–18 (compared to 14 of 15 for 2016–17). Some performance measures are new this year or the way we have defined the performance criteria has been revised.

Our performance results in 2017–18 demonstrate that we:

  • foster confidence in the industries we regulate. Our stakeholder engagement continues to drive improved outcomes, our compliance and regulatory programs continue to set the industry standard, and our registers are accurate and operate with a high level of availability
  • continue to deliver value through sustainable and responsible financial management, while acknowledging we experienced some challenges in the introduction of our new receipting and payment service
  • provide effective services by making high-quality decisions and provide timely responses to applications in ways that meet the needs of our clients
  • maintain a high standard of quality information by ensuring access to the right information at the right time to support informed decisions.

The following key has been used throughout the annual performance statement to indicate our achievements against key performance targets:

Achieved

Partially achieved

Not achieved

Foster confidence

Analysis

In 2017–18, we continued to work with stakeholders to foster confidence in the personal insolvency and personal property securities systems we regulate and administer.

We have a range of users, clients and stakeholders with particular needs. It is important that we balance the different needs of those seeking relief from financial hardship and the needs of creditors who are affected financially. Using our time, resources and powers in a manner that strikes the right balance between these competing interests is an important way in which we help to preserve overall confidence in the systems we administer and regulate.

Performance measure Build and maintain trusting and robust relationships with stakeholders to improve service delivery and influence behaviour.
Performance criterion Stakeholder engagement increases our understanding of the current environment, influences stakeholder behaviours and improves outcomes.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Stakeholder feedback demonstrates outcomes achieved have assisted in creating an environment that minimised harm caused by significant noncompliance with the law or a failure by the regulated community to adhere to an expected standard of behaviour.

Achieved

Stakeholder meetings and focus groups are held regularly. Action is taken in response to feedback obtained from industry meetings and surveying tools.

Achieved

We work closely with our stakeholders and during the year we utilised market research that evaluated the integrity of the personal insolvency system from the perspective of creditors, bankrupts and debtors.

This research reinforced how important accessible information, via the right source and channel, is to vulnerable groups. It also showed how those with unmanageable debt found information to help them make an informed decision. Forty-two per cent of those with unmanageable debt used the first insolvency practitioner they identified. Many felt that coming to an agreement to pay off their debts was the ‘right thing to do’; however, they didn’t necessarily seek out more information on other options or others who might be able to help them make a more informed decision.

Creditors engaged with the personal insolvency system provided feedback that reflects our views – they do not want to see behaviour that ‘preys on the vulnerable’ and leads to people entering insolvency solutions that are not in their best interests. Creditors also wanted guidance on how they might be able to deal with what they saw, in some cases, as unreasonable pricing of insolvency services. These views influenced some of our focus areas for the Insolvency Compliance Program 2018–19.

We want to make it easier for those who are financially vulnerable to get the right information the first time. We are closely monitoring unbalanced or improper advertising, and are improving the availability of guidance, including video content that highlights the pitfalls of entering into arrangements with untrustworthy pre-insolvency debt advisors. Further information about our work in this area can be found in the case study on page 46.

We have listened to feedback about our forms and products. To make it easier for our clients and stakeholders, we are reviewing our forms and will be changing the language used to be much plainer English. We are also working to move our forms online. We have started to build new digital channels, including social media, to reach different user groups and will look to expand these further during 2018–19.

We openly engage with others to maintain confidence in the personal insolvency system. We do this through regular liaison meetings with stakeholders, other government departments and professional bodies such as the Personal Insolvency Professionals Association, the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association and the Association of Independent Insolvency Practitioners. We discuss and consult on regulatory practice and invite feedback through an online portal on the AFSA website.

Our PPSR stakeholder forums are well established and these strong collaborative relationships have been instrumental in driving a number of improved services for PPSR users. We’ve established an industry hub on the PPSR website, to provide tailored information specific to each industry sector, including a number of case studies based on common scenarios provided by peak bodies.

This year, we continued to support international engagement and learning opportunities in personal insolvency and personal property securities systems. We hosted a delegation from the Malaysian Department of Insolvency, who were interested in learning about our role in Australia’s personal insolvency system and about the day-to-day operations of our insolvency divisions.

Malaysian delegation with AFSA personnel, including Chief Executive Hamish McCormick (centre), in Sydney, April 2018.

Together with the World Bank Group, we engaged with senior government officials from South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia. This provided an opportunity for officials from these regions to learn from Australia’s different experiences in implementing and operating a secured transactions system. Experts shared their insight on how Australia’s model of secured transactions and insolvency systems work together to enable risk-based financial decision-making. Our engagement with overseas officials also provided us with a chance to learn and reflect on what is happening internationally in personal insolvency and personal property securities systems. We welcome the opportunity to provide this support as it assists to enhance sound financial systems in our region and beyond.

World Bank Group delegation with AFSA staff in Sydney, March 2018.

Performance measure Build and maintain trusting and robust relationships with stakeholders to improve service delivery and influence behaviour.
Performance criterion Practical implementation of legislative reform for Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016 and debt agreements.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Practical implementation achieved as per mandated timeframes

Achieved

N/A – new measure

The second and final stage of the reforms implemented through the Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016 (ILRA) commenced operation on 1 September 2017. Implementation of the ILRA reforms was a significant undertaking and required changes to a number of AFSA’s products, forms and documents. AFSA engaged with key stakeholders, in particular personal insolvency practitioners, through various channels to keep them informed about the changes and to ensure they were aware of their obligations under the Act.

We proactively engaged with stakeholders in preparation for the changes and they let us know how we could best support them. This reciprocal relationship resulted in the creation of a ‘one-stop shop’ on the AFSA website for practitioners to access information about ILRA changes. The webpage included detailed information, quick access to legislation, new forms, a legislative comparison table, and questions and answers regarding the ILRA. These information products were well received and promoted among practitioners.

Overall, the transition to operating under the ILRA has been smooth. We did identify a few issues during the transition and we continue to work with key stakeholders and the Attorney-General’s Department to resolve some drafting anomalies in the subordinate legislation and instruments.

While practical implementation of the ILRA occurred, separate reforms regarding the regulation of debt agreements were anticipated but did not commence in 2017–18. Those reforms are still before parliament and we continue to prepare for their introduction with our stakeholders.

Performance measure Outcomes demonstrate effective discharge of regulatory and decision-making responsibilities under legislation and government policy.
Performance criterion A compliance program is implemented that identifies and targets key areas of risk of noncompliance.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Reduction in noncompliance by insolvency stakeholders from 2016–17

Achieved

Taking quantifiable actions to achieve high levels of compliance by bankrupts, debtors and creditors.

Achieved

In 2017–18, our targeted statement of income activity achieved a small improvement in overall compliance by insolvency stakeholders and a higher rate of on-time compliance.

We believe that if we make it easy for people to comply with their obligations, most will do so and then we can focus on targeting deliberate noncompliance. In 2017–18, we focused on making it easier to comply and directed resources to gain results with clients posing the greatest compliance risk.

We identified areas for targeted compliance and determined the return of statement of income forms as an area for improvement – only 27% of bankrupts returned their form on time. The statement of income form is a high-volume form currently posted to about 13,000 bankrupt clients every year to remind them to update their income and asset details with us. In a bid to improve compliance, we trialled the use of text messages, improved the content of cover letters, simplified the form and highlighted the support available on our website outlining the various options for clients to return their form to us. These changes resulted in a 33% increase in clients returning their forms electronically, rather than by post. While the overall compliance rate for returned forms only improved marginally, on-time compliance increased by 13%.

We continued to set the standard for personal insolvency practitioners through our statutory trustee role and the provision of quality guidance documentation. During the year, we issued an Official Trustee Practice Statement on the treatment of debts in bankruptcy, and reviewed and updated several of our existing practice statements to maintain currency.

During 2017–18, we also brought together a multidisciplinary group to develop the PPSR compliance framework. The framework takes a holistic approach to compliance and highlights six key areas where compliance failure would negatively impact the PPSR. The Registrar of Personal Property Securities is responsible for establishing and maintaining an operational register, which means AFSA has primary responsibility for compliance in the areas of security and availability. Responsibility for the other four compliance areas – branding, legislation, economic viability and data integrity – is shared with users. The framework was endorsed by stakeholders at the June 2018 PPSR Stakeholder Forum and working groups have been established to focus on the areas of shared responsibility.

Performance measure Outcomes demonstrate effective discharge of regulatory and decision-making responsibilities under legislation and government policy.
Performance criterion Deliver an effective regulatory program for insolvency and enable effective use of resources through focusing on value-added activities.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Achievement of our Insolvency Practitioner Compliance Program

Achieved

Compliance with Regulator Performance Framework, including achievement of our risk-based Insolvency Practitioner Compliance Program.

Achieved

80% of complaints about registered insolvency professionals actioned in less than 60 days.

Achieved – 94%

In 2017–18, we completed our Insolvency Practitioner Compliance Program. The program focused on the early resolution of systemic issues by adopting a proactive and preventative regulatory approach wherever possible. When developing the program, we used available data from our compliance activities and intelligence, including that obtained during regular meetings with the insolvency profession. We consulted with professional associations, financial counsellors and other stakeholders during the year to review, promote and monitor key areas.

We support practitioners to meet the high standards expected of them and report annually on their performance in the Personal Insolvency Practitioners Compliance Report.

We are committed to making it as easy as possible for users of the personal insolvency system to comply with their obligations. Our risk-based, data-driven approach to regulation allows us to concentrate efforts in a targeted way.

The Regulator Performance Framework is an important part of the government’s commitment to cutting red tape and lifting productivity and growth across our economy. We are confident that we performed well during the year against the measures under the framework and fully met key performance metrics.

Our efficient complaint management processes reflect the important role we play in managing issues and behaviours of professionals and upholding standards in the personal insolvency industry. Our qualified and professional staff assess offence referrals and, where appropriate, investigate allegations of offences. We use outcomes from the complaint process to feed into our ongoing compliance activities.

The number of complaints against registered insolvency professionals increased in 2017–18 compared to the previous year, while there was a decrease in the number of offence referrals accepted (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Complaints and referrals, 2017–18

Performance measure ICT systems and services are highly reliable and available.
Performance criterion Proportion of online registry services availability.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Greater than or equal to 99% Achieved – 99%

Registers and digital services are delivered with a high level of availability.

Achieved

It is imperative that our registers are accurate and operate with a high level of availability, given their importance in Australia’s economy – supporting informed commercial decision-making, managing financial risk and assisting in the provision of access to finance.

We operate two main registers:

  • The Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) is a real-time online system that contains data on security interests and registrations of personal property. It is not a register of title or ownership of personal property but acts as a noticeboard of security interests.
  • The National Personal Insolvency Index (NPII) is an electronic record of all personal insolvency administrations in Australia, which can be accessed by anyone for a fee. It can be searched to check an individual’s formal insolvency status and history, which can assist users to make informed business decisions.

The PPSR is readily accessible to members of the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During 2017–18, we achieved a 99% availability level for the PPSR. The activities that resulted in suspension of the PPSR during the year can be found in Table 4 of this report (page 55).

The NPII can be accessed using our Bankruptcy Register Search facility. It is also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During 2017–18, NPII availability was 99%.

Maintaining the integrity of the data we hold is important to us. We employ a range of tools to proactively manage data integrity of the PPSR – from education and awareness raising, through to exercising statutory powers. We have also recently developed a data integrity program of work that identifies known data integrity issues and provides recommendations to mitigate these.

Total searches of the NPII and PPSR increased in 2017–18 compared to the previous year (Figure 5).

Figure 5: NPII and PPSR searches, 2017–18

* Includes Bankruptcy Register Search online facility, business-to-government (B2G) channel, index search agents and Official Trustee’s Information Services System (OTISS).

Partnering with trustee and police to get results

The vast majority of people who come into contact with the personal insolvency system genuinely want to comply. But AFSA has no tolerance for those who actively avoid meeting their obligations.

In June 2018, AFSA exercised a power under the Bankruptcy Act to undertake a search of residential and business properties associated with high-profile bankrupt Salim Mehajer.

The power was enacted following a pattern of noncompliance by the bankrupt and his associates in providing his trustee with information required to administer the estate.

We collaborate with other regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies to achieve common objectives.

Eight concurrent searches were undertaken by AFSA officers, together with members of the NSW Police and the registered trustee’s staff.

The exercise was successful, with multiple computers and electronic devices seized for forensic examination, and over a dozen boxes of paper records relevant to the examinable affairs of Mr Mehajer.

AFSA coordinated the exercise from an ‘engine room’, ensuring continued communication with teams across all locations, providing updates and support throughout the day.

Mr Mehajer was made bankrupt on 20 March 2018 on the petition of a creditor.

AFSA officers and others seize records pertaining to the estate of bankrupt Salim Mehajer in Sydney in June 2018.

Deliver value

Analysis

We are committed to being cost-effective and efficient while minimising red tape.

As a cost-recovered agency, we are focused on delivering value to clients and stakeholders in a commercially sound manner. We regularly review our fees to ensure they are appropriate to meet the costs of delivering our services. This process is transparent through publishing our proposed fee schedule and inviting stakeholders to provide comment.

We believe that services should be simple and shaped by those who use them. During the year, we launched a new receipting and payment service that changed the way we pay creditors, suppliers and others, from cheques to 100% electronic funds transfer. This has impacted our ability to meet two of our performance measures in this area. Further information about this service can be found in the case study on page 43.

Performance measure Bankrupt estates that require administration are administered in a timely manner.
Performance criterion Proportion of divisible funds distributed within three months of receipt.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Greater than or equal to 80% Not achieved – 59%

70% of dividends were paid within two months of receipt of funds.

Achieved – 80%

The implementation of our new receipting and payment service introduced a new way of operating. The new service delivers long-term value to clients and stakeholders and improves the effectiveness of our services.

The move to full electronic payments required creditors and suppliers to register their bank account details with us. While a number of larger creditors such as banks and finance companies provided their bank details prior to system implementation, we experienced some challenges in registering more than 1,500 small to medium-sized creditors and suppliers for online payment.

It took us approximately three months to obtain the required information from all creditors, meaning we did not meet our performance measure of distributing funds within three months of receipt. Overall, creditor feedback about the new service has been positive. Despite the transition issues, we paid 80% of dividends within six months of receiving funds and there has been an upward trend in fund distribution towards the end of 2017–18.

Performance measure Bankrupt estates that require administration are administered in a timely manner.
Performance criterion Proportion of administered estates that are greater than three months old achieve realisations of $1,000 or more.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Greater than or equal to 41% Not achieved – 38%

At least 10% of active administered matters are closed each month.

Not achieved – 8%

The need to focus our effort on managing the impact of the move to online payments on small to medium-sized creditors and suppliers resulted in delays finalising active administrations. This caused an increase in the volume of active administrations exceeding three months of age. We initiated a review focusing on older cases, finalising those where we expected little or no funds would be received. The trend for this measure improved towards the end of 2017–18, with the result in each of the months of April, May and June 2018 exceeding the target.

While our performance in some areas may have suffered during the implementation of the receipting and payment service, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Overall, the new service has allowed us to:

  • deliver a more efficient, faster payment service to our bankruptcy creditors, suppliers and other payees, including two payments per week
  • reduce administrative effort and cost
  • reduce our carbon footprint as 100% of remittance advices and trustee’s account of receipts and payments are now sent electronically.
Performance measure Optimise funds available from proceeds of crime for crime prevention purposes.
Performance criterion Manage the costs of securing and protecting assets to optimise returns by benchmarking supplier costs and asset value trends.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

The value of assets and cash held in trust is effectively managed, in accordance with relevant directions and guidelines for potential beneficiaries. Partially achieved

N/A – new measure

The proceeds of crime legislation prevents criminals from being able to profit from their crimes by depriving them of the benefits gained from criminal conduct and preventing reinvestment in further criminal activity.

The Official Trustee is the custodian of restrained property and disposes of both forfeited property and property available to satisfy pecuniary penalty orders. Funds from selling property are paid to the Confiscated Assets Account, a national fund administered by AFSA.

During 2017–18, $33 million was paid into the Confiscated Assets Account, with $38 million being paid out in program payments, the vast majority of which contributed to the funding of crime prevention initiatives in Australia. The Minister for Justice authorised the program of expenditure for crime prevention initiatives, including:

  • Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) – International Serious and Organised Crime Intelligence Hubs pilot
  • ACIC – National Information Connectivity and Security Trial
  • ACIC – Surveillance Capabilities for High-End Deliberately Encrypted Communication Devices project
  • Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity – Visa Fraud Taskforce
  • Australian Federal Police (AFP) – Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce – Forensic Accountants and Litigators
  • AFP – Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre
  • Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) – International Financial Intelligence and Regulatory Network
  • Equitable Sharing Program.

The responsibility we have to protect and sell property under proceeds of crime legislation is unique and presents a challenge when we seek to benchmark costs in a niche industry. We continue to look for ways to reduce the cost of managing assets and build an understanding of asset value trends. To achieve better value for money, we have reduced the overall cost by rationalising our arrangements with service providers.

Performance measure AFSA is financially sustainable and responsible.
Performance criterion Managing AFSA’s financial results within budgeted funding levels to support efficient and effective delivery of services.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Positive financial result for personal property securities and insolvency programs Achieved

Fees accurately reflect the cost of efficient and effective services.

Achieved

During 2017–18, we worked towards implementation of a new PPSR cost recovery implementation statement, which promoted consideration of future pricing and funding model changes. As a result of the review, we proposed to reduce most fees, demonstrating our responsible approach to remaining efficient and effective. A review of insolvency fees and charges will take place in 2018–19.

We focused on improving our systems to strengthen our financial sustainability and position ourselves for a cloud transition, consistent with the government’s shared services agenda. During the year, we put effort into developing and maturing our systems, including:

  • upgrading and enhancing finance, payroll and travel systems
  • implementing a new talent management system
  • implementing a new contract management system
  • improving existing case management and trust accounting systems.

We ensured payments to vendors were made in accordance with prescribed government payment terms, maintaining confidence in the government sector and encouraging positive client and vendor relationships.

Reviewing our fees and charges

As a cost-recovered agency, AFSA regularly reviews its fees and charges to ensure they are adequate to meet the cost of providing our services.

Earlier this year, we reviewed our Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) fees and proposed a new schedule where most fees were reduced.

Transparency and consultation are key features of the process to review our fees. We publish the proposed new fee schedule on our website and contact our stakeholders to invite them to review the proposed schedule and provide feedback.

The proposed fee schedule was viewed favourably by our stakeholders and the Attorney-General approved the new fees, which will commence on 1 August 2018.

The new schedule ensures that using the PPSR is even more affordable, with a search reducing from $3.40 to $2.00 from 1 August 2018.

 

Effective services

Analysis

To maintain confidence in the systems we administer, it is important we make high-quality decisions and provide timely responses to applications. Our aim is to provide a professional, responsible service that meets the needs of our clients. A key to our success is making sure we can provide services via the channels that people want to use. For this reason, we have focused on transitioning services through digital channels and increasing our online service offerings.

Given our wide range of users, we accept that the service we provide will always be a compromise between competing requirements from these different user groups. We are working to strike the balance between supporting bankrupts at a time they are under significant financial pressure, while also aiming for improved responses from them through a more streamlined application process.

Performance measure Timely and high-quality decisions are made in response to applications.
Performance criterion Proportion of insolvency-related applications assessed and registered within five business days.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Greater than or equal to 99% Achieved – 100%

95% of insolvency-related applications assessed and registered within five business days.

Achieved – 100%

When debtors decide to seek relief through formal insolvency options under the Bankruptcy Act, our registry service works to process the applications and register the details on the National Personal Insolvency Index (NPII).

During 2017–18, we continued to maintain an efficient handling of insolvency applications, supporting informed decision-making by users of the bankruptcy register service.

In 2017–18, the number of new personal insolvency administrations increased compared to the previous year (Figure 6).

We automated and streamlined application processes, including the debt agreement process. We receive approximately 17,000 debt agreement proposal forms annually. The completion and submission of debt agreement forms online provided a number of benefits, including upfront validations to reduce the number of returned proposals, more timely status information, and improved service delivery times.

From January 2018, all requests by personal insolvency practitioners for use of the Official Receiver’s coercive powers are made online. During the year, we also offered practitioners a more efficient online service for lodging objections. Uptake of the service has been high and in the last quarter of 2017–18, 68% of objections were lodged online, resulting in a faster response time for trustees and quicker updates to the NPII.

Figure 6: New personal insolvency administrations, 2017–18

Performance measure Service design and delivery is user-centric.
Performance criterion Business processes, including online services, provide an improved customer experience.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criterion and result

Improved customer satisfaction Achieved

Clients are provided with various channels to provide feedback to improve services.

Achieved

We offer a range of channels for clients to interact with us – traditional channels such as phone and post, as well as email or digital channels through our online services portal. We use client feedback from web analysis, face-to-face interactions, and complaints and compliments data to improve our services and clients’ experiences.

Client satisfaction through traditional voice service delivery channels achieved a satisfaction target of 90%. We are maturing in our capability to gather feedback through our website and are using other actions to improve our customer experience, including simplifying our insolvency form and letters and applying plain English to our information products. Our focus on simplifying our products and processes will continue into the next year.

People contacting our National Service Centre have the option to complete a client survey after their call, providing metrics on customer satisfaction, first contact resolution and customer effort. This information assists us to identify opportunities for improvement of our processes, content and services, as well as providing positive reinforcement of the services that are working well. Over 92% of our clients have given us a ‘very satisfied’ rating. The next step is to make the survey available via other channels.

We work with users of the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) to identify key areas for improvement, and during 2017–18 we delivered an enhanced search refresh functionality. This enables users to retrieve their motor vehicle search result within 14 days of the original search and be notified if the security interest details have changed in that period. This will assist motor vehicle dealers selling vehicles with an encumbrance. Improvements have also been made to significantly increase the number of business-to-government (B2G) user alert notifications.

We are committed to delivering client-centric solutions and enhancements to our services in collaboration with users, and demonstrate our continued commitment to the Australian Government’s Digital Service Standard.

Consumer feedback continues to highlight the need for simple, intuitive search capability. Ongoing enhancements to the quick motor vehicle search have further reduced the complexity of the search, as well as streamlining the process for users.

Figure 7 shows that total email enquiries to AFSA rose sharply in 2017–18 compared to the previous year, while total phone enquiries decreased. The number of complaints about our insolvency services decreased by almost half in 2017–18 compared to 2016–17, while there was a modest increase in the number of complaints about the operation of the PPSR.

Figure 7: Enquiries and complaints, 2017–18

Streamlining our systems

In 2017, we improved the way we manage insolvency administrations by consolidating two legacy systems and several processes into an end-to-end case management system.

We also introduced a new module to our case management system that has delivered some significant benefits, such as faster payment processing for creditors, service providers and other payees.

Dividend payments are now made electronically to creditors in bankrupt estates, debt agreements and personal insolvency agreements through two payment runs per week. We have also automated our receipting functions.

This has eliminated many time-consuming and risky manual processes, such as handling cheques and moving physical files, and has given our staff more capacity to focus on quality trust accounting practices.

By reducing the time our insolvency officers and case managers spend on manual handling, we have been able to provide a higher level of service to our clients – in a way that is more convenient to them.

Quality information

Analysis

One of our key challenges is to ensure that people in financial hardship have access to the right information at the right time so they can make an informed decision that is most appropriate for their circumstances. Our focus is on ensuring that information is positioned correctly within the insolvency process both by us, registered practitioners and others.

We have no tolerance for those who intentionally prey on the vulnerable and we continue to work towards raising awareness of untrustworthy advisors and taking action where we have power. Our aim is to ensure that information is provided by trustworthy advisors who put their clients’ interests first.

If the personal insolvency system is to have a rehabilitative effect, we need to find better ways of linking bankrupts, and those considering bankruptcy, with information that will help build financial literacy. We also understand the need to ensure that small to medium-sized business operators not only have readily accessible information about the PPSR, but also know how to use that information to their benefit.

If we are to innovate in how we provide information, we need to understand how people make decisions within our systems and how they engage with our information. Our client experience research has provided valuable insights regarding the ‘pain points’ that clients encounter when dealing with us. We will focus on improving these areas and will partner with our stakeholders to deliver new and improved plain English information products through digital channels.

Performance measure Improved access, consistency and quality of information services.
Performance criterion Proportion of people who agree we make it easy to access our services and information.

2017–18 target

2017–18 result

2016–17 performance criteria and results

Improved customer satisfaction Achieved

Continuously improved accessibility, availability, consistency and quality of information services

Achieved

Feedback from stakeholders and clients on the usefulness of information – action taken in response to feedback obtained

Achieved

We want to make it easy to access our services and information. Our website users told us through our feedback pages that we needed to improve our search functionality and ‘contact us’ pages. In response, we have refined our web content to make searching easier and have worked to make our key contact information more visible. Further work is planned to improve the user experience in these areas.

Eighty-five per cent of clients calling our National Service Centre strongly agree that AFSA made it easy for them to complete their enquiry. Those calling about unmanageable debt gave a lower satisfaction rating, which may reflect the difficulties clients have applying for bankruptcy. This continues to be a focus area for us as we apply human-centred design principles to focus on the needs, behaviours and emotions of those who will use the information we provide.

We have reviewed some of our website content to ensure we use plain English. Using feedback from web channels and client experience market research, we reviewed and updated the administrative process for PPSR amendment demands and issued a revised process guide that we believe is easier for users to follow. We also supported AusIndustry in preparing a ‘business topic review’ on insolvency and PPSR services, and updating links to our website content and resources.

To direct people to the right information at the right time, we conducted a small Google search campaign to target consumers and small businesses who might benefit from using the PPSR and who were looking for information on the internet. During the six-month campaign, we recorded more than 211,000 ad impressions, sending more than 38,000 users directly to the PPSR website. The search activity delivered strong engagement, with a high click-through rate of 18.1%, far exceeding the government benchmark click-through rate of 2.0%. This excellent result was achieved within a modest budget and cost-effective ‘per click’ price.

Our business-to-government (B2G) users told us through survey feedback that they would like to receive more regular communication. In response, we established a B2G Connect email channel. Through this channel, we send B2G-specific content and will continue to monitor and seek feedback from stakeholders on the effectiveness of this initiative.

We continued to issue our quarterly Personal Insolvency Regulator newsletter. It aims to provide insolvency professionals and stakeholders with sound guidance, helpful practice material, and news on initiatives and important areas of focus. In 2017–18, we redesigned the newsletter, moving it to a digital format, which improved readability and accessibility.

The total number of sessions on the AFSA and PPSR websites increased in 2017–18 compared to the previous year (Figure 8).

Figure 8: AFSA and PPSR website sessions, 2017–18

Right information from the right people at the right time

When someone is facing financial problems, it’s important they know where to go to for help they can trust. However, in their search for debt help or information about debt consolidation, they may come across unregulated advisors. Recent investigations by AFSA has shown that some of these advisors provide dishonest advice about insolvency options, and intentionally target and exploit vulnerable people in times of financial pressure. We call these people untrustworthy advisors.

AFSA has no tolerance for untrustworthy advisors who provide false or misleading information about insolvency options, taking advantage of vulnerable people and disadvantaging creditors. During the last 12 months, we have focused on developing strategies and resources to increase consumer awareness about the risks imposed by untrustworthy advisors.

One such example was a collaboration with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association. We developed a short video that reiterates the importance of obtaining bankruptcy and debt management advice from reputable sources.

The video, entitled Bankruptcy Advice: Untrustworthy Advisors, is narrated by Money Magazine editor Effie Zahos. The video explains in simple terms how consumers can protect themselves by identifying signs of untrustworthy debt advice. The video also explains the potential consequences if they were to follow through with that advice and where they can go for help.

The video is available on AFSA’s YouTube channel and our website and has been broadly advertised by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and insolvency firms to help raise consumer awareness of unethical practices and untrustworthy advisors.

To direct people to the video – and the right information at the time they most need it – we also conducted a small Google search campaign to target consumers looking for answers and advice on the internet.

During the pilot three-month campaign, page visits to the AFSA website increased by 16% compared to the three months prior.

Report on financial performance

Overview of financial performance

Our financial statements for the year ended 30 June 2018 are in Section 6 of this report.

Our departmental operating income for 2017–18 largely comprised $51.13 million from government appropriation, reflecting the funding for our insolvency program; $56.85 million from the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR); and insolvency fees. AFSA also received $3.52 million in departmental capital appropriation for our insolvency program.

Our administered income mainly comprised $62.50 million from insolvency fees and charges and $39.22 million from proceeds-of-crime-related revenue.

In 2017–18, we reported a departmental operating surplus of $15.28 million. The surplus largely relates to higher-than-forecast PPSR revenue, which will be returned to government in 2018–19 as advised in our cost recovery implementation statement, effective 1 August 2018.

Table 1 sets out our 2017–18 entity resource statement. Table 2 outlines our expenses by outcome and programs.

Table 1: Entity resource statement, 2017–18
  Actual available appropriation for 2017–18
$’000
(a)
Payments made 2017–18
$’000
(b)
Balance remaining 2017–18
$’000
(a) – (b)
Ordinary annual services*
Departmental appropriation** 207,543 94,442 113,101
Total ordinary annual services 207,543 94,442  
Total available annual appropriations and payments 207,543 94,442  
Special appropriations
Special appropriations limited by criteria/entitlement
Bankruptcy Act 1966   923  
Customs Act 1901, section 208DA(3)   36  
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, section 70(1)(b)   896  
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, section 100(1)(b)   1,840  
Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013   186  
Total special appropriations   3,881  
Special accounts
Opening balance 131,404    
Non-appropriation receipts to special accounts 33,576    
Payments made   41,032  
Total special accounts 164,980 41,032 123,948
Total net resourcing and payments for entity 372,523 139,355  

* Appropriation Act (No. 1) 2017–2018 and Appropriation Act (No. 3) 2017–2018. The amount includes prior-year departmental appropriations and retained revenue receipts under section 74 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.

** Includes an amount of $3.52 million in 2017–18 for the departmental capital budget. For accounting purposes, this has been designated as ‘contribution by owners’.

† Does not include ‘special public money’ held in AFSA’s Services for Other Trust Moneys Special Account.

Table 2: Expenses by outcome and programs, 2017–18
Outcome 1: Maintain confidence in Australia’s personal insolvency and personal property securities systems through delivering fair, efficient and effective trustee and registry services, and risk-based regulation Budget* 2017–18
$’000
Actual expenses
2017–18
$’000
Variation
2017–18
$’000
Program 1.1: Personal insolvency and trustee services
Administered expenses
Ordinary annual services 0 1,274 (1,274)
Special appropriations 3,000 3,881 (881)
Special accounts 34,689 40,308 (5,619)
Departmental expenses**
Departmental appropriation 54,961 52,181 2,780
Expenses not requiring appropriation in the budget year 4,854 2,928 1,926
Total for Program 1.1 97,504 100,572 (3,068)
Program 1.2: Operation of a national register of security interests in personal property
Departmental expenses
Departmental appropriation 44,029 34,421 9,608
Expenses not requiring appropriation in the budget year 155 3,180 (3,025)
Total for Program 1.2 44,184 37,601 6,583
Outcome 1 totals by appropriation type
Administered expenses
Ordinary annual services 1,274 (1,274)
Special appropriations 3,000 3,881 (881)
Special accounts 34,689 40,308 (5,619)
Departmental expenses
Departmental appropriation 98,990 86,602 12,388
Expenses not requiring appropriation in the budget year 5,009 6,108 (1,099)
Total expenses for Outcome 1 141,688 138,173 3,515
  2016–17 2017–18
Average staffing level (number) 474 476

* Full-year budget as reported in the 2017–18 Budget.

** Departmental appropriation combines ‘Ordinary annual services (Appropriation Acts nos. 1 and 3)’ and retained revenue receipts under section 74 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.

Cost recovery

Under the Australian Government Charging Framework, which came into effect on 1 July 2015, and in conjunction with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines, we have adopted formal cost recovery regimes for:

  • fees and charges for personal insolvency and trustee services
  • administration of the PPSR, incorporating the provision and maintenance of an online register and service support via multiple channels.

A cost recovery implementation statement for personal insolvency and trustee services came into effect on 1 July 2015. A new cost recovery implementation statement for the PPSR will come into effect on 1 August 2018. Copies are available on AFSA’s website.

Our cost recovery arrangements comply with the government’s policy and are consistent with the key principles that underpin the government’s cost recovery guidelines. Regular reviews of charges are performed to ensure the relevance of the current charging arrangement.

The Australian Government Charging Framework supports government entities to design, implement and review government charging. Several factors can influence a review, including changes within the economy, stakeholder demands and legislative amendments.