There is a serious lesson for all financial services professionals, including financial advisers, in the PwC tax policy confidentiality saga – and it isn’t simply to shut up when you sign an undertaking with government.
Set aside for a moment the issues related to confidential tax policy information, and how it may or may not have been used by the tax advisory team in PwC. The principal fact pattern has been explored by every person, his or her dog, and their neighbour’s pet canary to the point of exhaustion.
This case study is worthwhile examining from another perspective, however, because it has become an example of how regulatory regimes can work together – deliberately or inadvertently – to ensure somebody is discouraged from even entertaining a return to the provision of advisory services for which a regulator’s approval is required.
Don’t think for one moment that this is simply a large professional service firm’s soap opera that you have the luxury of watching and tut-tutting about from the sidelines.
The actions taken by the regulators in this instance to firmly shut the door on one person’s ability to practice could be replicated in the case of financial services professionals regardless of whether the firm is a consulting behemoth with offices in multiple cities across the globe, a medium sized practice or even a single principal practice with a handful of staff.
Consider the initial penalties with which former PwC partner Peter Collins was hit by the Tax Practitioners Board that related to the breach of confidentiality reported to the TPB by the Australian Taxation Office.
Collins was a registered tax agent and the TPB terminated his registration following an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the confidentiality.
It also prohibited him from reapplying for a registration for two years. The maximum prohibition from reapplying for registration at the time Collins was pinged by the tax agent regulator is five years.
This needs a little expansion because some commentators have been confused since the TPB ruling came down and called it a suspension.
Collins’ registration no longer exists. It was shredded, cancelled, terminated, and generally made to disappear. A practitioner in Collins’ position would need to reapply for registration afresh.