The corporate regulator has declined to take further action against industry funds seeking to align themselves with the retail super sector through Google advertising, saying it does not consider the funds’ conduct misleading.
In responses to questions on notice from House economics committee chair Tim Wilson, ASIC said it had reviewed evidence provided by Mr Wilson that showed industry funds AustralianSuper and HESTA had purchased Google AdWords relating to retail super.
“The Committee has provided us with two examples of advertisements on Google by AustralianSuper and HESTA that appeared until November 2019 when the term ‘retail super transfer’ was searched,” the regulator said.
“The term ‘retail super transfer’ is capable of a number of meanings. It may refer to a transfer of funds from, or to, a retail superannuation fund.”
The responses follow Mr Wilson’s questioning of ASIC in a previous hearing in relation to a $20,000 fine it handed down to BT in 2015 for misleading advertising that related to its purchase of AdWords including “industry super Australia”.
“We have made a series of questions on notice to super funds who have refused to provide evidence of the AdWords they have purchased, and we have evidence of them committing that type of conduct that we expect ASIC to review,” Mr Wilson said at the hearing in August.
ASIC said it “would not consider” the material provided by Mr Wilson to be misleading or deceptive conduct, and that it differed to BT’s misleading conduct because there was no association with retail super contained within the funds’ advertising – only within the Google search terms purchased.
“ASIC was concerned that BT misled consumers into believing that BT had an affiliation with Industry Super Australia, an organisation which manages collective projects on behalf of 15 industry super funds. BT has never had an affiliation with ISA,” ASIC said.
“In the case of BT, the misleading material was contained in the advertisement itself. This is distinguishable from advertising appearing on Google in response to a set of keywords or key terms (Google AdWords) for which an entity purchases or ‘bids’.”
As part of the line of questioning, Mr Wilson has also asked a number of industry funds for details of their use of Google AdWords over the past 10 years.
ASIC said it was “reviewing the material provided by funds to the Committee in respect of the use of Google for advertising”.