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  • J McGlynn and M Bacina

Work smart not hard: Productivity Commission publishes paper on RegTech

Aimed at championing the opportunities presented by regulatory technology - the use of cloud computing technology to help businesses comply with regulations efficiently and less expensively, the Australian government's Productivity Commission has recently released an information paper informatively titled "Regulatory Technology" detailing where regulatory technology (RegTech) has been useful and offers further potential.

The paper states that Australia is well placed to develop and adopt RegTech solutions, due primarily to our:

relatively stable and sophisticated regulatory systems.

(our emphasis)

With the potential to reduce administration and compliance costs for business and improve the targeting and efficiency of that regulation, the paper explains that Regtech helps achieve the aims of regulations which as a basic principle, should achieve goals at lowest possible cost.

It also warns that while RegTech can certainly be useful it:

is not a substitute for regulatory reform. Indeed, as RegTech is intended to make the task of regulating easier, advances in technology heighten the onus on policy makers to ensure the need for, and design of, regulation are soundly‑based.

Interestingly, the paper also suggests that Australia is a leader in RegTech internationally, with some 13% of all RegTech providers based in Australia, leading well ahead of the next largest market: Canada.

The paper provides different examples of instances where RegTech has been useful, and has further potential, highlighting that this is most often present where:

  1. regulated parties face complex or onerous regulatory requirements

  2. there is scope to undertake more risk-based approaches to regulation

  3. technology can help to better monitor activity, including by overcoming constraints related to physical presence

  4. technology can safely unlock more uses of data to meet compliance goals

Using Blockchain as an example, the paper suggests that is blockchain is one of many useful RegTech tools that has:

improved the agility of processing, speed of reporting and monitoring, integration of technological solutions and quality of analytics using digital information and big data

The paper refers to the Swedish Land Registry as an example, which has begun its official use of blockchain to register land and property ownership on a small-scale. This is an ideal use-case for how technology can be used to register physical asset transactions and more specifically, how blockchain can be used to make compliance with regulatory requirements on property transfer more efficient:

The intent is to create a secure, efficient and trusted process of digital end-to-end land transfer, with reduced process time for sales, transparent information and digital records

For anyone who has participated in the traditional land transfer process, which for a long time involved going into a crowded room (pre-COVID) with mountain of paper and a handful of bank cheques (ask your parents), this resonates strongly. Even changes to electronic conveyancing, while eliminating many paper based processes, leaves centralised systems at risk of cyber security and data breaches.

While the paper states that:

In Australia, electronic conveyancing (or e-conveyancing) has taken off, but use of blockchain has not been tested for property exchange.

There are various studies, pilots and tests which have taken place around the use of blockchain to enable the transfer of real property. While the state and territory lands titles offices have yet to express outright enthusiasm for the idea (unlike the ASX), there is very clear potential for, at a minimum, the backoffice systems of the land titles office to shift to a tokenised model to be ready for greater API interfacing in future.

Since the privacy of individuals or the security of confidential information (private or commercial) are necessary parts of the regulatory frameworks in which data is collected and used, the paper asks policy makers and regulators to consider how aspects of these regulations can limit the use of data in RegTech.

The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) for instance, requires that data be deleted from a dataset once its purpose has been served, which principle stands in contrast to the radical transparency which public blockchains features.

For this very reason and without the development of clearer standards for blockchain, blockchain systems are frequently the subject of criticism for threatening the privacy and assets of its users if data is improperly written to a public chain. In a private chain situation this issue never arises as there is still a central authority which can re-write the data.

As automation and efficiency continue to be a driving motivator for the Australian economy, new and innovative blockchain powered solutions, both internal and client facing, will offer new innovations to improve regulatory compliance for business and possibly even individuals.


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