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RPT-TIMELINE-Class action lawsuits, divestments dominate Australian banks in 2020

(Repeats story first published on Dec. 28, with no changes to text)

Dec 28 (Reuters) - Australian banking regulators tightened their grip around the “Big Four” in a year beset with numerous class action lawsuits - some stemming from a 2019 investigation into the industry - record fines and divestitures.

Below is a timeline that tracks developments in the Australian banking sector in 2020 and steps taken by lenders to stay afloat as credit losses and impairment charges spiked from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jan. 22, 2020: Law firm Maurice Blackburn files a class action lawsuit against two entities of National Australia Bank on behalf of more than 330,000 account holders for alleged breaches in pension laws.

Jan. 23: A class action is filed against Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s pension arm, Colonial First State, for allegedly not acting in customers’ interest for insurance policies.

Jan. 31: A class action naming former Westpac Banking Corp CEO Brian Hartzer and interim CEO Peter King as defendants is filed in a U.S. court.

The lawsuit was related to disclosure issues with its financial crime monitoring and a money laundering scandal.

Feb. 19: Westpac warns of a hit to its 2020 profit from a rise in costs related to improving risk management systems in the wake of a money-laundering scandal and the country’s deadly bushfires.

Feb. 28: A class action is filed by law firm Slater and Gordon against Westpac and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group for selling “junk insurance”.

April 7: The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) asks banks and insurers to consider deferring dividend payouts or use buffers like dividend reinvestment plans until the impact of the pandemic is better known.

April 20: NAB warns provisions for customer remediation and changes to a software capitalisation policy expected to reduce first-half earnings by A$1.22 billion.

April 30: ANZ defers dividend decision and posts an almost two-thirds plunge in first-half profit.

May 5: Australia’s big banks warn that credit losses from the country’s first recession in three decades will top A$17 billion.

May 13: CBA books A$1.5 billion in provisions in the third quarter to cover future pandemic-related loan losses, bringing its total credit provisions to A$6.4 billion.

Announces sale of a 55% stake in its Colonial First State wealth management business to KKR & Co Inc for A$1.7 billion

May 15: Westpac admits to millions of breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism laws in a filing in Australia’s Federal Court, but denies accusations it enabled illegal payments between known child sex offenders.

June 4: Westpac’s internal investigation concludes that child exploitation payments made through its system were the result of “faults of omission”.

June 23: The Australian Securities and Investments Commission files lawsuit against CBA, accusing it of improperly collecting commission to sell products of its pension arm, Colonial First State Investments, to hundreds of thousands of customers.

July 8: Australian banks extend the loan repayment deferral period to 10 months from six for borrowers struggling to service their debts due to the pandemic.

July 17: Westpac launches a multi-year programme to fix shortcomings in its management of non-financial risk.

Aug. 4: Australian lenders defer a further A$40 billion loans in June.

Aug. 12: CBA slashes its annual dividend by more than half to the maximum payout allowed by regulators.

Aug. 31: NAB sells its financial advisory arm to IOOF Holdings for A$1.4 billion.

Sept. 24: Westpac agrees to pay a record A$1.3 billion fine to settle money laundering lawsuit.

Oct. 14: Westpac exits banking operations in China and some other Asian markets.

Oct. 26: Westpac flags a A$1.22 billion hit to cash earnings in the second half.

Oct. 27: ANZ expects to take an after-tax hit of A$528 million to its cash profit in the second half.

Nov. 2: Westpac to resume paying dividends as it reports a 62% plunge in cash earnings.

Nov. 5: NAB posts a 36.6% fall in annual profit, and warns that costs would keep rising in the next few years.

Dec. 2: Westpac says it will sell its general insurance arm to German insurer Allianz for A$725 million.

Dec. 7: Westpac sells its Pacific businesses in Fiji and Papua New Guinea for up to A$420 million.

Dec. 23: ASIC says it will not take any action against Westpac in the illegal payments probe. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Rashmi Ashok; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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