ASIC victory in four-year pursuit of high-fee lenders

The financial watchdog has been handed a victory in a four-year legal battle against Gold Coast lenders that charged exorbitant fees for loans issued without a credit license.

Just over 100,000 consumers borrowed $35 million in loans from Cigno and BSF Solutions from July 2022 to June 2023.

At that time, those same customers were charged more than $70 million in fees.

Cigno was involved in marketing the loans while BSF advanced them.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission first sued Cigno and another firm BHF Solutions in September 2020 alleging that between October 2019 and March 2020 they offered short-term credit and charged excessive fees without a license.

While the case initially failed in the Federal Court, ASIC filed a successful appeal in the Full Court, with special leave for a further appeal by the lenders denied by the High Court.

The financial watchdog then pursued Cigno and BSF in the Federal Court alleging further contraventions from July 2022 to June 2023.

On Friday, Justice Ian Jackman ruled in ASIC’s favor finding that the two firms had breached the law by issuing $34 million in unlicensed loans.

After finding Cigno through a Google search for quick cash loans, one customer took out a $250 loan and was charged almost $500 in fees.

She later took out a second $250 loan and was charged a further $830.

Justice Jackman found Cigno Australia director Mark Swanepoel and BSF director Brenton Harrison were involved in the contraventions as they were aware of how the companies operated.

The firms and their directors have been restrained from collecting further fees, charges or even the principal amounts lent out from the unlawfully provided loans.

ASIC will also be seeking pecuniary penalties and adverse publicity orders against Cigno and BSF.

Mr Swanepoel and Mr Harrison could also be hit with orders preventing them from running a business involved in credit activity.

“ASIC has taken regulatory and enforcement action over many years to respond to various business models used by entities connected to Cigno Australia, BSF Solutions, Mr Swanepoel and Mr Harrison,” ASIC deputy chair Sarah Court said in a statement.

The matter will return to the Federal Court on June 21.

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