At least two of Australia's financial powerhouses face the threat of class actions for ripping off their superannuation clients.
Plaintiff law firm Slater & Gordon on Tuesday revealed it was seeking expressions of interest for a class action against financial institutions following damaging revelations about their treatment of customers, saying they collectively owed Australians "more than one billion dollars".
The company said the first targets would be the Commonwealth Bank of Australia-owned Colonial First State and AMP, but at a press conference on Tuesday it also mentioned it might look at adding IOOF in future, as well as "most of the major retail funds".
There would be a series of announcements over the coming "weeks and months", it foreshadowed.
Slater & Gordon said it would be alleged that "big bank-backed super funds" charged their clients "exorbitant" fees and failed to achieve competitive returns from their cash investments.
Branding the campaign "Get Your Super Back", the company said the action would be brought "on behalf of millions of Australians in bank-owned super funds".
Slater & Gordon said the allegation arose from evidence at the Hayne royal commission, which is probing misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry.
The commission has heard evidence that superannuation customers at bank funds were placed in cash investment options that offered low returns that could be severely eroded by the fees charged.
A well-placed source said the class action would also consider the fees-for-no-service scandal, where major financial organisations have admitted to charging thousands of customers - some of them deceased - for services they did not receive. The companies have already agreed to pay compensation over that scandal, which is estimated to eventually hit $1 billion.
AMP and IOOF have been contacted for comment. Commonwealth Bank said it was aware of the announcement. "Commonwealth Bank, or its subsidiaries, have not been served with any legal proceedings," the bank's statement said. "CBA will keep the market informed of developments."
At the press conference, Slater & Gordon's head of class actions, Ben Hardwick, pointed to royal commission revelations that some AMP super fund members were actually getting negative returns on cash investments, due to "measly" interest rates as well as the fees charged to their accounts.
"On our calculations, fund members of Colonial and AMP combined have lost over half a billion dollars from their superannuation accounts," he said.
"This will fundamentally degrade their retirement. We intend to bring class actions to recoup as much of this money as we can."
Mr Hardwick said Slater & Gordon was in "advanced discussions" with a number of litigation funders to bankroll the actions.
The company was also speaking with potential lead plaintiffs for the cases, he said, and had received "a number of" registrations since it announced the class action on Tuesday morning.
When asked whether the firm might face competition from other class action law firms, Mr Hardwick said "we believe we are best placed to take this case forward".
The firm would be paid "in the usual way lawyers are remunerated", Mr Hardwick said.
Slater & Gordon, along with at least three other class action law firms, already has a shareholder class action on foot against AMP over the scandals revealed at the banking royal commission and the resulting damage to its market value.
The class action comes as regulators are also ramping up their legal efforts. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission announced last week that it would prosecute National Australia Bank over the fees-for-no-service scandal.