When Macquarie Bank and politics unite against innovation

When I established financial technology startup ProjectPay, I had a vision to transform payments in the construction industry

When Macquarie Bank and politics unite against innovation

When I established financial technology startup ProjectPay, I had a vision to transform payments in the construction industry. I wanted to build a platform that brought fairness, accountability, and financial stability to all stakeholders in a sector plagued by late and no payments. A payment platform that could power a built economy in which everyone wins.

My background is in technology and construction. I had already had success with my first tech startup having sold it in 2015. Before launching ProjectPay I served as Chair of an Australian Subcontractors Association, advocating for better payment protections against late payments and builder insolvencies that devastate subcontractors when payments are not made at all. I also hold over 20 years executive experience working for global IT companies.

I founded ProjectPay to fill a desperate need, securing payments through the full supply chain. After initial success in attracting users in Australia and gaining state government support for better payment protections, we began an integration partnership with Macquarie Bank. What I didn’t expect was that the very bank that I thought shared our mission would work to sabotage it for their own profits, aided by government interference seeking to discredit me for political reasons. We opened our books, shared industry knowledge and knowhow, provided sensitive documents and worked collaboratively with their teams to implement our payments platform.

That is, until I dared to run as an independent candidate in the 2019 federal elections, challenging the ruling Liberal party to act on their own report which recommended urgent implementation of national payment protections for the sector.

Within months, Macquarie withdrew from our agreement without reason or justification, sinking years of our collaborative development work at the 11th hour. They cited public criticism of me by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, now OECD Secretary. 

Macquarie then moved to replace us with a copycat created, called IPEX, headed by its own alumni of ex-Macquarie Bankers. To push this inferior product designed to empower and benefit Macquarie Bank at the expense of builders and subcontractors who remain disempowered to protect their payment entitlements.  With some builders withdrawing from projects altogether.

Even armed with advanced technology, a lone female entrepreneur makes for an easy target for the establishment to pick off. 

I was not aware of the publicly reported scandals Macquarie was facing around the world for their alleged misconduct, fraud, embezzlement, non-compliance to Australian Banking Regulations with sanctions imposed on their Australian Banking Licence. I didn’t know why they were the only Australian bank to not have to appear at the Australian Banking Royal Commission into misconduct or why Australia’s regulator the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, (ASIC) dropped their secret investigation into the bank when the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg appointed Macquarie Banks former CEO Nicolas Moore to the Australian regulator, when he was also being investigated for his role in the German tax fraud scandal.

Despite this history of public scandals in both Australia and globally, Macquarie Bank appears to operate with impunity, evading regulatory scrutiny with apparent ease. They have a history of high-risk debt financing models involving securitization, not unlike disgraced former companies Carillion and Greensill. During its ownership of Thames Water, Macquarie notoriously saddled the company with an unsustainable debt burden, whilst paying out huge dividends, earning them the reputation of being the Vampire Kangaroo in the UK. Despite struggling with nearly £14 billion in gross debt Macquarie simply walked away.

This saga has laid bare the entrenched corruption tying Australia’s political and financial classes together against the public’s and small businesses best interests. I hope that the submission I have made to the Australian National Anti-Corruption Commission will finally address this conduct.

Although the personal and professional attacks have left scars, my passion for empowering and providing financial freedom for hard-working contractors, and subcontractors continues to motivate me. I’ve witnessed firsthand how construction payment abuse destroys livelihoods and hurts economies. We must keep shining a light on such corruption until we finally break through.  

Louise Stewart
Louise Stewart

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