The worst is not over for the National Bank of Australia (NAB) as it looks to pick up some of the pieces from the current Royal Commission inquiry into financial misconduct and mismanagement across many parts of Australia’s finance sector in the last decade.
Facing the second week of the inquiry, NAB had hoped that the most grueling questioning was already over. However, one of its key executives is now providing more details about its superannuation arm.
In a surprise move, NAB’s Head of Consumer and Wealth Andrew Hagger was handed a summons only last Friday. Executives typically have a period of several weeks rather than days to bring along suitable levels of evidence and prepare appropriately.
Hagger’s name came up several times during parts of the inquiry last week in relation to his previous role as Head of NAB’s Wealth Division. He will now join several fellow and former executives from the bank who have been under the Royal Commission’s spotlight.
Increasing scrutiny is on the agenda, with no signs that this story is going to easily dissipate anytime soon. The Finance Sector Union said that there is a need to recognize the “crisis” at the heart of NAB management and maintained that an independent review is necessary.
NAB has already faced many questions from the inquiry with regard to mischarging sets of fees to superannuation customers, charging people for advice that they never received and even levying charges to the accounts of deceased people. Allegations and questioning have also pervaded over whether some of this activity was illegal and should result in criminal charges.
At the center of the inquiry is the level of communication and transactional transparency provided to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), with accusations that NAB kept several details from ASIC regarding the compensation scheme that it had in place for customers who received wrongful charges or non-service. These details may have remained secret to keep NAB “in the middle of the pack” with its competitors and to not raise any alarms for consumers.
Last week, the inquiry counsel asked Paul Carter, former NAB Wealth Executive General Manager, about a conversation between Hagger and ASIC when the commission was in the middle of preparing a report on the charging of fees when no service took place.
Internal discussions occurred over whether to tell ASIC that NAB had already put aside an extra $34m in compensation for when the story broke and it had to reimburse customers.
Carter told the inquiry that although he was short on details given that this took place a couple of years ago, he remembered that Hagger had the “intent” of “being transparent on the issue”.
NAB Chief Executive Andrew Thorburn said last Thursday that the bank had been too slow to react on the issue but maintained that it had not engaged in any criminal activity.
Meanwhile, the Finance Sector Union’s National Secretary Julia Angrisano said that an independent review of the organizational structure at NAB is essential. Refusing to pin any blame on staff at the frontline, Angrisano said that a “fundamental and ongoing crisis in management culture at NAB” was the reason for these problems and that the only fix was for the bank to “draw a line in the sand” and collectively figure out how it can improve “without fear of retribution”.