The head of National Australia Bank has publicly lamented a shameful year for the industry dominated by “appalling behaviour” uncovered at the Hayne royal commission.
Andrew Thorburn says he feels the pain of customers damaged by the misconduct of its bankers, and regrets losing their trust.
“That’s the most terrible thing,” he told a parliamentary committee in Canberra on Friday.
“It’s been a difficult and shameful year.”
Mr Thorburn is the final chief executive from the big four banks to be questioned by the committee this month.
He said the misbehaviour of a few bankers has had a devastating impact on NAB’s reputation.
He conceded NAB did not have sufficient controls to fix issues when they arose and had not compensated its customers fast enough.
“We didn’t intend to do what happened,” he said, acknowledging the NAB needed to rebuild trust.
“The royal commission has exposed issues in our bank and the industry that have been confronting and upsetting,” Mr Thorburn told the committee.
“I feel this deeply, having worked in our profession for more than three decades. In so many cases, we have not had the care and respect for our customers that we should have. And for that, I am sorry.”
Mr Thorburn said the big banks had drifted away from customers over several decades as they pursued profits over people, and there was too much focus on short-term returns, bonuses and product sales.
Hundreds of bankers at NAB have been sacked as a result of investigations into misconduct. There are 33,000 staff across the country.
More than 1200 NAB staff have been questioned about adherence to the code, with 700 facing a reduction in pay or other consequences.
Some 300 NAB bankers have been sacked for breaching the rules.
The committee heard 245,000 NAB customers have been overcharged fees.
NAB will have paid out $130 million by the end of the year, with another $300 million to flow as soon as possible.
Its controversial “introducer” workforce, which defrauded thousands of customers, has been slashed from 8000 staff to just over 1000.
Mr Thorburn’s evidence was mostly contrite throughout the hours-long public hearing.
But during an unusually heated exchange, the NAB chief executive chastised a Liberal committee member who wanted to question his former role at St George.
Liberal MP Jason Falinski wanted to know if Mr Thorburn, who departed St George in 2005, had any role in leading the bank to its 2008 merger with Westpac.
Unhappy with the line of questioning, Mr Thorburn said he was in Canberra to talk about NAB.
He said if Mr Falinksi was inferring – under parliamentary privilege – he did something inappropriate during his time at St George, he rejected that entirely, and demanded he withdraw the question.