Some of Australia’s bank chiefs remain unwilling to accept responsibility for poor conduct, royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne says.
The final round of royal commission hearings heard from the chairs of three bank boards, the CEOs of the five largest banks and AMP.
Mr Hayne said in the conclusion of his report, released on Monday, ‘most’ of the executives had professed to having learned from the evidence heard in the inquiry.
‘But the nature and extent of their engagement with the issues differed rather more markedly than I had expected,’ he wrote.
‘It seemed to me that there remain elements of unwillingness to recognise, and to accept responsibility for, poor conduct of the kinds examined in this inquiry.’
This explained the ‘prolonged and repeated failures’ by companies to report breaches and the time taken to negotiate with the regulators over what should be done in response to misconduct.
In his harshest criticism, Mr Hayne singled out NAB as having a ‘wide gap between the public face NAB seeks to show and what it does in practice’.
‘Having heard from both the CEO, Mr (Andrew) Thorburn, and the Chair, Dr (Ken) Henry, I am not as confident as I would wish to be that the lessons of the past have been learned,’ Mr Hayne wrote.
‘More particularly, I was not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do, and then having its staff act accordingly.’
He said he thought it ‘telling’ that Dr Henry ‘seemed unwilling to accept any criticism of how the board had dealt with some issues’.
‘I thought it telling that Mr Thorburn treated all issues of fees for no service as nothing more than carelessness combined with system deficiencies when the total amount to be repaid by NAB and NULIS on this account is likely to be more than $100 million.’
It was also a bad look for an NAB staffer to email bankers urging them to ‘sell at least five mortgages before Christmas’ just as the bank’s chief and chair were to give evidence at the inquiry.
He said he was persuaded that CBA chief Matt Comyn was ‘well aware of the size and nature of the task’ that lay ahead for Australia’s biggest bank and noted it had previously given enforceable undertakings to act on APRA inquiry recommendations.
As well, he said he had little doubt Shayne Elliot – CEO of ANZ – was similarly aware of the task.
However, Westpac stood apart from the other three major banks by ‘seeking to maintain at least some aspects of its wealth business’.
‘While I do not doubt Mr (Brian) Hartzer, CEO of Westpac, when he says that Westpac has sought to ‘reset’ its relationship with ASIC, only time will tell whether that proves to be right.’