AMP chair Deborah Hazelton has dodged heavy-hitting questions from shareholders who demanded transparency on the firm's failure to reign in chaotic leadership changes and why they are the last to know about significant announcements.
Shareholders expressed their exasperation with the "daily soap opera of scandals" of executive and board changes, rock-bottom share price performance and unjustifiable remuneration packages at the annual general meeting this morning, held online for the second year in a row.
A burning question was how news of chief executive Francesco De Ferrari's exit was leaked to the AFR on March 25 prior it was announced to the markets almost a week later.
Hazelton said: "At the time of the media reports, we were in discussions with Francesco regarding the future direction of AMP. We were talking about how the size and shape of the business will change. The discussions were not complete and no decisions were made."
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She did not divulge when or how AMP approached ANZ deputy chief Alexis George to apply for the role, but did confirm that a recruitment firm assisted, vaguely saying: "We had started succession planning for the chief executive in normal succession-planning processes."
Shareholders questioned the progress of the $300 million cost-saving strategy espoused by De Ferrari as part of his plans to salvage the business.
This time last week, AMP announced it is splitting the business into two: AMP Limited and Private Markets.
Wealth management, investment and banking group will operate under AMP Limited and maintain a partnership with China Life and Resolution Life.
Many cast doubt about the timing of his resignation, making no sense of De Ferrari leaving in the thick of the transformation that has yet to produce tangible results yet award him with a hefty payout.
"There is never a good time, a perfect time for transition. [During] the portfolio review, Francesco and the board were talking about future leadership, given the changing size, scale and focus of the company. Francesco decided it was time for him to retire from the role," Hazelton said.
Shareholders wanted more transparency and justification of large remuneration payouts, particularly to controversial global head of infrastructure equity Boe Pahari, who is exiting as the business pursues the demerger.
Hazelton defended the company's decision behind the payouts.
"The board did not take this decision lightly. Our business has been through an extraordinarily challenging period and the board believed that retention of key leaders, investment teams and other business critical employees is essential to continue to drive transformation and protect shareholder value. We were in unprecedented circumstances and had to ensure stability," she said.
Pahari was paid $376,000 for the 53 days he led AMP Capital. He also received an additional $937,724 as part of a profit-sharing arrangement he was entitled to from his role as global head of infrastructure equity.
Hazleton shot down a shareholder's query about Pahari reportedly receiving entitlements of over $70 million over his 10-year tenure and how in that time he added value.
"I am not familiar with the figures," she said, before referring the shareholder to annual reports.
Former chair David Murray left in August 2020 as sexual harassment allegations against Pahari unfolded. He was appointed chair in May 2018; his entitlements amounted to over $1.7 million.
As for the advice unit, De Ferrari said about 75% of the advice transformation program is complete and the remainder will finalise by the end of 2021.
"The advice business is fundamentally core to AMP's strategy, and we can take a leadership position in this and we are working with the regulators and government to have the necessary framework to build a sustainable advice business," he said.
The group will announce a rebrand by the end of the year. The proposed Private Markets division will have an official name and branding.