Institutions respond to Royal Commission, make commitments

Australia's largest financial institutions said they are committed to improvement following the release of Royal Commission's final report.

Landing yesterday, the report was scathing in its assessment of banking executives. Commissioner Hayne said the final round of hearings - which saw chief executives and chairs of the big banks, AMP and financial services regulators APRA and ASIC take the stand - surprised him, in the sense that executives were to some extent unwilling to take responsibility for misconduct revealed during the earlier rounds.

"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," Hayne said.

In its response, Commonwealth Bank said the Royal Commission had been valuable for all stakeholders in the financial services industry, and would result in CBA becoming a better bank.

CBA chief executive Matt Comyn was praised by Hayne in the report, with the Commissioner noting CBA had been confronted directly about why it had conduct and compliance issues in a manner not shared by its contemporaries.

"I was persuaded that Mr Comyn...is well aware of the size and nature of the tasks that lie ahead of CBA," Hayne said.

However, praise was not reserved for all.

NAB was called out for the performances of chief executive Andrew Thorburn and chair Dr Ken Henry during the final round of hearings, with Hayne explicit in his criticism of the two.

"Having heard from both the chief executive, Mr Thorburn, and the chair, Dr Henry, I am not as confident as I would wish to be that the lessons of the past have been learned," Hayne said.

More particularly, Hayne said, he is not persuaded 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 added that Henry seemed unwilling to accept criticism over how NAB's board dealt with issues, and singled out Thorburn for treating issues of fees-for-no-service as "nothing more than carelessness combined with system deficiencies." This, he said, despite NAB's remediation costs now likely to be more than $100 million.

The bank responded today and Thorburn refuses to blankly accept Hayne's criticisms of NAB. Cancelling his planned long-service leave to attend to the bank's leadership, Thorburn said evidence existed of NAB's efforts to change.

Henry said he was disappointed of the views the Commissioner formed of him, adding NAB's board has reflected deeply on the bank's issues.

"We have said we are not prepared to accept good intentions where urgency, consistency and discipline is required. The board has led a deep examination of our culture, governance and accountability," Henry said.

"It is our highest priority for everyone at NAB to put customers first. At NAB we are determined to change and accept that we will ultimately be measured by the actions we take."

Westpac and ANZ both responded through media statements, with the former committing to engaging constructively in the reform process before the industry.

"Westpac has already taken steps to address some of the matters that are referred to in the report, including our approach to dealing with customer complaints and leading the industry in moving away from grandfathered commissions. The recommendations in the report will help us build on this progress," Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer said.

ANZ chief Shayne Elliot said the experience of the Royal Commission had been humbling, and said the bank accepted responsibility for its failings.

"ANZ is committed to continuing the work and investment required to build a bank worthy of the trust and respect of our customers and the community as well as helping ensure these failures aren't repeated," Elliot said.

AMP - whose Royal Commission experience was perhaps the worst of all of Australia's large financial institutions - called the inquiry a "catalyst for change" both within financial services and itself.

"AMP will work constructively with the government, regulators, advisers, trustees and other bodies to ensure that, as the recommendations move into definitive legislative reform, the outcomes are clear, simple and meet the best interests of customers," the firm said.

Chair David Murray added the report would be a turning point for the industry, and mentioned the vertical integration model  - which forms a significant part of AMP's business - would continue to operate for customers. He added the conflicts of interest it brought to the table did need more effective management however.

"The Royal Commission's final report will be a turning point for the industry, which has rightly been heavily criticised for its mistakes," Murray said.

"The proposed regulatory changes will require serious and determined effort to implement but, with the support of industry, should deliver better outcomes for customers."

Read more: NABRoyal CommissionCBAWestpacANZDr Ken HenryAndrew ThorburnDavid MurrayShayne ElliotBrian HartzerMatt Comyn
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