Reforming bank culture rests on regulators: Silk

The chief executive of Australia's largest superannuation fund is pinning his hopes on the regulators to transform the culture of the big banks and retail sector.

AustralianSuper chief executive Ian Silk says he's doubtful that the organisations called out for poor behaviour at the Royal Commission have what it takes to become good corporate citizens - if left to their own devices.

Appearing at the Conference of Major Super Funds, Silk was asked whether the big banks have the ability to change poor culture of their own volition.

"I don't know where that faith will come from other than one source - and that's the regulators."

But is Silk confident that the regulators are up for the task?

"Not on past performance," he said. "Heaven help us if they don't step up to the plate now."

Silk added he was not confident the industry is able to impose good behaviour without "a strong and aggressive regulator."

Silk said only one thing surprised him after watching 69 days of hearings closely: the number of commercial organisations that clearly or blatantly misled the regulators.

He was also shocked by senior leaders who perpetrated and condoned such behaviour.

When employees of the large financial institutions see their leaders lie to the regulators, it becomes part of the culture and is accepted as 'that's how things are done around here,' he pointed out.

Even though APRA and ASIC "copped the biggest stick" at the Royal Commission next to the retail sector, Silk believes the regulators are taking a tougher approach with super funds.

On top of aggressive regulation, Silk said the superannuation industry can expect more intense political attention, sharpened media scrutiny, and higher member and community expectations.

"We shouldn't complain about that greater scrutiny. When it's applied in good faith we should accept it comes with the responsibility of looking after retirement savings [of] Australians and increasingly becoming a source of capital in the domestic economy."

Read more: Royal CommissionIan SilkAustralianSuperAPRAASICConference of Major Super Funds
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