About 300 staff of National Australia Bank (NAB) have been fired or left the company as a result of internal investigations into wrongdoing, chief executive Andrew Thorburn said yesterday, following public revelations of misconduct across the sector.
Thorburn said he was ashamed of the bank’s behavior and admitted he had been wrong to oppose a commission of inquiry that has exposed scandal after scandal in the nation’s greed-driven banking culture.
“It’s been a particularly difficult and shameful year,” Thorburn told a parliamentary committee in his first public comments since the quasi-judicial inquiry began hearing evidence of financial sector wrongdoing earlier this year.
More than 1,200 staff had been questioned about their adherence to the bank’s code of conduct as part of the internal probe, he said.
Seven hundred of those questioned were found wanting and “over 300 were either terminated or have left,” Thorburn said.
“If there’s anybody who’s committed a fraud or absolute clear misconduct they’re terminated immediately and files in many cases are handed straight to police,” he said.
However, “very few” of the terminations were at executive level, he added.
NAB has slashed executive pay and announced the departure of its top consumer banking executive last month after the inquiry uncovered misdeeds in his department.
The comments encapsulate just how far the sector has shifted, from defiance before the explosive inquiry began in February, to contrition and apology.
Thorburn was the fourth boss of a major bank to appear before the committee in recent weeks and the fourth to express regret at past misdeeds.
Last week, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group’s head told the committee his bank had fired more than 200 staff for wrongdoing.
The heads of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp were also apologetic.
The powerful public inquiry heard NAB’s wealth management arm had charged hundreds of thousands of retirees for financial advice they never received.
The banks, including NAB, have now set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for refunds, legal costs and compliance charges arising from the inquiry, moves expected to dent profits.
Separately, the head of Australia’s corporate watchdog, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), told a separate parliamentary committee that the regulator needed to be better resourced to address misconduct exposed at the inquiry.
The watchdog came in for criticism from the inquiry for being too quick to negotiate with, rather than punish, errant banks — criticism ASIC Chairman James Shipton said he accepted, while also firing a shot at his quarry.
“Whilst we are hearing important acknowledgements from leaders of financial institutions about change, such change is not happening as quickly as it should,” Shipton said.
“ASIC is still experiencing slow and delayed responses from financial institutions and, in some cases, overly technical responses aimed at delay,” he said.
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