Finance Finance News Banks scurry to defend senior execs from name-and-shame proposal

Banks scurry to defend senior execs from name-and-shame proposal

Big bank bosses (L-R): Commonwealth Bank's Ian Narev, ANZ's Shayne Elliott, Westpac's Brian Hartzer and NAB's Andrew Thorburn.
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Australia’s biggest banks have all resisted or equivocated on the Coalition’s push to name-and-shame top executives whenever their employees are accused of criminality.

Over three days of hearings, the bank bosses said the proposal was too complicated, too risky, too hard.

The Standing Committee on Economics originally made the recommendation after a previous round of hearings last year. It would force the banks to tell the public of any alleged banking licence breaches within five days of the industry watchdog hearing of them.

Crucially, the banks would have to name, presumably in the same press release, the senior executive in charge of the division where the alleged breach occurred.

Day after day, Liberal chair David Coleman prosecuted the government’s case. He summed it up best on Wednesday when he told Westpac: “You will often conclude that you’re not going to hold the executive responsible … The recommendation doesn’t stop you from doing that. But it does require you to publicly explain your actions.”

david coleman
Bank reluctance raised the eyebrows of Standing Committee on Economics chair David Coleman more than once.

But it was the bankers themselves who gave him the best ammunition. One after another, they answered “No” when asked if any senior executives had been fired after a litany of scandals. Mysteriously, it was always someone else’s fault.

ANZ’s Shayne Elliott, who appeared before the committee on Tuesday, came the closest to backing the idea. He said his bank was “largely supportive”, but then came the caveats.

“We support this. We’re saying if there’s a breach that has occurred, and it has been reported, we are very happy to make that public and we’re happy to name the responsible executive for the division in which that breach occurred,” Mr Elliott told the lower house committee.

But the five-day timeframe might be too soon to “get to the bottom” of what caused the breach, he said.

“So it would be a preliminary report, and we’re happy to do that. Given that it’s preliminary, it’s very difficult at that time to be able to articulate clearly what the consequences are. So we’re not shying away from it, we’re just saying at that time it’s very difficult to know.”

CBA boss Ian Narev, who also appeared on Tuesday, gave a much firmer “No”. He did say the bank supported “greater transparency”, but Mr Coleman quickly retorted that he was “not interested in motherhood statements”.

Westpac’s Brian Hartzer, the last to appear on Wednesday, also supported “increasing transparency”, but opposed the specific recommendation “as written” because it would be “complicated” to implement.

Mr Coleman saved some of his harshest criticism for NAB’s Andrew Thorburn, slamming as “quite exceptional” and “very poor” his argument last Friday that naming-and-shaming would somehow deter whistleblowers.

The bank boss must have a low opinion of his staff, Mr Coleman said.

None of these protestations and weasel words seemed to sway the chairman. “If anything it further bolsters the argument for why it should be publicly reported,” he said after a particularly unpersuasive answer from NAB.

Mr Coleman seems to speak as one with the government, so expect the legislation soon.

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