Disgraced wealth management giant AMP has named banking veteran David Murray as its new chair, in an effort to salvage its battered public image.
Mr Murray was chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in the 1990s and 2000s, overseeing the full privatisation of the formerly nationally-owned bank.
While CBA is itself a scandal-ridden institution, Mr Murray’s reputation has has remained good thanks to his widely-praised work on the 2014 financial system inquiry, which he led.
A few hours before his appointment was announced on Friday afternoon, AMP issued an apology to its customers for the unethical behaviour unearthed by the royal commission last month, and promised to do “whatever it takes” to rebuild trust with its customers.
But despite taking a contrite tone in a message to customers, in a separate submission to the royal commission, AMP rejected suggestions its senior staff should face criminal charges.
More than two weeks ago the royal commission heard that AMP had been deliberately charging customers for financial advice they were not receiving, and lying to the regulator ASIC about it – including by amending a supposedly independent report to allegedly protect senior figures at the company.
Since the revelations emerged the firm’s two most senior employees – chief executive Craig Meller and chair Catherine Brenner – have resigned.
Addressing customers for the first time since the scandal hit, AMP’s interim chair Mike Wilkins said: “We recognise we have more work to do to win back your trust, and we’ll do whatever that takes.
“Millions of Australians are customers and shareholders and we are a major employer in Australia. You deserve us to be the very best organisation we can be.”
However, in a submission to the royal commission also published on Friday, AMP struck a less conciliatory tone, saying it “strenuously denies” allegations it may have committed a criminal offence by misleading regulators about fees for services its customers never received.
AMP said “there is no evidence” to suggest that the board, including Ms Brenner and Mr Meller, acted inappropriately in relation to the preparation of a report on the misconduct by law firm Clayton Utz.
“AMP strenuously denies the allegation by counsel assisting that it is open to find that it has committed a criminal offence in providing to ASIC in October 2017 a report prepared by Clayton Utz,” AMP said on Friday.
The wealth management giant hit back at claims more than 700 emails had been exchanged between AMP and Clayton Utz about the content of the draft report, saying it had been “overstated”.
Last week senior counsel assisting the commission Rowena Orr QC outlined a series of possible misconduct findings against AMP for misleading ASIC, including breaches of the Corporations Act that carry criminal penalties.
Ms Orr said AMP and its advice businesses misled ASIC 20 times from 2015 to 2017 about the nature and extent of its fees-for-no-service practice.
AMP on Friday said while its misrepresentation to ASIC is “plainly unacceptable”, there were only seven misrepresentations, not 20.
The commission also heard there was misconduct around the Clayton Utz report, which went through 25 draft versions with changes from the company before being given to ASIC.
Ms Orr said AMP employees or officers, including Mr Meller, Ms Brenner, group executive for advice Jack Regan and particularly general counsel Brian Salter, either marked up or suggested amendments.
On Friday AMP said the report was “uncompromisingly direct and comprehensive” and concerned matters subject to an ongoing ASIC investigation that began in 2015.
It refuted allegations Mr Meller and Ms Brenner sought to improperly influence the content or findings of the report, but shifted the blame onto Mr Salter.
“The extent of the involvement that Mr Salter had in the preparation of the report was surprising to the board of AMP, as it was to Mr Regan,” AMP said.
“Irrespective of Mr Salter’s involvement … there is no evidence before the royal commission that Mr Salter made any changes that Clayton Utz did not agree with, or that Clayton Utz does not stand behind the report.”
– with AAP