“The chief was keen to ensure Thursday goes as smoothly as possible.”
So reads an internal NAB email revealed at the banking royal commission. The ‘chief’ is Andrew Thorburn, who remains head of the bank. ‘Thursday’ was the due date for the bank’s annual report. And ‘smoothly’ refers to a developing scandal that goes to the very top.
On Monday, NAB chief customer officer Andrew Hagger admitted the bank had chosen, deliberately, to not tell regulator ASIC the full extent of its liabilities to customers before the bank reported its full-year profit in October 2016.
And he agreed he had received the “chief was keen” email.
Back in 2016, the bank told ASIC, falsely, that it would only need to repay customers $12.4 million for charging them fees without providing any services – the now-infamous ‘fee-for-no-service’ scandal.
It was Mr Hagger who called ASIC and gave it the lower figure.
He knew it was lower because days before, Mr Hagger had attended a board meeting of NAB’s superannuation subsidiary at which it was determined the full liability was actually three times larger at $34.6 million.
NAB chose to release the lesser amount so as not to draw attention to its breaches before the profit result. Once the results were released, on October 27, 2016, NAB then told ASIC the full situation.
Mr Hagger and Commissioner Kenneth Hayne clashed over the issue.
The bank executive’s explanation was that he couldn’t have told ASIC the full figure ($34.6 million) because the NAB superannuation trustee had not yet given approval for the payment, so the figure was not yet certain.
This answer appeared to infuriate the Commissioner.
“[National Wealth Management] had agreed that full compensation would be paid. Is that right?” Commissioner Hayne asked.
“Yes, we had agreed …”
“On what possible basis, what possible basis, would the trustee say no, pay less?” the Commissioner asked.
For the record, the trustee board did later resolve to pay the money, the commission heard.
The prospect of civil or criminal charges against NAB was once again raised as tempers frayed in a long battle between Mr Hagger and counsel assisting Michael Hodge QC.
“NAB has also recently admitted to ASIC that on 84 occasions between 2014 and 2017 it failed to provide a significant breach notice within 10 business days. You know that failure to report a significant breach within 10 business days is a contravention of Section 912D of the Corporations Act?” Mr Hodge asked.
Mr Hagger replied that it was a legal question and he did not know which section of the act was in question.
“Are you aware that 83 of the 84 breaches related to NAB wealth’s business [where Mr Hagger worked]?”
“No, I didn’t know that number but I’m not surprised,” Mr Hagger replied.
“Why are you not surprised, Mr Hagger?”
“Because wealth was the area … where a lot of things needed to be fixed, and actually breach reporting was one of them,” the banker said.
ASIC has accused NAB of 110 counts of not reporting breaches within 10 business days, but the bank claimed the figure is more accurately 84.