He was criticised for acting arrogant and snide during the banking royal commission, and now National Australian Bank chairman Ken Henry is fighting to keep his job.
In his final report Commissioner Kenneth Hayne singled out the NAB for its poor response to the shocking misconduct revealed during the inquiry, and there’s speculation Dr Henry and chief executive officer Andrew Thorburn may lose their jobs over it.
Dr Henry, a millionaire who was once Australia’s most powerful public servant, sparked outrage during his appearances at the commission hearings with his grunting responses and refusal to answer questions.
His Wikipedia page, which lists his distinguished service as Treasury department secretary and adviser to the Keating, Howard and Rudd governments, was briefly re-edited to say he had come across as an “arrogant tool and a genuine b***bag”.
The revelations from the royal commission have been so damning, even former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he wished the government had not resisted calls for the inquiry for so long. There are also calls for at least three unnamed institutions to face criminal charges for dishonesty.
The inquiry uncovered banking practices where customers were charged about $1 billion in fees for no service, dead customers were charged fees, and people were given poor financial advice or bullied into buying inappropriate insurance and high-interest loans.
Now, The Australian newspaper reports that Dr Henry will face an uphill battle to hold onto his job, with the board rumoured to have already been displeased with him.
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In the final report Commissioner Hayne singled out NAB for the harshest criticism and said its response stood apart from the other three major banks.
“Having heard from both the CEO, Mr Thorburn, and the chair, Dr Henry, I am not as confident as I would wish to be that the lessons of the past have been learned,” his report said.
“More particularly, I was not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do, and then having its staff act accordingly.”
During the inquiry Dr Henry, who has been NAB’s chairman since 2015 and is also a former board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia, was slammed for his responses to senior counsel assisting Rowena Orr QC.
One exchange was particularly revealing and happened after Ms Orr asked Dr Henry about the 11-month delay in NAB executives telling regulator ASIC it had charged customers $34.6 million for services they hadn’t received.
Orr: Do you accept that the board should have stepped in earlier?
Henry: (long pause) … I wish we had, let me put it that way … I still don’t know …
Orr: I’d like you to answer my question Dr Henry. Do you accept that the board should have stepped in earlier?
Henry: I’ve answered the question how I could answer the question.
Orr: I’m sorry, is it a yes or a no Dr Henry?
Henry: I’ve answered the question the way I choose to answer the question.
Orr: Well, I’d like you to answer my question. Do you accept that the board should have stepped in earlier?
Henry: I wish we had.
Orr: I’m going to take that as a yes, Dr Henry
Henry: Well, you take it as a yes. All right?
smartarse Ken Henry needs to understand that he’s not in a NAB Boardroom meeting now, waving his finger around and making snide remarks, he’s before a Royal Commission and is required to truthfully answer questions asked ..like everyone else. He’s not above the law.😠
— We’re not going to take it any more !! (@DavidHuett) November 27, 2018
Ken Henry has to go! His attitude towards customers is disgusting !
— Michael Lee (@Michael_lee888) November 28, 2018
Question for @AndrewThorburn, is Ken Henry’s indifferent and flippant attitude a real window into the culture at @NAB? My wife still has transaction accounts with NAB (after I pulled my super from MLC), she is now adamant they are closing this week #bankingRC
— Jezalenko (@jezalenko) November 28, 2018
When asked about the huge bonuses paid to bank executives, Dr Henry began talking about the state of capitalism.
“The capitalist model is that businesses have no responsibility other than to maximise profits for shareholders,” he said.
“A lot of people who have participated in this debate over the past 12 months have said that’s all that you should hold boards accountable for, is that they are focused on the maximisation of profits for shareholders.”
Twitter users were not the only ones who thought Dr Henry’s responses were unacceptable.
“I thought it telling that Dr Henry seemed unwilling to accept any criticism of how the board had dealt with some issues,” Commissioner Hayne said in his report.
In contrast to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which has given an enforceable undertaking it will act on each of the report’s 76 recommendations and an independent reviewer will report its progress to APRA, the NAB has instead announced a process of self-assessment on 26 actions.
In a statement released this morning Dr Henry addressed the criticisms, saying: “The royal commission has challenged NAB and we have welcomed that. We led the sector in calling for the royal commission to be held.
“In his final report, Commissioner Hayne said I seemed unwilling to accept criticism of how the board had dealt with some of the issues raised by the commission. I am disappointed that the commissioner formed this view. I know that it is not so.
“The board and I have reflected deeply on those and other issues and, as I have said previously, we take them very seriously.
“We have said we are not prepared to accept good intentions where urgency, consistency and discipline is required. The board has led a deep examination of our culture, governance and accountability. We are the only bank to publicly release our assessment, which clearly outlines 26 areas we are focusing on to be a better bank.
“It is our highest priority for everyone at NAB to put customers first. At NAB we are determined to change and accept that we will ultimately be measured by the actions we take.”
Mr Thorburn is also standing firm against the criticism and has cancelled two months’ leave, saying he is “more determined than ever” to lead the bank and its response to the inquiry.
He also hit back at criticism about his decision to go on holidays as the bank navigated fallout from the commission as well as restructuring changes, saying he had raised his long service leave with the board a year ago.
“I think it’s a bit unfair to think that a CEO can’t take leave for their own physical and mental health when they’ve laid out a plan and they’ve got an army of very good leaders who are carrying out that strategy,” Mr Thorburn told Your Money today.
A message to our customers: We understand earning your trust is not about words, it’s about action. And we’re determined to show you how we’re changing to be a better bank. pic.twitter.com/TuASiN4ylk
— Andrew Thorburn (@AndrewThorburn) February 4, 2019
In his report, the commissioner said he thought it was telling Mr Thorburn treated the fees-for-no-service issue as being caused by carelessness combined with system deficiencies, even though the total amount NAB and its superannuation trustee NULIS will have to repay is likely to be more than $100 million.
Commissioner Hayne also pointed out bankers were being urged to sell at least five mortgages each before Christmas during the week the two leaders were due to give evidence at the commission.
“Overall, my fear — that there may be a wide gap between the public face NAB seeks to show and what it does in practice — remains,” the report said.
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