NAB is­sues pub­lic apol­ogy af­ter week of damn­ing ev­i­dence at royal com­mis­sion

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Gareth Hutchens

Na­tional Aus­tralia Bank has is­sued a pub­lic apol­ogy af­ter a hor­ror week of ev­i­dence at the bank­ing royal com­mis­sion.

The NAB chief ex­ec­u­tive, An­drew Thor­burn, posted a video apol­ogy on Twit­ter on Thurs­day af­ter­noon say­ing he was com­mit­ted to learn­ing from the ex­pe­ri­ence “so we can once again be a bank you re­spect and trust”.

It comes af­ter four days of ev­i­dence dur­ing which NAB’s lawyers tried re­peat­edly, but un­suc­cess­fully, to pre­vent ex­plo­sive doc­u­ments be­ing dis­closed to the pub­lic.

Af­ter that bat­tle was lost, the pub­lic learned the cor­po­rate reg­u­la­tor had ac­cused NAB last year, dur­ing pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence, of more than 100 po­ten­tially crim­i­nal counts of breaches of its li­cence in re­la­tion to charg­ing fees to su­per­an­nu­a­tion cus­tomers for ser­vices not pro­vided.

The com­mis­sion also heard ad­vice fees had been de­ducted from su­per ac­counts be­long­ing to cus­tomers who had died.

On Thurs­day morn­ing, se­nior coun­sel as­sist­ing Michael Hodge told the com­mis­sion how un­help­ful NAB’s le­gal team had been in the lead-up to this round of hear­ings.

He said the com­mis­sion had given lawyers for NAB and Nulis – a su­per trustee owned by NAB/MLC – a no­tice to pro­duce doc­u­ments be­fore 4pm on 9 July, but said they pro­vided the com­mis­sion with 31 doc­u­ments on 20 July, and then an­other 3,000 doc­u­ments last week, be­fore an­nounc­ing on Fri­day that they would seek a non­pub­li­ca­tion or­der for some doc­u­ments.

The com­mis­sioner, Ken­neth Hayne, re­fused an at­tempt by NAB’s coun­sel, Neil Young QC, to keep some of the doc­u­ments se­cret on Thurs­day.

NAB is pay­ing more $100m in com­pen­sa­tion to su­per cus­tomers who had been charged a plan ser­vice fee for gen­eral ad­vice when they did not have an ad­viser linked to their su­per ac­count.

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon, the com­mis­sion also heard from Ian Silk, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Aus­tralian Su­per – the coun­try’s big­gest su­per fund.

Silk’s tes­ti­mony was highly an­tic­i­pated, be­cause crit­ics of Aus­tralian Su­per had been hop­ing the com­mis­sion would scru­ti­nise the fund’s de­ci­sion to spend $2m of mem­ber fees to es­tab­lish on­line pub­li­ca­tion the New Daily.

Silk said the money came from the $1.50 a week charged to cus­tomers. He felt it was worth it be­cause New Daily would in­crease the fund’s en­gage­ment with its mem­bers, and boost fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy as 20% to 30% of its sto­ries were ded­i­cated to is­sues in the su­per­an­nu­a­tion and fi­nan­cial in­dus­tries.

“It was our best judg­ment that it was worth try­ing this, be­cause heaven knows most tech­niques that we’ve used and the in­dus­try at large have used have not been suc­cess­ful, if you look at the level of dis­en­gage­ment,” Silk said.

Silk was also asked about a con­tro­ver­sial tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign run by In­dus­try Su­per Aus­tralia, called “Fox and Hen­house”.

The ad was re­leased in March last year. It at­tacked Aus­tralia’s ma­jor banks, warn­ing work­ers about the banks’ lob­by­ing ef­forts in Canberra.

Silk said the ad cam­paign was pri­mar­ily di­rected at Se­nate cross­benchers in fed­eral par­lia­ment, warn­ing them about the ma­jor banks’ at­tempts to over­haul the de­fault su­per fund sys­tem to make it eas­ier for re­tail su­per funds to get more mem­bers by de­fault.

Silk said the ad was a pub­lic pol­icy is­sue, and it served the in­ter­ests of mem­bers.

Pho­to­graph: Paul Braven/EPA

A cus­tomer walks past Na­tional Aus­tralia Bank ATMs. The banks has apol­o­gised to cus­tomers af­ter a gru­elling week of ev­i­dence at the royal com­mis­sion.

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