SYDNEY • About 300 staff of National Australia Bank (NAB) have been fired or left the company as a result of internal investigations into wrongdoing, chief executive Andrew Thorburn said yesterday, following public revelations of misconduct across the sector.
He said he was ashamed of the bank's behaviour and admitted he had been wrong to oppose a commission of inquiry, which has exposed scandal after scandal in the country's greed-driven banking culture.
"It's been a particularly difficult and shameful year," Mr Thorburn told a parliamentary committee in his first public comments since the quasi-judicial inquiry began hearing evidence of financial sector wrongdoing earlier this year.
Over 1,200 staff had been questioned about their adherence to the bank's code of conduct as part of the internal probe, he said. Seven hundred of them were found wanting and more than 300, or less than 1 per cent of total staff, were "either terminated or have left", he added.
"If there's anybody who's committed fraud or absolute clear misconduct, he or she is terminated immediately and files in many cases are handed straight to police," he said.
An NAB spokesman declined to provide further details about which department the staff worked for or what jobs they held.
Sum knocked off the market cap of Australia's big four banks as a result of the scandals and wrongdoing uncovered, and the expectation that fines and regulations will follow.
But Mr Thorburn said very few of the terminations were at the executive level. NAB has slashed executive pay and announced the departure of its top consumer banking executive last month after the inquiry uncovered misdeeds in his department.
The comments encapsulate just how far the sector has shifted, from defiance before the inquiry began in February to contrition and apologetic. Mr Thorburn was the fourth boss of a major bank to appear before the committee in recent weeks.
Over 1,200 staff had been questioned about their adherence to the bank's code of conduct as part of the internal probe, said NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn. Seven hundred of them were found wanting and more than 300, or less than 1 per cent of total staff, were "either terminated or have left".
Last week, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group's head told the committee his bank had fired more than 200 staff for wrongdoing. The heads of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corporation were also apologetic.
The powerful public inquiry heard NAB's wealth management arm had charged hundreds of thousands of retirees for financial advice they never received.
The banks, including NAB, have now set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for refunds, legal costs and compliance charges arising from the inquiry.
The slew of scandals and wrongdoing uncovered, and the expectation that fines and regulations will follow, has already knocked almost A$55 billion (S$54 billion) from the market cap of the big four banks, and Mr Thorburn said it had spooked international investors. "They're probably requiring higher prices for us to borrow the money or they're a little more reluctant to get as heavily involved at the moment."
NAB shares edged 0.3 per cent lower yesterday, in line with the broader market. Separately yesterday, the head of Australia's corporate watchdog said banks were still too slow to respond to concerns about potential breaches.