NAB has been accused of delaying telling the corporate regulator about a substantial increase in remediation payments to customers, in order to stop adverse publicity from upsetting an annual results presentation.
The accusation follows the recall of a senior NAB executive to the banking royal commission to clarify previous evidence given over the “fees-for-no-service” scandal, and in particular to examine why the bank delayed telling the regulator, ASIC, that remediation payments had more than doubled.
NAB’s chief customer officer Andrew Hagger — the bank’s most senior executive to front the commission, and a direct report to chief executive Andrew Thorburn — was recalled to the witness box to explain why ASIC had been left with the impression NAB was up for $16 million in compensation to its super fund customers, when he knew the figure was closer to $34 million.
ASIC subsequently published a report in October 2016 with the $16 million figure that indicated NAB was “in the middle of [the] pack” among the Big Four banks caught up on the scandal, rather than an outlier and one of the worst offenders.
The ASIC report which was the subject of widespread and stinging media coverage was released on the same day as NAB’s 2016 full-year results.
The commission had heard there was concern within the bank that unfavourable publicity would derail the bank’s profit announcement.
CEO concerned about results presentation
Mr Hagger agreed he had received an email that said, “The chief [Mr Thorburn] was keen to ensure Thursday [results day] goes as smoothly as possible.”
“I don’t want to amplify the word ‘concern’ to be bigger than it was,” Mr Hagger said.
Mr Hagger told the commission ASIC had been open to ask NAB what the exact amount would be, but he didn’t want to “front run” a board decision on the compensation to be paid.
This was despite Mr Hagger leaving a board meeting, where it had been agreed full compensation would be paid, to call ASIC official Greg Tanzer to say a final decision was imminent, but still a few weeks away.
Mr Hagger said the compensation payment still had to be approved by the super fund’s trustee, and not just NAB.
Counsel assisting the commission Michael Hodge QC asked Mr Hagger why he didn’t tell Mr Tanzer he had just come out of a meeting where the decision had been made.
Mr Hodge: “[You] don’t want to front run the board even though the board had already resolved to make full compensation … do you seriously want the commission to believe [after the board decision] the trustee would opt for less-than-full compensation?”
Mr Hagger: ” I didn’t want to pre-empt the decision … it was not appropriate to get ahead of the board.