ANZ Banking Group chairman David Gonski says the lender still has “a great deal to do” as it tries to regain public trust, and concedes the industry had been too slow to respond to community criticism.
In a speech to shareholders in Sydney, Mr Gonski addressed the erosion in public trust in banks and the looming royal commission, arguing that businesses including ANZ needed to do more than simply focus on shareholder interests.
Mr Gonski, one of the most respected business people in the country, also said he did not underestimate how challenging the royal commission, to be led by Kenneth Hayne, would be for the banks.
ANZ would engage with the judicial inquiry transparently and constructively, he pledged, while still running the business efficiently.
Mr Gonski’s speech to shareholders said the erosion of trust in banks was part of a broader change that had also seen confidence in institutions including the media, government and non-government organisations fall to “troubling lows”.
Businesses needed to respond by listening to community concerns, he said, and could not be “solely shareholder-focused organisations”.
“It is clear that in order to rebuild trust, business has to step outside our traditional role as solely shareholder-focused organisations, and work in new ways that also put our customers and our communities at the centre of everything we do,” Mr Gonski said.
ANZ had this year cut interest rates on some credit cards, clamped down on conflicted remuneration for frontline staff, and matched other banks in removing ATM fees for non-customers, Mr Gonski noted.
It has also established a responsible business committee led by chief executive Shayne Elliott, and put a greater focus on environmental concerns.
“Clearly though, we still have a great deal to do,” he said.
Responding to the government’s decision to launch a royal commission, Mr Gonski observed that some believed bank-bashing was caused by “arrogance” by banks. He did not endorse or reject this view, but argued businesses should listen to community concerns.
“While criticism of banks is not new, in the rapidly changing environment that I have described, we acknowledge our industry has been slower than it should to be more transparent, to listen more to the views of the community and to consistently treat its customers fairly and responsibly,” Mr Gonski said.
“Some go further and say it is the arrogance of banks that has been the underlying cause of bank bashing in the Australian community. Whether this is true or not, sometimes it is an easy option for business to pitch itself against the community and to lecture people about why they are wrong,” he said.
“It is often more difficult to listen, to face up to issues and use that insight to make decisions for the long term.”
Shareholders questioned Mr Gonski and Mr Elliott over a range of issues including climate change and executive pay, but all resolutions passed with support from 97 per cent or shareholders or more.
ANZ this year settled with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission over long-running allegations of misconduct in the bank bill swap rate market.
As well as the $50 million settlement, Mr Gonski said the people who ran the BBSW trading and its markets area at the time were no longer with the bank, others had been sacked for breaching its code of conduct, and bonuses had been clawed back.
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