National Australia Bank's customer relations boss has brushed off criticism in a parliamentary inquiry, insisting he is accountable for performance and pointing to an improving record on customer complaints as proof of progress.
Andrew Hagger, the former head of the bank's wealth division, was sensationally singled out in parliamentary hearings in March after the bank approved a 120 per cent bonus for him despite troubles inside the division.
NAB boss grilled over bonuses
The practice of handing out bonuses and holding staff and executives to account has seen the head of the NAB intensely questioned over the bank's decision making.
Mr Hagger was head of the wealth arm when in February it came to light that the bank was forced to repay $36.5 million in compensation to superannuation customers who been overcharged.
Mr Hagger said he felt "deeply accountable" to customers.
"I take that accountability very seriously," he said.
"From time to time there will be newspaper articles or parliamentary comments and that's an import part of discussion in Australia.
"For me my focus needs to be on customers and to do the very best I can do. I'll continue to do that."
Mr Hagger, who is now chief customer officer at the bank, says his work revamping the bank's hardship program demonstrated his commitment to improving customer relations.
NAB's Andrew Hagger. Photo: Eddie Jim
He said the bank was improving its systems and capabilities in response to the superannuation problem.
"We will go on finding things and we will go on fixing things. I'm not afraid to be vulnerable through that process."
'The buck needs to stop with senior executives', said Liberal MP David Coleman. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
NAB was forced to pay compensation to 220,000 customers after the corporate watchdog revealed it had overcharged super members and knocked back insurance claims to seriously ill customers.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission imposed extra licence conditions on the bank's super trustee in response to breakdowns in its internal procedures.
"We will go on finding things and we will go on fixing things. I'm not afraid to be vulnerable through that process".
During questioning by Parliament's economics committee, Liberal MP David Coleman questioned NAB's chief executive Andrew Thorburn about the remuneration and disciplining of Mr Hagger in the wake of the problems.
"The buck needs to stop with senior executives," Mr Coleman said at the time. The committee recommended the government consider a naming and shaming regime for executives who oversee misbehaviour.
NAB is seeking to change the way it deals with customers and small businesses. Photo: Bloomberg
NAB is seeking to change the way it deals with customers and small businesses who seek assistance during financial hardship as a result of job loss, domestic violence or unexpected circumstances.
It says its new approach, which involves partnering with community organisations such as Kildonan Uniting Care, has helped reduce the number of complaints from customers about financial hardship to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
The banks have made a point of highlighting their hardship policies in the wake of Cyclone Debbie. Photo: Glenn Hunt
As part of the program the lender is using specialist teams to help customers deal with specific hardship cases, such as unemployment in mining areas and natural disaster relief.
"At any point in time there will be issues cropping up all across Australia," Mr Hagger said.
Banks would face public naming and shaming over bad behaviour in a suite of reforms being considered. Photo: Paul Rovere
"We need to be able to respond to these situations wherever they arise."
The banks have made a point of highlighting their hardship policies in the wake of Cyclone Debbie in Queensland and flooding in NSW.
The Australian Bankers' Association encouraged people affected by the cyclone to contact their bank for suspension of loan repayments or fee waivers.
The Commonwealth Bank has also doled out money for the Red Cross to conduct disaster relief and recovery work in the region.
NAB said it was working with customers on the ground affected by the cyclone through its Assist program.
But it said the No.1 reason customers sought support for financial hardship was job loss.
"We've also seen increasing cases of domestic violence and health issues," Mr Hagger said.
"We know in these situations that customers need to be helped."
Banks, financial services houses and credit companies would face public naming and shaming over bad behaviour in a suite of major reforms being considered by the Turnbull government.
The push has caused a split between the big banks, with CBA and NAB resisting calls and ANZ saying it is supportive of the move.
The reforms put forward by ASIC's enforcement review taskforce do not include naming the executives in charge of the division and the division in which the breach occurred, as recommended by the parliamentary inquiry.
Mr Hagger said he already felt "very strong accountability".
"Accountability is very important ... If Parliament wishes to add further accountability to executives in some formal sense then clearly that's a matter for Parliament and a matter for us to implement that."
This article was first published by http://www.smh.com.au
Author: Georgia Wilkins