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Bank war teams set for Hayne banking royal commission

NAB chief legal and commercial counsel Sharon Cook (with former NSW premier Mike Baird and CEO Andrew Thorburn) will lead NAB's response. Pat Scala NAB chief legal and commercial counsel Sharon Cook (with former NSW premier Mike Baird and CEO Andrew Thorburn) will lead NAB's response. Pat Scala

The big four banks' group legal counsels have set up war rooms backed by the country's top lawyers, QCs and accounting firms to focus on responding to the bank royal commission so executives can avoid being distracted from key strategic and operating issues.

Many of the law firms and QCs engaged to fight the corporate regulator's BBSW allegations are considered "match-fit" and "battle-hardened" so will be recalled, as the banks prepare as they would for a major court trial.

The banks' head of corporate affairs will also be brought into the working groups to bring government and media relations into the process so that lawyers do not overrun the banks' response.

Managing partner of Bain & Co David Zehner said the banks' leaders should use the commission as a trigger or catalyst to "accelerate" their efforts to reorient the banks to their customers' needs and expectations.

David Zehner, managing partner Bain & Co says bank CEOs can't treat the royal commission as "business as usual".

Banks' bigger threat

"Banks need to focus on customers and the best thing they can do is not just to meet the core issues of the inquiry but also to position their businesses for the future," Mr Zehner told The Australian Financial Review. "To some extent [the royal commission] will be a trigger or catalyst that good leadership can use to reorient the organisation around its customers in a more fundamental way or an accelerated way."

Banking is on the cusp of disruption. Mr Zehner said a recent Bain & Co survey found that more than 50 per cent of consumers are open to buying financial services from tech companies such as Apple, Amazon and Alibaba, posing a fundamental threat to the sector.

"When you ask people why they recommend or don't recommend their bank the number one reason is people. What customers experience or perceive about that bank's cultural change is so important," Mr Zehner said. "Is there a risk that the inquiry distracts them from the core mission that they are on with the customers? My sense is these organisations are well enough run that they will be able to quarantine enough of the distracting stuff. It's a risk, it's not a huge risk."

Head of regulation at Minter Ellison James Beaton, the solicitor assisting Dyson Heydon's royal commission into the trade unions, said former High Court judge Kenneth Hayne is likely to set a subject-based agenda where counsel and lawyers assisting will select witnesses across topics such as Storm, Timbercorp, Bankwest and broad-based issues like managed investment schemes, financial planners and executive pay.

The Heydon trade union royal commission provides some guide of how the bank commission could work. 

Bank war teams

National Australia Bank's chief legal and commercial counsel Sharon Cook, a former King & Wood Mallesons partner, will lead NAB's response and has faced a "baptism of fire" since joining in April, having to deal with the government bank tax, the BBSW case and the royal commission, among a host of bank reviews.

NAB will use Herbert Smith Freehills as their lawyers and the same barristers from their BBSW case, Neil Young QC and Wendy Harris QC.

Westpac's head of compliance and legal, Rebecca Lim, will oversee their response unit with Westpac also using the same legal team as BBSW, Allens partner Richard Harris, law firm Gilbert + Tobin with Matthew Darke SC or Steven Finch SC expected to play a lead role. Westpac have also engaged major accounting firm KPMG to provide strategy advice.

NAB will use Neil Young QC and Wendy Harris QC for the bank Royal Commission.

CBA's Group General Counsel and Group Executive, Group Corporate Affairs, Anna Lenahan, will oversee their response unit with CBA engaging Clayton Utz with panel law firm Freehills and accounting firm PwC expected to play a role.

ANZ's BBSW team, Group General Counsel Bob Santamaria and Alan Archibald QC are also expected to team up again with ANZ's newly appointed general manager of communications and public affairs, Tony Warren, who joined the bank in August after a decade at Telstra, another key player.

Rebecca Lim, Chief Compliance Officer and Group General Counsel, Westpac will lead their banks response Louie Douvis

This article was first published by
Authors: Patrick Durkin Joanne Gray

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