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Australian No. 4 bank NAB singled out for criticism in landmark report

By Byron Kaye and Paulina Duran

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The CEO and chairman of National Australia Bank Ltd were called out for apparent unwillingness to accept responsibility for past wrongs at the country's No. 4 lender in a landmark report on the sector, published on Monday.

After a year-long inquiry, the financial services Royal Commission recommended referring some of the country's biggest money managers to regulators for possible further action in 24 cases, but largely avoided naming individuals.

However, the report named NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn and chairman Ken Henry as standing out from their peers by appearing unable to understand or learn from past misconduct at the company. The inquiry heard accounts of aggressive sales tactics and charging customers fees for no service.

"Having heard from both the CEO, Mr Thorburn, and the Chair, Dr Henry, I am not as confident as I would wish to be that the lessons of the past have been learned," wrote the retired High Court judge who ran the inquiry, Kenneth Hayne, in his final report.

"I was not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do, and then having its staff act accordingly," Hayne added.

NAB, in a short statement, said that it was reviewing the report and would give updates as appropriate.

Overall, Hayne's report made 76 recommendations spanning a range of topics including calling for a new regulator, banning banks from paying commissions to mortgage brokers and banning banks from charging default interest rates to farms affected by drought.

The federal government has said it would act on all the recommendations.


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Hayne's report bluntly criticised the NAB chiefs.

"I thought it telling that Dr Henry seemed unwilling to accept any criticism of how the board had dealt with some issues," he wrote. "I thought it telling that Mr Thorburn treated all issues of fees for no service as nothing more than carelessness combined with system deficiencies."

The retired judge also said he thought it telling that "in the very week that NAB's CEO and Chair were to give evidence before the Commission, one of its staff should be emailing bankers urging them to sell at least five mortgages each before Christmas."

Hayne said he feared that "there may be a wide gap between the public face NAB seeks to show and what it does in practice".

By contrast, Hayne said the new CEOs of No. 1 lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia and No. 3 lender Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd appeared to grasp the scale of the task ahead of them.

David Ellis, a senior analyst at Morningstar, said the report's assessment of NAB's leadership "was a little bit disturbing for them I think, potentially leading to a change in CEO and a change in chairman".


(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Richard Borsuk)