Media frenzy over absent bank boss

By Anne Gibson

Sir Ralph Norris. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sir Ralph Norris. Photo / Dean Purcell

Australia's tabloid media were this week after Kiwi Sir Ralph Norris, calling him a runaway banker who has raised mortgage interest rates just before Christmas.

The chief executive of the giant Commonwealth Bank was being criticised for being out of the country as his bank almost doubled the Reserve Bank's rates rise.

"Having orchestrated the pre-Christmas pilfer of his customers' savings, Commonwealth Bank chief Sir Ralph Norris remains at large, missing in action, unaccountable to a public baying for blood," one paper said.

The Herald Sun said he "left the country before his bank dropped its bombshell on Tuesday, and there are rumours he is jetsetting across the US for meetings with institutional investors. He has yet to give an explanation for the pain inflicted on his 900,000-odd variable mortgage customers."

The Daily Telegraph said he went missing just as "all hell broke loose".

Some media called his exclusive Waiheke Island retreat somewhere Australians could only dream of.

Australia's biggest home lender raised its interest margin by 0.2 percentage points on top of the Reserve Bank's 0.25 percentage point rise prompting widespread anger.

The move triggered thousands of online postings from customers venting their outrage.

Even Prime Minister Julia Gillard joined in, publicly criticising the country's banks for imposing such high rates and urging people to "vote with their feet and change banks if they aren't happy".

But amid all of the outrage, Sir Ralph - one of Australia's highest-paid executives with a salary of just over A$310,500 ($397,000) a week - is nowhere in sight.

New York's elite have The Hamptons, Sydney's George St bankers have their Blue Mountains and Melbourne's Collins St financiers have their Mornington Peninsula winding around the Port Phillip Bay.

But our rich and powerful money men head for Waiheke.

Sir Ralph joins an elite island-loving set including John Hawkesby, Sir Peter Leitch, Graeme Hart (New Zealand's richest man) and yachtsman Brad Butterworth, whose rock pad last month won an Auckland NZ Institute of Architects award.

Commonwealth Bank owns our ASB and a few weeks ago, Sir Ralph's annual reward package jumped 80 per cent to A$16 million for the 2010 financial year after the country's biggest bank enjoyed record profits.

With his wife Pam and a trust, Sir Ralph forked out in 2007 for a farm which QV lists as being worth $7.4 million at Cowes Bay, the isolated end of Waiheke towards Stony Batter where the rich and influential Spencer family hang out.

Sir Ralph Norris
* Chief executive of Commonwealth Bank in Australia.

* Annual pay of NZ$20 million.

* Former Air NZ and ASB boss.

* Ex-Business Roundtable chair.

- NZ Herald

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