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'Sorry', and we'll look at credit card rates: Bank hearing's sorry strategy

By AAP, Debbie Schipp

Shayne Elliott, ANZ chief executive, visiting his childhood home in Te Atatu. Photo / Michael Brown
Shayne Elliott, ANZ chief executive, visiting his childhood home in Te Atatu. Photo / Michael Brown

The Kiwi CEO of ANZ Bank has pledged to look at cutting credit card rates and apologised for failing customers on day two of a parliamentary committee review critics say is increasingly playing out a familiar, sorry, and soft, script.

Echoing comments yesterday from Commonwealth Bank boss Ian Narev, Shayne Elliott told the second day of the hearings into the big four banks his industry had lost touch with its customers, was full of apologies for past wrongdoings by ANZ, and promised to do better.

Meanwhile some MPs lamented the lack of time they had been given to ask questions.

The review is the government's response to Labor calls for a royal commission into the banking sector after a series of financial scandals.

In August, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull demanded the banks front the committee at least once a year and says it will make them more accountable.

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is unimpressed by what he has heard so far and is sticking to his call for a royal commission.

Elliott acknowledged high interest rates on credit cards have long been a bugbear and pledged ANZ would also look at stopping its millions of dollars in political donations as he apologised for failing customers.

Some credit card rates are around 20 per cent compared to the record low 1.5 per cent Reserve Bank cash rate.

"There is an opportunity to take a bit of leadership and do something better around not just the interest rate, but also the fees structure on the cards," Mr Elliott said.

"That is in the customer's interest but also potentially ours."

He assured the House of Representatives economics committee a lot of people don't pay interest at all because they use cards only for transactions and don't accumulate debt.

Even so, the headline rate was probably doing the bank "more harm than good".

He also said the ANZ board is considering whether it will continue to donate millions to the two major political parties.

Elliott said the bank had justified previous donations to the Labor and Liberal parties as a way of supporting the nation's democratic process, and not as investments.

"We are having discussions at our board about the role of political donations and what our position is on that," he told the hearing.

National Australia Bank, which will appear at the hearing on Thursday, stopped donating to political parties at all levels of government in May.

Narev admitted the banking industry has lost touch and there are many unhappy customers. "We have become too internally focused and forgotten our role in society and the community at large," he said.

This has taken the industry down a path of bad culture and not treating customers with the respect they deserved, he said.

But a committee member, Liberal MP Julia Banks, asked whether for someone earning millions of dollars it was adequate to just admit a mistake, fix it and then apologise.

"How many times can you say that?" she said. Elliott conceded it was the reality of large organisations.

He was quizzed on a range of other areas by the 10-strong, government-dominated committee:

• He admitted the bank poorly managed its OnePath financial advisory and life insurance arm, blaming more than a million breaches on a failure to thoroughly test systems.

• ANZ was also forced to change its processes after having to repay nearly 400,000 customers almost $29 million in overcharged fees.
• He thought a proposed industry-funded banking tribunal was a good idea.


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