A day after Australia's corporate regulator accused it of breaking the law more than 10,000 times, National Australia Bank's new chair and chief executive assured shareholders they will drive significant change at the same time as fixing past transgressions.

And that they will be accountable to shareholders, both told the annual shareholders' meeting in Sydney.

Chair Philip Chronican, who acted as interim chief executive for nine months until Ross McEwan took the reins two and a half weeks ago, said Australia's royal commission on financial services had demonstrated the gap between how banks have been operating and how customers, shareholders and the community expect them to operate.

"We will not let time dull the impact of the royal commission, nor will we gloss over its findings," Chronican said.


NAB has reduced or removed more than 185 fees this year to lessen complexity, decrease complaints and lower customer costs and, since June 2018, has returned A$276 million ($287.9m) to customers through about 503,000 separate payments, he said.

McEwan told the meeting that "where we stand today isn't where we want to be on customer experience, on employee engagement, on relative return on equity and on productivity and efficiency."

Hastings-born McEwan was previously chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, shepherding it through turbulent times since 2013.

He and Dunedin-born Chronican replaced former chair Ken Henry and former chief executive Andrew Thorburn after they fell on their swords after the royal commission's damning findings.

While both new leaders are Kiwis, NAB's NZ subsidiary Bank of New Zealand received scant attention.

Chronican said the NZ bank "performed well with strong revenue growth and good growth in volumes for both housing and business lending" while McEwan said the NZ operations "are outperforming" and that both the Australian and New Zealand economies "remain sound," despite challenging current conditions.

BNZ reported a net profit of $1.02 billion for the year ended September, down from $1.03b the previous year while NAB reported a 13.6 per cent drop in annual net profit to A$4.8b and said it recognised A$1.1b in charges for remediating customer problems.

McEwan said he will "engage constructively" with the regulators, including the Australian Securities and Investments Commission which announced yesterday that it is taking civil legal action relating to ongoing fee arrangements with customers of its financial planning arm.


"We take this action seriously and will continue to work cooperatively with ASIC to deal with this issue," he said.

NAB chief executive Ross McEwan. Photo / Supplied
NAB chief executive Ross McEwan. Photo / Supplied

Yesterday, NAB said it had already paid A$37.8 million to 27,500 financial planning clients to reimburse them for fees for services they didn't receive and that it expects this remediation process to be complete by June next year.

It also said it stopped entering into any new ongoing fee arrangements from April 1 this year.

Quizzed by a shareholder about the "Pandora's box" of the likely cost to NAB of the ASIC charges, Chronican said that while it's possible to arrive at very large potential penalties for the more than 10,000 breaches of the law ASIC has identified, "the substance of what's being alleged is materially less."

While NAB's latest accounts don't contain any provision for such penalties, they do include the costs of remediating the 1,300 customers affected by that particular issue, he said.

The NAB meeting, attended by many of the same aggrieved customers and shareholders who attended both ANZ's annual meeting on Tuesday and Westpac's marathon six-hour-plus affair last week, demonstrated what an enviable position McEwan enjoys, not having been in charge of NAB when such offences occurred.

While Chronican has been on the board for three years, shareholders were inclined to treat him more gently than they did the ANZ and Westpac head honchos.

"I think you've got an even tougher job than you've signed up for," said the shareholder posing the ASIC questions.

"Thank you very much. That's exactly how it feels," Chronican replied.

Nevertheless, as at the other banks' meetings, NAB's shareholders still wanted to vent at how badly they think the bank has been managed and how many billions of dollars of shareholders' wealth has been destroyed.

NAB shares are trading at A$25.20, valuing it at A$74.26b, and they have fallen 15 per cent in the last two years.

"You are the unacceptable face of capitalism," one aggrieved shareholder said, expressing outrage that nobody appears to be being punished for lawless behaviour.

The NAB meeting was still in progress at the time of writing.