ANZ bank's Australian boss admits banks did lose their way and become unbalanced in the pursuit of meeting financial goals.
But Shayne Elliot, a New Zealander who has held the top role for three years, says the situation also provides an opportunity for banks to go back to their community roots and regain the trust of the public again.
Elliot was in Auckland yesterday to speak at a business lunch and fundraising event for the Waitakere College Foundation, set up to help students at his former school.
Like all the major banking bosses in Australia, Elliot has been under pressure to explain poor practices exposed as part of the Australian Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Financial Services Industry.
Asked what it was like to be a CEO during such a time of pressure Elliot said it was heart-breaking.
"There are 50,000 people who come to work at ANZ every day in 33 countries. I can tell you 99.9 per cent are perfectly decent people who come to here to do the right thing every day and do. When you say something has gone wrong with the system they take it to heart and it is heart-breaking."
But Elliot said banks were also rightly under pressure.
"I think banks have, like a lot of companies, we did lose our way.
"We became unbalanced in terms of the pursuit of financial metrics and success which again are very seductive.
"It is like anything — people in any industry or any team want to win and if the score is about profit or return it becomes really easy to focus on that at all costs.
"And we know what happens when things get out of balance and we start to do things at all cost — bad things happen. I think the industry deserves criticism. There is clearly a rebalancing that is required."
Elliot said this presented an opportunity for the ANZ and the bank that did manage to reconnect with the community and make significant change would win in terms of regaining the respect trust back from the public.
He pointed to a return to business values of old where community engagement was a big part of what local businesses did.
"We are a part of the community — a pretty big part in Australia and New Zealand and we have got to remind ourselves about the impact.
"We employ a lot people. We are one of biggest employers in NZ. What we do is important. We can either do it thoughtlessly or consciously."
Elliot said he had had a very lucky career graduating from Auckland University at a time of deregulation and when the markets were opening up.
He got a job as a stock broker which he hated but then a friend recommended the trainee programme at Citibank and he leapt at the chance of finding a good employer and boss at the same time.
Elliot says starting in a small place like Auckland meant you had to do everything and that breadth of learning served him well and he said that was something which graduates did not get today as many specialised before leaving university.
He urged young people to have an open mind and be prepared to try new things when starting out.
Asked how he kept grounded while being a top-paid executive, Elliot said his 13-year-old daughter was pretty good at doing that.
But he admitted it was a very seductive lifestyle.
"One of the challenges in this job — I get treated incredibly well — I literally lead a red-carpet lifestyle, stay in nice hotels, people are very pleasant to me, they feed me well and it is incredibly seductive."
But he counters that by working hard at being as approachable as he can be.
He answers every email he gets and responds to all written correspondence from customers usually on the same day.
Elliot said having a direct connection with people who worked for the bank and customers was vital to keep as real as possible.