Westpac chairman Lindsay Maxsted was in duck and cover mode as shareholders savaged the bank at its AGM, but at the end of the day it was business as usual.
The mood was ugly as chairman Maxsted opened the floor to questions after speeches by himself and acting CEO Peter King. One shareholder called the presence of chairman Maxsted and Mr King at the AGM “an affront”; another called the board “incompetent and negligent” at best. Both comments were met with cheers and applause.
The small number of transactions that met what AUSTRAC described as “child exploitation typologies” dominated proceedings, but there were few surprises.
Chairman Maxsted disputed that compliance manager Amanda Wood was demoted for voicing concerns about the matters that would later draw the ire of AUSTRAC. Ms Wood was allegedly offered a different job with lower pay and fewer responsibilities, but opted to leave the bank instead – something one shareholder described as “being managed out”.
Mr Maxsted claimed that Westpac treats whistleblowers with respect.
“With all due respect, I don’t think anyone in this room believes you,” the shareholder replied.
But those looking for answers about how the breaches occurred were left disappointed. A former IT professional suggested that Westpac had displayed “ineptitude” in handling its data.
“We echo that,” chairman Maxsted said. “We don’t know what happened. Clearly we’ve made mistakes.”
And all of that was in the first two hours. The AGM remained in question time for more than five hours, as shareholders lobbed innumerable questions about the AUSTRAC affair, many which devolving into long-winded rants about climate change, Donald Trump, and child sexual abuse.
It was only at 3PM that the AGM moved to item two – the re-election of the board.
While most of the board was re-elected by a wide margin, Peter Marriott’s re-election was substantially closer. Just 58 per cent of votes were in his favour, paling in comparison to that of Steven Harker, who was re-elected as a director with 96.01 per cent in favour. A vocal minority of shareholders were clearly out for blood.
Disgraced former CEO Brian Hartzer was not granted equity, and the meeting moved onto remuneration – where the board received a second strike, but avoided going to a spill with more than 90 per cent of the vote against it.
At the end of the day it was business as usual. Mr Maxsted pulled the bank back from the edge and avoided further upheaval. But the anger and frustration voiced by shareholders will continue to simmer, and as the regulators circle, it’s clear that Westpac isn’t out of the woods.