The wealth giant’s chief has told a parliamentary committee he does not believe the recent sexual harassment fallout at AMP is a reflection of systemic issues, despite the group engaging an external consultant and establishing a working group to tackle its culture.
AMP chief executive Francesco De Ferrari faced questions about the group’s recent events as he fronted a public hearing with the House of Representatives standing committee on economics on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m going to start with what I think is the question on most people’s minds, what the hell is going on over at AMP?” Liberal MP and committee chair Tim Wilson asked the wealth giant’s chief.
“We’ve had a series of issues clearly all linked to the culture of the organisation that have not just emerged recently, they’ve appeared since the royal commission and no doubt before then. But there seem to be ongoing issues.”
But Mr De Ferrari said he did not believe the misconduct was indicative of the group’s broader culture.
“Clearly the issues you see in the press are very distressing and clearly not acceptable, but I really don’t believe they are reflective of our wider culture at AMP,” the CEO said.
AMP indicated on Thursday morning that it had engaged an external consultancy, Symmetra, to undertake a workplace conduct review, which will make recommendations covering policies, leadership, governance and behaviours.
Symmetra has also been engaged to work with AMP to then implement the recommendations as well as deliver an inclusive leadership program across all levels of the organisation from October.
The group has also established a culture working group, led by chair Debra Hazelton. Consulting firm Oliver Wyman had been appointed to support the group and provide a framework for systems and expectations around culture, governance and strategy.
The initiatives have added to AMP’s recently established inclusion taskforce, chaired by Mr De Ferrari.
The changes have been implemented after the recent turn of events at the group, which saw heads roll at the top level over a past sexual harassment claim against the recently demoted AMP Capital executive Boe Pahari.
Mr De Ferrari told the economics committee about a monthly employee satisfaction survey and an aim of a board committee to improve a feeling of safety around whistleblowing. AMP has measured cultural areas across every manager, with the information flowing to an executive committee level and to the board.
The last survey, according to the CEO, touched on whistleblowing and showed around three-quarters of employees feel safe and confident that they are in an environment where it is safe for them to speak up. He compared the figure to a worldwide benchmark of 82 per cent.
“And so from the data I’ve seen and we’ve sent some to the committee, I don’t think AMP is significantly different from a lot of the issues that are present for a lot of large corporates,” Mr De Ferrari said.
But later he added: “We clearly have more work to do to ensure that we can, effectively, create a safer organisation… So how do we build a culture where actually you don’t need to go to HR or to the whistleblowing office, but you can effectively count on your colleagues and your manager to call out not acceptable behaviour on the spot?
“That’s where we need to get to and that’s why we’ve committed in the announcement this morning that we would be investing significantly in training our leaders first, and then all our employees on how to have an inclusive culture.”
The parliamentary committee has asked other major financial institutions for details around sexual harassment complaints in its ongoing inquiry on the sector, after Julia Szlakowski, the former employee who made a past sexual harassment claim against former AMP Capital CEO Mr Pahari came forward with her story.
Shareholder scrutiny then led to Mr Pahari being demoted to his previous job, as well as the exits of AMP chair David Murray and AMP Capital chair John Fraser.
Labor senator Deborah O'Neill also used her parliamentary privilege to air another former AMP employee’s story of sexual harassment while working at the organisation.
Speaking to the House committee on Thursday, Mr De Ferrari remained tight-lipped when asked how much the financial penalty for Mr Pahari had been at the conclusion of the 2017 sexual harassment investigation against him.
He stated the former AMP Capital CEO had received a package of other consequences, including training, commitments to diversity and inclusion and other coaching.
But the CEO noted there is a tightrope to walk on transparency and public disclosure around sexual harassment, saying there is a “clear need… to evolve accountability and to have more transparency”, while also avoiding potential risks for harm towards victims and the accused from misreporting.
“So it is a complex topic as to how to deal with these matters, in terms of how much transparency do you ultimately provide?” Mr De Ferrari said.
“One thing that’s very important to me is that that I need to ensure in running this company, that I can provide a safe environment for all our employees to escalate any type of issues they have.
“And they need to have the confidence that these issues will be dealt with by people who have appropriate training, who are able to conduct investigations, reach determinations, define consequences, all with respect to privacy and confidentiality that many of these matters deserve.”
NAB and Westpac are due to front the committee on Friday.
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].
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