CBA chair Catherine Livingstone has said the bank’s appointment of Matt Comyn as CEO sent the right message about its tolerance of failings within the organisation, despite multiple issues occurring in the company’s retail banking division under his leadership.
The second day of the seventh round of hearings at the Hayne royal commission saw senior counsel assisting Rowena Orr ask Ms Livingstone about her role in promoting former retail banking head Comyn to chief of the organisation.
Ms Orr established that under Mr Comyn’s watch, the retail sector was responsible for a number of failings including hundreds of millions of dollars being laundered, home lending issues and the mis-selling of credit insurance.
Earlier in the proceeding, Ms Orr noted that Ms Livingstone had previously described Mr Comyn’s appointment was the most important of the actions of the board taken to prevent the failings of judgement, leadership systems and processes in recent years.
“The board was aware of all of those issues at the time that it chose Mr Comyn for the job?” Ms Orr asked.
“Yes, it was,” Livingstone said.
“And I want to ask you about the sort of message that you think it sent to others within CBA and to the broader community to promote the person who was in charge of the division in which all of those issues occurred?” Ms Orr said.
Ms Livingstone defended the board’s hiring of Mr Comyn giving reasons such as his team respecting him, his “accountability” at the time of the AUSTRAC proceedings and his personal ethics and character.
“I am asking you about the sort of message that your appointment of Mr Comyn sent – I said both within CBA and to the broader community – what message was sent by promoting the person who was leading the division in which these issues occurred,” Ms Orr said.
“I'm not asking about the reaction or the reasons for your appointment. Whether you as the chairman of the board considered the message that that was sending?”
“We did. We considered for weeks. The easy answer for us would have been to appoint an external person,” Ms Livingstone said.
“To find an external person globally at that level who has not been involved in some regulatory event is almost impossible. And I don’t mean that as a joke.
“So the message that it actually sent inside the organisation is one that these issues are unacceptable and we’re determined to fix them. That was the message it sent.”
“And what about the external message?” Ms Orr said.
“Well, the external message, in my view, was the same, in terms of the feedback I have had, that here is someone who is committed to dealing with the issues that have arisen,” Ms Livingstone said.
“And I think – I would hope that you’ve seen that in his evidence over the last two days.”
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