Ex-ANZ executive bashes 'culture of greed'
Why do people hate the banks? It's all about broken trust, according to Christopher Page. Photo: Glenn Hunt
A FORMER senior ANZ executive has blamed public dislike of bankers on the industry's culture of greed and failure to look after customers' interests.
Christopher Page, who was chief risk officer at ANZ until late 2011, told a group of students at the University of Melbourne recently that banks had turned their back on customers.
''Why do people hate the banks? Because we have broken their trust. We have not looked after our customers' interests,'' he said.
''A lot of organisations now are too inwardly focused, too worried about internal politics and the rate of return.''
The industry was still repairing the damage done to its reputation as a result of its behaviour at the time of the global financial crisis, said Mr Page.
''That trust was broken and that trust is not being repaired - and it probably will take more than the rest of my life for that trust to be restored,'' he said.
Mr Page also blasted executives' obsession with fat bonuses: ''I reckon if you go to most meetings (within banks), there will be very few conversations about customers. They will talk a lot about what is in the bonus pool and how we divide it, but not customers.''
He reserved his sharpest criticism for investment bankers, and reminisced about the days when he began in the banking profession at a British bank in Asia.
''It was a very proud profession, until probably the last 15 years or so. Unfortunately, when investment bankers got hold of a lot of commercial banks, [they] took them in different directions.
''What drives a lot of these investment bankers is greed. It was not doing the right things for the economy or anything like that.
''Extremism has taken over. Customers are irrelevant. If you read some of the reports around the language that was used when people were talking about customers, such as the Goldman Sachs case - if half of that is true, it indicates an extremism of greed.''
Greg Smith, a former Goldman Sachs employee, wrote an opinion column in The New York Times in March this year in which he said his firm's managing directors had referred to clients as ''muppets''.
Mr Page said he regretted that he did not advocate more strongly for a more customer-focused culture.
''I don't think we treat customers these days as well as we did in those days. If I have seen that coming, I should have fought harder to say we have got to do more for customers.''
He also went on to criticise what he saw as a widespread absence of values and ethics in business organisations.
''A lot of organisations don't have these values and ethics. A lot more are getting it now, because they have been pushed into it by NGOs [Non-governmental organisations] and civil society.''
He illustrated the pressure that an activist group could exert on a big bank like ANZ.
''NGOs are going to come after you if you are seen to be part of something that is not quite right. ANZ is a major financier of the mining and energy sector. We had Green Peace [an environmental group] climbing up our building saying that we are in dirty coal. We were careful about the clients we chose for that very reason.''
Mr Page emphasised that corporate social responsibility was not something to which you pay lip service, but something in which you need to believe.
''Corporate social responsibility is something you have to live, it is not something you put on a website, it is not some flimsy policy.''