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BFCSA: Confidence in CBA’s ‘Ian Narev’ is a hollow cliché

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Confidence in CBA’s ‘Ian Narev’ is a hollow cliché

Adele Ferguson

8 August 2017-08-09

In the sporting world, the expression "having the full support of the board" has become such a cliche it has even made it into the Urban Dictionary.

The definition is: "Something that a football club's board will say to the media about their coach two to four weeks before firing him."

It can also be applied to companies. Take Uber boss Travis Kalanick, who resigned amid a firestorm shortly after the board's Arianna Huffington told the media "the board has confidence in Travis".

Ditto for the boss of BP in 2010 and Yahoo's chief executive in 2011 who was sacked by phone within weeks of the board supporting her.

CBA boss Ian Narev will be hoping his board's public expression of "confidence" is not consistent with the Urban Dictionary's meaning of the term. However, four to six weeks might well become four to six months for him.

This would give the board time to plan for an external successor before a formal process starts.

In Narev's case, the dogs started barking last week after intelligence agency Austrac launched an explosive legal case against the bank, alleging it breached anti-money laundering and counter terrorism laws.

In some cases, it enabled criminals to create fake names allowing drug dealers, organised crime syndicates and terrorists to launder and transfer money overseas.

On Tuesday, the board decided to throw the public a bone ahead of a record profit result with a statement that "Mr Narev retains the full confidence of the board".


It said it had scrapped short-term bonuses for him and the other group executives for the year to June 30 and that it had cut director pay by 20 per cent.

"In reaching this conclusion, the overriding consideration of the board was the collective accountability of senior management for the overall reputation of the group."


The move smacks of a board buying time.


CBA boss Ian Narev will be hoping the move by his board to publicly back him is not consistent with the Urban Dictionary's meaning of the term. However, four to six weeks might well become four to six months for him.


As one commentator said: "When a board has to resort to putting out a statement that it supports the CEO, it is generally an acknowledgement that things aren't good. It should be implicit."


Over the coming months, a series of questions will be asked of CBA in terms of who knew what and when.


For instance, when did CBA find out that it was being investigated by Austrac and when did the board become aware Austrac had some serious concerns with its compliance and processes?


We know that in April 2015, CBA became aware it had problems with its Intelligent Deposit Machines (IDMs) after Austrac asked the bank about two transactions above $10,000 that had not been reported under the Threshold Transaction


It was then CBA realised more than 53,000 unreported transactions above $10,000 had not been processed due to a failure in the IDM system, dating back to late 2012. This it blames on a coding error that it immediately fixed.


It self-reported the serious problem to Austrac. Against this backdrop, it was already getting a series of queries and demands from Austrac and the Australian Federal Police. In the case of the AFP, the statement of claim outlines some suspicious transactions by criminal syndicates.


Aware of the problems, CBA went on a hiring spree, poaching four key staff from Austrac to bring them inside the CBA tent.


Amid this turmoil, CBA released its full-year results in August 2015, brazenly including a slide bragging about its IDMs, specifically the staggering growth these machines had achieved since their introduction in 2012. 

The slide was titled "self service acceleration". It didn't think to include a line in the presentation that there had been some issues with the IDMs.

History is littered with examples of extraordinary growth with banks being associated with some subsequent disaster. In the case of IDMs, they became so popular that by May 2016 more than $1 billion in cash was being deposited.

How much that generated in fees and the extent the money stayed in the bank to fund its core operations, is yet to be determined.

Much like Narev's fate.



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  • Consent_Withdrawn
    Consent_Withdrawn Thursday, 10 August 2017

    In this case I wonder which definition of confidence is in play.

    My guess would be that it's a case of the clandestine variety.

  • Consent_Withdrawn
    Consent_Withdrawn Thursday, 10 August 2017

    ...and a few cases of Penfold's Grange thrown in with it!

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