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BFCSA: Four Corners asked why our Bankers cannot be trusted in 1997. Time to see it again!

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"The Wallis Inquiry was set up to provide a stock-take of what's happened since deregulation. But don't expect radical change. "
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Investigative journalism at its very best

LOCATION: > Four Corners > Archives

Broadcast: 10/03/97 

Banks Behaving Badly 
This program reveals why the banking industry has lost our trust and how some banks bend the rules and break the law. We reveal a bonus system which rewards bank officials for forcing businesses to the wall. Bank malpractices are revealed and the devastating effect that these have on the lives and businesses that are affected by them.

Reporter: Andrew Fowler
Producer: Ashley Smith
Research: Meena David

Bob Allen, Accountant: It's the biggest bit of bastardry I've ever seen in all my commercial life 

Andrew Fowler: 
After more than a decade of free-market deregulation Australia's banks are out of control. (1997)

Diane Felkin, Former Advanced Bank Customer: One of the gentlemen actually said f you don't do it my way you're dead meat lady, which is a fairly, you know, put it this way I didn't miss-understand his meaning. 

Andrew Fowler: Increased competition was supposed to have kept the banks honest. But it hasn't worked. 

John McLennan, Former Senior Westpac Manager: If I took 300 million dollars from anybody and kept it for myself and was then caught out not paying it back and just said so sue me, I'd be in jail.

Andrew Fowler: Tonight on Four Corners we ask why the banking industry has lost our trust and reveal how some banks bend the rules and break the law in their pursuit of profits.

Title: Banks Behaving Badly

Andrew Fowler:
 Since deregulation, we're borrowing money like never before....$211 billion last year. And the banks are reaping the rewards. The National Australia is heading for another record 2 billion dollar profit. And shareholders at the other big three - Westpac, the Commonwealth and the ANZ are also celebrating another good year. There's no secret about how the banks got back on their financial feet after the disasters of the 1980's. They made their money by high interest rates They've also cut staff to the bone and shut branches in country and suburban areas to slim down their costs and boost profits. 

But the leaner banks are also meaner. A record 17,362 people were bankrupted last year, more than at the height of the last recession. 

Mara Bun, Australian Consumers Association: I think that the community at one point in time saw bankers as having a very special place in society. In fact bankers were respected, they were a source of advice and you could trust them. And I think financial sector deregulation has broken and shattered that special position of banks in society. 

Andrew Fowler: Here at the annual general meeting of one of Australia's oldest banks - the ANZ, its chairman Charles Goode is targeted with inflamed allegations against the bank.

Lindsay Johnston has just lost his farm. His treatment reflects a banking policy now completely driven by profit. There's a system of bonuses from the boardroom to the bank shop front. But has the quest for profit eroded confidence in the institutions, particularly among small business and farmers?

In the past the banks delivered healthy profits and security. There was scant competition in a largely protected market place. Money was rationed. But in 1983 all that started to change. The Federal Government took the first steps in opening up Australia's financial markets to overseas competition. It cut lose the Australian dollar, allowing it to find its own level against other currencies. By 1986, 17 foreign banks had gained entry to Australia to provide another competitive spur. The mood was euphoric. The Australian dollar became the sixth most bought and sold currency in the world. We were truly part of the global economy. For the banks it was party time. A new kind of banker was emerging - driven by big bonuses for high sales. Money wasn't lent anymore, it was sold like a product. 

John McLennan, Former Senior Westpac Manager: Banks introduced a system of management by objectives, which was spear-headed by Westpac, in which they became the sellers of products. They had to meet marketing targets, cost centres. Profit estimates had to be done for everything. And so, staff had to perceive themselves as used-car salesmen. It didn't matter about the quality of the service, as long as they got the product sold. And they shovelled it out the door........................

John McLennan, Former Senior Westpac Manager: The Martin inquiry was like an nice coffee chat session. We all naively thought that something tangible was going to come out of the Martin Inquiry. But the point about it was that virtually none of the recommendations of the Martin Inquiry had any teeth. There was no punitive powers, there was no powers to coercively obtain documents or to obtain evidence. 

Andrew Fowler: The Martin Inquiry recommended the Banking Ombudsman accept complaints from small business but it didn't happen. The move was opposed by the Australian Bankers Association.

Mara Bun, Australian Consumers Association: There should, in the same way as individual consumers have a way to exert their rights of the banking industry ombudsman, which is an independent port of call in between, in a sense, the industry and the consumer, small businesses, other businesses, must have somewhere to go or else we're gonna spend an awful lot of money, and tie up our court system, on resolving problems that really can be mediated.

Rod Zemanek, Small Business Owner: Now I'm a small to medium business with a growth potential. My growth potential's been snuffed out at the point where we're just about to be in a position to make major breakthroughs. Now if that continues, then the only people who will have a job will be the politicians and the bankers.

Andrew Fowler: Soon we'll be deluged with the findings of yet another report into the banking industry. The Wallis Inquiry was set up to provide a stock-take of what's happened since deregulation. But don't expect radical change. Judging by the past, whatever happens the banks won't be called to account. And their most precious asset - trust will be hard to regain. 

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