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Senate hearing may summon CBA's Narev

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IAN Narev, Commonwealth Bank chief executive, could be called before a Senate banking inquiry to answer suggestions that Commonwealth and its subsidiary Bankwest went into "panic mode" and called in performing loans during the global crisis.

National Party senator John Williams, who helped move the motion to establish the inquiry into banking since the global financial crisis, said he was "disappointed" that Mr Narev would not appear when public hearings kicked off this week.

"But we have the power to summons Mr Narev, like with (his predecessor) Ralph Norris when there was the same kind of problem over the Storm Financial collapse," Senator Williams said.

"We sent Mr Norris another letter and he soon turned up."

A Commonwealth spokesman said no other bank chief executive was attending, and the four Commonwealth executives who would appear had the necessary "detailed expertise" for the committee's wide brief.

The Senate economics references committee will sit in Canberra on Wednesday, followed by two days of hearings in Sydney.

Representatives of each of the four major banks will appear, as well as the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The committee's terms of reference range from the impact of regulatory changes to the cost of funding, and changes in borrowing and lending practices since the global crisis.

All the major banks will appear, but a senior banker predicted a "bollocking" for Commonwealth, noting the inquiry was set up in March when ABC TV's Four Corners program was investigating Bankwest's treatment of some of its customers after 2008.

In October 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, Commonwealth announced the acquisition of Bankwest for a bargain-basement $2.1 billion.

Asked if Commonwealth felt "singled out" by the committee, a spokesman said: "We are surprised that other regional banks were not invited to attend as we understand that Bankwest's impairments were similar to other regionals. We welcome the chance to set the record straight."

Senator Williams said he was "very concerned" about a pattern of bank behaviour that affected property developers and publicans along the east coast.

"It appears that some banks, including Bankwest, worked on loan-to-valuation ratios rather than interest payments, and went into panic mode and called in loans when clients had never missed a payment," he said.

"I'm also very concerned about the regulation of valuers that are used by the banks."

The CBA spokesman rejected suggestions Bankwest had reacted in panic. "CBA, in particular, increased its loans to the business and mortgage sectors during the global crisis, and problem loans were treated in normal fashion.

"There is no sensible commercial reason for calling in viable, sustainable loans."

On Thursday, the committee will hear from CBA group general counsel David Cohen, retail products and customers head Michael Cant, group treasurer Lyn Cobley and corporate banking solutions head Kelly Bayer Rosmarin.

ANZ is bowling up deputy chief executive Graham Hodges and financial inclusion head Jane Nash, while Westpac will be represented by acting financial services chief operating officer Jim Tate and regulatory reform head Richard Gray.

National Australia Bank chief financial officer Mark Joiner will appear on Friday, along with chief risk officer Bruce Munro.

Bankwest will be represented by managing director Rob De Luca, Bankwest business chief Ian Corfield and reputation head Sue Tindal.

In their June submissions to the committee, both CBA and Bankwest dismissed widespread speculation it was in their interests to "manufacture" defaults and losses on Bankwest customers. It was said the sale agreement enabled CBA to "claw back" those losses from Bankwest's parent, HBOS.

"This conjecture is not correct," the submission says.

"Any losses that Bankwest incurred in its dealings with customers post acquisition date were borne by Bankwest and could not be clawed back.

"Accordingly, it is not in Bankwest's interests, and it makes no commercial sense, for it to manufacture defaults on customers or to cause or increase losses on lending deals."

Hugh McLernon, managing director of litigation funder IMF Australia, said he hoped the committee's hearings would take up "distortions" that had emerged in the relationship between banks and their customers.

IMF Australia is funding cases against Bankwest, including property developer Luke Saracini's action over his 2006 contract to develop Bankwest's new headquarters at Raine Square in Perth.

"The problem with the banks is that we won't let them fail, so we put up with whatever comes down the pipe; people have become inured to it," Mr McLernon said. With their superior size and market position banks had been able to impose contractual terms on business borrowers that were "hopelessly biased" in favour of the lender.

"Because the banks are repeat litigants, they have obtained the support of the court system for much of their contractual arrangements," he said.

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  • doyla66
    doyla66 Thursday, 09 August 2012

    Because the banks are repeat litigants, they have obtained the support of the court system for much of their contractual arrangements - such a true observation that one.
    That telling statement also indicates to me how incorrect the processes are. If they are the repeat litigants, then they should have the spotlight burnning well & truly on them. Royal Commission needed here please.
    Such a statement infers problems within the judicial system too & it is coming from a QC!

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