The scope of Westpac’s wrongdoing has forced me to pen this letter. For my money, the initial punishment has not been good enough.
For the past 15+ years, I have been a Westpac bank customer.
Westpac has given me 100% fee-free banking for that entire time, because I have been a Centrelink customer, previously on Sickness Allowance and these days on the Disability Support Pension.
Fact is, I have asked all the other major banks, and major credit unions, none of them have ever been willing to give me the same fee-free banking Westpac does, so I have stayed with Westpac.
But considering the scope of your wrongdoing, I cannot remain quiet any longer. I too, was a victim of child exploitation as a young teenager, so this time the controversy Westpac is involved in is a lot more personal for me.
Whilst this is not the exact same as the allegations made by Austrac in Westpac’s case currently, child exploitation is child exploitation, and it pains me deeply to know my bank has been responsible for that while I have been a “happy” customer of theirs.
Today I called you about this issue, I spoke to a very kind lady, who listened to me as I told her my connection to this issue, and how upset I feel knowing my bank has facilitated it, not to mention all the other millions upon millions of issues Austrac also identified, of which the child exploitation stuff is only a small part of (sadly).
She asked me what I wanted the bank to do, and I was very clear in my response:
The CEO, who has just resigned on Tuesday 26th November, needs to hand back the $2.69 million dollars he will walk away with, or even better, donate it in full to charities supporting victims of child exploitation.
It is not enough that the CEO forfeits their bonus this year and next, he should not be pocketing any more money from the bank’s customers than he already has, after allowing such appalling breaches of financial laws on his watch.
The rest of the Westpac board also needs to be stood down, and hand back (or donate to charity) any payout that they may be entitled to. All of the 23 million issues Austrac identified happened on the watch of these people.
There is some argument to be made, that the resignations should include the senior managers of the bank, those who had involvement in covering up the crimes of Westpac along the way.
Whilst I agree with that in theory, I am also a realist, and know that is very unlikely, unless wide-ranging criminal charges are brought against the banks’ senior officials. As such I would personally be satisfied with just the CEO and the entire board being replaced, but that is the very least Westpac should be doing now.
As for criminal charges being brought, I clearly have little or no influence over the Government, the regulator, the police or prosecutors regarding this. All of them should be seriously consider what appropriate criminal charges should be applied though, and if this matter ends with no charges laid, it will be a travesty of justice.
Rarely do I agree with Ministers in the current Federal Government right now, however Josh Frydenberg is right, the entire board needs to go. If they refuse to go voluntarily, the banking regulator should disqualify them as Frydenberg has called for.
There is no middle ground here, just the right thing and the wrong thing. It is time for Westpac to start doing the right thing, and to make sure this never happens again.