Brian Hartzer knew it was over the second he picked up his phone. Yesterday, as CEO of Westpac, Hartzer had called his senior executives into a room for the we-can-survive-this-speech, an attempt to rally the troops after the money laundering scandal of the past few days. The front page of this morning’s Australian newspaper contains the contents of that conversation word-for-word.
With quotes like “It’s not a major issue so we don’t need to over cook this” and “this is not an Enron or Lehman Brothers”, it doesn’t read well. Hartzer’s resignation, announced this morning, was a fait accompli, if it wasn’t already.
Every man for himself
Yet there is something more alarming about this than the contents of Hartzer’s speech. There was someone sitting in that room yesterday, in a time of crisis for the bank, who saw an opportunity to knife his (or her) boss in the back and took it.
Hartzer probably wasn’t surprised. Every man for himself is the culture that thrives at Australia’s domestic banks, and Hartzer probably did his own fair share of knifing to make his way to the top.
No easy fix
This culture is causing a lot of problems. Not just at Westpac. Across the whole Australian banking sector. It is not possible to design systems and processes that detect every piece of misbehaviour in an organisation of tens of thousands of employees. Your only hope is to build an organisation where the employees want the best for the company and its customers.
That’s clearly not what we have in our banks.
I’m not suggesting for a second that this is an easy problem to fix. These are giant institutions, the culture is well entrenched and the senior layers of management are stacked with people who thrived under the current system.
“What’s this about a royal commission or there’s a huge problem in banks? There’s no culture problem in banks”
After everything that has happened over the past three years, he still doesn’t get it.
Time for some outside thinking
Most importantly, their replacements need to be outsiders. Hoping that someone who has been part of the establishment can fix it is like expecting Lance Armstrong to change the culture of doping in cycling.
Thousands of good people work for Australia’s banks. I know quite a few of them personally. Until they see significant change at the top, though, they will remain sceptical, dispirited and frustrated. And that’s an environment where the scandals will keep on coming.
Functional cookies Always active
The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for anonymous statistical purposes. Without a subpoena, voluntary compliance on the part of your Internet Service Provider, or additional records from a third party, information stored or retrieved for this purpose alone cannot usually be used to identify you.
The technical storage or access is required to create user profiles to send advertising, or to track the user on a website or across several websites for similar marketing purposes.