"Responsibility and accountability are personal not commercial constructs and, notwithstanding the latest knee-jerk reaction to the money laundering scandal, these values have been in very short supply in CBA, over the last decade."
- The Conversation.
Recently, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was embroiled in an unpleasant public relations debacle over allegations of money laundering with affiliation to terrorist organisations, leaving CBA shareholders as the major victims of the scandal. Share prices fell dramatically after the announcement, with shareholders facing the brunt of the catastrophe, with many investors forced to pay deep fines and damages in order to restore the bank's original capital. Once the storm hit, the debris of the AUSTRAC (Australian Transaction Reports Analysis Centre) were scattered across CBA, and in order to claim responsibility for the disaster that proved detrimental to the reputation of the company, CEO Ian Narev bit the bullet and stepped down.
In Public Relations classes, we are taught issues are at the crux of PR, they are what drive the activity of public relations.
However the issue at CBA, wasn't simply one of face value. What you see wasn't what you got. The issue pricked the surface of what was soon to become a number of underlying issues that exposed a deeply engrained culture within the company that fed on complacency and cover-up.
The resolution for both the PR firm and the bank had to be change. Not change of face, but change of culture.
But the mistreatment of shareholders and consumers by CBA was a tune already played by the company in the past.
In 2009, CBA shareholders were slapped with the largest fine in Australian banking history , $1.7 billion, and the mess came knocking on the door again for CBA investors to clean up.
An immense, tax avoidance scandal was suppressed under the CBA, landing them in hot water yet again. But the blow-out begged many Australian's to question, not only the cause but the source of regulation within the country's biggest bank?
However the tone during the litigation of the bank remained the same, despite the huge exposure of wrongdoing and expensive legal process, CBA's ethics and legality remained watertight.
Two years later, the bank was caught red handed over claiming premiums on life insurance to ineligible customers and were forced to repay $10 million to 65,000 customers.
The poor track record of the bank and the corporate avoidance of responsibility from the company peddled a dangerous attitude towards staff at the bank.
Refusal by board members to fess up to their misconduct and the nightmarish treatment of whistleblowers who reported the wrongdoing, sent a strong message to employees that cover up and complacency was a culture practiced and protected in the CBA company.
The string of belated and insincere apologies by the bank painted a disastrous picture of mistrust and ineffectiveness to the public, with no clear direction for change within the backbone of the company.
Crisis's this deep and consistent warrant an overhaul of the system, starting with sincere accountability from the top, otherwise the cycle of unethical and unregulated behaviour will thrive under the current climate.
Public Relations experts say in light of the recent CBA scandals (emphasis on plural) the public perceives banks as "arrogant" and their response to the subsequent crisis was "too little too late."
The Coaltion have argued a Royal Commission into the banks remains too costly and unncessary.
However, a costly $122 mllion plebiscite was in great government interest and deemed more worthy of taxpayer funds than an investigation into a billion dollar banking sector that has caused more corruption and cover-up than the legalisation of gay marriage ever would.
But shareholders, politicians and public interests groups are rallying for change.
In wake of the CommInsure crisis, the Australian Shareholders Associations (ASA) have urged Australia to instigate a Royal Commision into the insurance sector.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has thrown his support behind a Royal Commission into the banks, saying the scrutiny is well over-due.
"Nothing less than a royal commission into Australia's banking and financial services industry will suffice and it doesn't matter even if we don't fall across the line and form a government, but instead we are the opposition, we will be prosecuting the case for a banking royal commission," he said.
The Greens have also shown their support in parliament by backing senate inquiries and joining calls to instigate a commission, alongside One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.
The unlikely bipartisan from such a broadchuch of political parties has demonstrated the immense support and urgency Australians feel must occur over an investigation into the banks.
The CBA panel is set to hand down their interim report in less than two months, but toothless tiger or tangible change? Only time will tell.