Thousands of National Australia Bank customers have had their planner falsify documents relating to their finances, a senior executive has told the banking royal commission, admitting that the practice was a “social norm” within the bank.
But the bank’s crackdown on planners falsifying death beneficiary forms led to senior executives warning the bank it was acting unfairly towards to senior staff by trying to hold them responsible for the unlawful behaviour.
Other documents presented to the royal commission showed a litany of issues within NAB’s wealth arms and how the bank was yet to provide full funding for any broad compensation plan for customers affected by inappropiate advice or misconduct by planners.
The royal commission heard on Tuesday that NAB planners who failed to properly complete key financial planning documents, including insurance policies, roped in other staff to falsely witness the documents despite not having witnessed the signatures of the clients.
One NAB planner, Bradley Meyn, also forged the initials of a married couple after failing to fill in the death beneficiary form properly, but was caught out when he put the husband’s initials on the wife’s form and the wife’s initials on the husband’s form.
NAB consumer and wealth division’s chief customer officer Andrew Hagger admitted NAB planners had a culture where they thought the false witnessing of documents would help the clients.
“In relation to the financial advice area there was a failure of discipline behind this,” Mr Hagger said.
“I believe that the client service officers and advisers and the advisers concerned thought they were taking a shortcut in the interest of the client. I think a social norm had crept in and became entrenched.”
Senior counsel assisting the royal commission Rowena Orr, QC, said such false witnessing could result in estate trustees invalidating the form and making decisions about a client’s estate that is against their wishes.
Mr Hagger said NAB had brought in a program to have the documents of all affected clients witnessed appropriately.
Mr Meyn’s false witnessing of client documents was detected in an audit by the bank in November 2016. He was terminated as a NAB employee in December 2016.
However, the royal commission heard NAB did not tell the Australian Securities and Investments Commission of Mr Meyn’s breach until June 2017.
By October last year, NAB’s internal review found 2250 clients had superannuation and insurance forms falsely witnessed.
Ms Orr took Mr Hagger to a series of internal documents that showed the bank’s financial planning leadership team and the group’s regional executives received a reduced bonus in 2017 despite the issues within the planning arm.
One internal document showed NAB general manager Tim Steele complaining to his boss, the head of NAB wealth advice Greg Miller, about the bank’s plans to reduce his bonus over the false witnessing issues.
Mr Tim Steele said the decision to crimp his would create a “likely perceived unfairness of the consequences” that could lead to a “lack of trust in senior leadership”.
Mr Miller also complained about the bank cutting executive bonuses due to disciplinary issues of planners.
Mr Hagger said that at the time Mr Steele wrote the letter complaining about his cut bonus NAB was considering making a steeper cut to Mr Steele’s bonus.
NAB later decided to cut Mr Steele’s bonus by only 10 per cent. NAB wealth advice boss Greg Miller, who no longer works at the bank, received no bonus in 2017.
NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn was involved in the decisions to cut the bonues and had pushed for the cuts to go deeper, the royal commission heard. Mr Hagger said his b
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