Westpac Bank failed to properly monitor international fund transfers. Picture: Kelly Barnes
Westpac Bank failed to properly monitor international fund transfers. Picture: Kelly Barnes

Westpac backflips on Christmas party ban

Westpac has done a major about face and reinstated Christmas parties for thousands of staff.

At the embattled bank's AGM meeting in Sydney today interim chief executive officer Peter King overturned the decision to cancel end-of-year celebrations for employees.

It comes amid the ongoing child sex exploitation scandal that has dogged the bank.

This now means more than 8000 staff across the country at Westpac and the bank's subsidiary institutions including Bank of Melbourne, St George and BankSA could hook into bubbles and canapes at celebrations in the remaining days before Christmas.

At the six-hour marathon meeting Mr King and chairman Lindsay Maxsted were grilled by irate shareholders.

It appeared Mr King made an official on-the-spot decision to restore Christmas festivities for frontline employees.

Following a question from an investor saying, "branch staff have had to put up with all the crap for the mistakes higher up", Mr King said the parties were back on.

The parties now mean staff could hold end-of-year celebrations for Westpac's 597 branches, St George's 177 branches, Bank of Melbourne's 96 branches and BankSA's 78 branches.

It was the decision of ousted chief executive officer Brian Hartzer to dump Christmas celebrations after AUSTRAC'S allegations that the bank breached the law 23 million times.

It was reported last month that Mr Hartzer sent an email to thousands of staff telling them festive celebrations had been called off because it would result in "negative press".

Westpac Chairman Lindsay Maxsted said he is “truly sorry following AUSTRAC’s allegations the bank breached the law.
Westpac Chairman Lindsay Maxsted said he is “truly sorry following AUSTRAC’s allegations the bank breached the law.

"Unfortunately in the heightened media environment it will not look good if we have our staff whopping it up with alcohol," he was reported as saying.

However Mr King's decision today did not extend to staff in Westpac's head offices and would leave many staff unable to enjoy any end-of-year festivities with their colleagues.

At today's meeting it was voted on that Westpac board members would keep their job for now but executive pay would remain under the spotlight.

Feisty shareholders repeatedly yelled out during the meeting to Mr Maxsted, "you should go," while he was grilled about AUSTRAC's allegations.

Mr Maxsted told the crowd he was "truly sorry".

"We are devastated that anyone may have been exposed to the risk of harm as a result of a failing by Westpac," he said.

"I recognise that recent events may have set back the progress Westpac had been making on many fronts and there is enormous work to do to earn back that trust that you, the community and customers have placed in us."

The board copped a second strike on its remuneration report however shareholders voted against spilling the board.

Only 8.66 per cent voted in favour of holding an extraordinary general meeting to spill the board.

 

While 35.27 per cent of votes were against the remuneration report, which followed a "no" vote of more than 60 per cent last year.

One angry shareholder Graeme Thomson, from Canberra, told the meeting: "What credibility have you to stand in front of us all and carry on in the way you have been carrying on?"

"I have no faith in you, you have lost all credibility."

Mr Maxsted said he had deeply apologised but shareholders were heard yelling, "that's not good enough".

"Go, walk out," members of the crowd yelled.

Mr Thomson then said, "Words are cheap, do something meaningful."

The bank, which has 14 million customers, failed to properly monitor international fund transfers which resulted in allowing child exploitation in the Philippines and southeast Asia.

Mr Maxsted has previously said he feared customers would walk out on the nation's oldest bank in the wake of its scandal.

Within a week of the scandal becoming public, the chief executive of the nation's oldest bank, Brian Hartzer, fell on his sword.

Westpac Bank has 14 million customers. picture: Kelly Barnes
Westpac Bank has 14 million customers. picture: Kelly Barnes

He has been replaced on an interim basis by chief financial officer Peter King.

Mr King said he was "personally devastated" by the allegations.

"That a mistake by Westpac may have exposed anyone, particularly children, to the risk of harm is distressing for all of us," he said.

He said the banks are recruiting an additional 200 people in compliance and financial crime areas, adding to the 750 experts that already exist.

They have also implemented additional transaction monitoring.

Mr King said the bank was working with experts in child welfare to "reduce the awful impact of child exploitation".

Mr Maxsted will no longer seek re-election at the AGM and he will retire in "the first of the 2020".

In his speech he also said payment of 2019 variable rewards for the full executive team will be withheld.

Westpac shares closed at $24.08 for the day, a fall of 1.2 per cent.

sophie.elsworth@news.com.au

@sophieelsworth



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