Australia’s four major banks have announced that they won’t enforce confidentiality obligations or non-disclosure agreements which would prevent people from making submissions to the Royal Commission.
In a recent statement, both National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank said that they would not enforce NDAs regarding things said in submissions to the Royal Commission into the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.
“If any of our customers want to make a submission to the royal commission, we encourage them to do so and we will waive any confidentiality obligations they have agreed to when resolving an issue with NAB,” said NAB chief legal and commercial council Sharon Cook.
“We are doing this because it is important to us that we support customers being heard by the royal commission.”
Commonwealth Bank added that those making submissions may still need to “seek the consent of other individuals or organisations who may be named as part of their submission”.
Westpac and ANZ both subsequently confirmed that they too would waive confidentiality obligations for the royal commission.
An ANZ spokesperson said that it “will not rely on confidentiality agreements it has entered into with customers or employees who want to either make a submission or appear before the royal commission”.
A spokesperson for Westpac told The Adviser: “Westpac believes the best way to help rebuild trust through the royal commission process is for the community to have confidence that the process has been transparent and that there are no impediments for individuals who want to make a submission. Westpac will not be enforcing any confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements should a person want to make a submission to the Royal Commission.”
Following the announcements from the major banks that they will not rely on NDAs for the royal commission, the Finance Sector Union of Australia called on the banks to communicate clearly to their workers what this means for them.
The union argues that only after the banks indicate to their staff exactly how far the exemption extends would frontline workers feel “safe to speak out” and tell their stories.
“Under normal circumstances, it is impossible for current bank staff to speak to anyone about their employer because of stringent codes of conduct which the banks all routinely use to silence workers,” said FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano.
“If the banks and the community are to benefit from the change this royal commission could bring to banking, then ‘whistle-blowers’ inside the system must be encouraged to come forward.
“We need this royal commission to get the full and complete picture about the culture and excesses in banking.”
Ms Angrisano added that bank workers need written assurances from their employers that they are permitted to communicate with the royal commission, make submissions and give evidence without jeopardising their employment.
“It is essential that the banks’ ‘dirty laundry’ is properly aired and that the royal commission is able to reveal the full facts about banking scandals, the ones we know about and the others that the inquiry will unearth, which have dragged down the reputation of our banks.”
Ms Angrisano added that bank workers were proud of the service they traditionally delivered to the community and were keen to see a “return to a focus on customer service rather than the relentless pursuit of sales targets, even to the point where customers were sometimes sold financial products which were not in their best interests”.
The initial public hearing for the royal commission will begin at 10am on Monday, 12 February, in Melbourne.