My reasons for leaving the NAB are set out in the two letters to the then CEO which are set out below, and neither of which drew any response.
I’m now in two minds about the Royal Commission into banks. The main argument against it for me is the insipid opportunism of the proposer. The main argument for it is the astonishing ignorance revealed by many company directors and many in the financial press about who is responsible for the culture in public companies. Some people say it is a matter for the CEO, and not the directors. That is bullshit. The Law says so in as many words. Directors may be able to delegate, but they cannot absolve themselves of the ultimate responsibility for the management of the business of the company. Just imagine someone at Melbourne Grammar School saying that the culture of that school was a matter for the Principal and not the Council.
23 March 2012
Mr Cameron Clyne
Chief Executive Officer
National Australia Bank
Reply Paid 2870
MELBOURNE, VIC. 8060
Dear Mr Clyne
SALES TEAM D
You don’t know me. Neither do any of your employees. Since you have been my banker for 60 years, I think that that is very sad. Don’t you think that is very sad, Mr Clyne?
When I bought my present house, I was subjected to treatment by some of your operatives that in part caused me to write the attached paper on ‘The Decline of Courtesy and the Fall of Dignity.’ You will see that your bank has the misfortune there to be compared to Telstra and Qantas. That is not good company to be in, Mr Clyne. The part that really got me was the threat – that is exactly what it was – to pull the pin – that was the phrase – on a bank cheque. Your staff could give a customer a heart attack threatening to do that to them on the day that they are settling on a house purchase. A bank threatening to renege on its own paper? It is hard to imagine a better example of how banks have lost their way – how once respectable business houses have now become unrespectable counting houses.
Being minded to move home, I thought I should confirm my leeway with your bank before making an offer. I drew Sales Team D in the lottery. I said I was happy to go to your Kyneton Branch and talk face to face, but, no, Sales Team D told me they were on top of my case.
Your staff can fill you in on the sad results, Mr Clyne. I had to prove my identity – at least twice. Sad after 60 years, is it not? The property I am looking at is worth under half of a city property that I can offer for security. The increase to the existing facility is modest. For any bank that knew me as its customer, and wanted to look after me, the proposed transaction would hardly raise a query. Not so with Sales Team D, Mr Clyne. I was required to produce tax returns, and then told I would have to surrender one credit card and submit to a reduction on the remainder. I began to feel for the people of Greece. Now, Sales Team D wants to go beyond the tax returns, and I now have two accountants wondering just what has got into Sales Team D.
How would you or your fellow directors like it if they were treated like this by someone they have been doing business with for ten minutes, let alone 60 years? In the course of more than 40 years’ legal practice, I have held various statutory appointments, including running the Taxation Division of the AAT, later VCAT for 18 years. Some people – including Her Majesty the Queen in right of the State of Victoria – therefore felt able to take me at my word. But not Sales Team D. Do you know why, Mr Clyne? My bank does not know who I am.
Perhaps they are worried about my recent expenditure on credit cards. Let me assure you, Mr Clyne, so was I. Very worried and very annoyed. I bought a CLK Mercedes about six months ago at a very good price. I just needed to extend a borrowing facility by six thousand to get the $26,000. I got handballed around four operatives, having to prove my identity along the way. I got referred to various teams. Most asked my occupation. (Sales Team D the other day asked if I was still a member of a firm I left about ten years ago and which ceased to exist the other day.) I was told my case was difficult because the facility was secured. Then I was asked to produce tax returns to support a request to extend a secured facility by six thousand dollars. That is when I gave up, and used the credit card to buy the Mercedes.
I do not blame any of the few employees you have left. They are trained – programmed – to be automated and not to think. They also know that the market, which can never be wrong, values their contribution to the bank at about one hundredth of yours.
Do you know what I think, Mr Clyne? George Orwell was wrong. It is not big government that is tearing up the fabric of our community by Big Brother – it is Big Money, and Big Corporations. I think that you and your fellow directors should be ashamed of yourselves.
If it matters, I hold shares in the bank, and I am not a happy shareholder either.
3 April 2012
Mr Cameron Clyne
Chief Executive Officer
National Australia Bank
Reply Paid 2870
MELBOURNE, VIC, 8060.
Dear Mr Clyne,
SALES TEAM D
Well, they did it for you. Sales Team D – may we just call them STD for short? – stopped me from buying the new home that I wanted. It was not perfect – it was just ideal. Ideal for me, Mr Clyne. But, then, what is a mere home to someone like me to a great Australian banker?
How did STD manage to pull it off, you may ask, Mr Clyne? Quite simply really. They did not know me, and they did not know what they were doing. This all became sadly but inevitably apparent when a roaming STD cell-commandant opened his phone talk with me after my first letter to you with the gambit that my problem was that I had overstated my income. Really, Mr Clyne, your attack-dogs and flak-catchers would want to be on the highest level of dental insurance if they want to go around behaving like that. No wonder you forbid them to meet your customers in the flesh.
But I suppose that the ADs and FCs of STD kept you safe from my letter. You would prefer to stay like Achilles gleaming among his Myrmidons, except that you would not stay sulking in your tent – no, you would be glowing over all that lucre.
You and the people at STD are a real threat to business in this country, Mr Clyne. You should be helping the flow of capital. The big Australian banks are doing just the reverse.
And you should really stop those ads that tell the most dreadful lies. Lies like your people are free to make decisions, or that the big banks like competition. Nothing could be further from the truth, Mr Clyne. The people at STD know that they are forbidden to think, much less make decisions, and STD shut up shop completely, and have been in a surly sulk ever since I told them I was talking to another bank. (Although they did ring the other bank to inquire – without my consent – about what I was doing.) The major Australian banks are just a collusive cartel operating sheltered workshops that rely on the people of Australia to bail them out whenever they balls it up – and then they pass on their guilt and paranoia to those same people by refusing to lift a finger for their customers when they need a bank.
Those people do not hold your staff responsible for the shocking fall in the standards of our banks, Mr Clyne. They hold you and your like responsible. You do after all get paid about one hundred times as much as the folk of STD.
If you and your board step outside your cocoon of moolah, minders, and sycophants, you will not find one Australian – not one – that has a kind word for any of you. What all those people should do to the big banks is to take their business elsewhere. That is what I will do. You never know, Mr Clyne, I may meet a real person in the flesh, one who might know what they are doing, and who will even know who I am.
The Press have it in for this man, across the board. He was very stupid when someone waved money at him. The Chinese must have had trouble believing it. But was he any more stupid than Sinodinos when someone waved money under his nose? Arthur’s problem, as it seems to me, is that the amount waved under his nose had a few more zeroes at the end. And he now has form as a messy bag man.
The perils of drink
Someone gave me a book called Order, Order! The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking. It is the kind of book you can take on a long flight. One anecdote is worth recalling. It relates to a George Brown who was a very serious drinker. Somehow he became Foreign Secretary. He turned up heavily under the weather at the Brazilian President’s Palace of the Dawn for a diplomatic reception for visiting dignitaries from Peru. The setting was sumptuous. It is alleged that Brown made a beeline for a ‘gorgeously crimson–clad figure’ and asked the person to dance. The reply is said to have been: ‘There are three reasons, Mr Brown, while I will not dance with you. The first, is that I fear that you have had a little too much to drink. The second is that this is not, as you seem to suppose, a waltz that the orchestra is playing, but the Peruvian national anthem, for which you should be standing to attention. And the third reason why we may not dance, Mr Brown, is that I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.’
That makes me feel a lot better.
Poet of the month: Ibsen
To the Survivors
Now they sing the hero loud; —
But they sing him in his shroud.
Torch he kindled for his land;
On his brow ye set its brand.
Taught by him to wield a glaive;
Through his heart the steel ye drave.
Trolls he smote in hard-fought fields;
Ye bore him down ‘twixt traitor shields.
But the shining spoils he won,
These ye treasure as your own.–
Dim them not, that so the dead
Rest appeased his thorn-crowned head.