‘Shut up’: Westpac boss savaged
Furious shareholders have unleashed at Westpac and its embattled leaders in the wake of the child exploitation scandal that has wiped billions from its value.
There were fiery scenes at the banks's annual general meeting today - the first opportunity for investors to vent dismay following 23 million alleged breaches of money laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws.
By midday, the board, led by chairman Lindsay Maxsted and acting chief executive Peter King, were berated as to how such a massive scandal was able to engulf the country's second largest bank.
At one point, Daniel Gocher from the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility took the microphone and told chairman Lindsay Maxsted that Westpac's "Speak Up" program should be renamed "Shut Up".
When Mr Maxsted insisted whistleblowers were "treated with respect" and that there were "good processes in place", Mr Gocher replied: "I don't think anyone in this room believes you."
The steady line of questioning has been met with short responses from Mr Maxsted, with the shareholders jeering each dismissive reply and cheering every pointed question levelled at the board.
"You're just showing your incompetence every time you open your mouth," one investor yelled from the near-packed theatre at the International Convention Centre in Sydney.
Nearly two hours into the forum's dedicated discussion on the AUSTRAC investigation, shareholders are still lining up to hurl their disgust and confusion at the basis of the child exploitation scandal.
Another investor who stepped to the microphone also didn't mince words.
"You, sir, have comprehensively stuffed up," he told Mr Maxsted, who has brought forward his resignation to the beginning of 2020.
The angry shareholder said that removal should be extended across the board.
"You all should go," he said.
"I have no faith in you, you have lost all credibility."
Mr Maxsted told the meeting in his opening remarks that the board was "deeply distressed about the issues raised by AUSTRAC".
But one investor yelled later in the meeting that the apology is "not enough".
Westpac's crisis began when financial watchdog AUSTRAC revealed last month it was facing charges after allegedly failing to investigate customers who made transactions possibly linked to child exploitation in the Philippines and South-East Asia.
According to the Australian Financial Review, some of those payments may have gone towards "live-streamed child abuse".
The lender is also accused of breaching money laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws, with Westpac publicly accused of 23 million breaches in total.
It has cost the bank dearly, with shares 1.03 per cent lower at $24.13 earlier today, after slipping 9.1 per cent since the AUSTRAC allegations were aired last month.
That's wiped about $8.7 billion from the company's market capitalisation.
At the meeting - Mr Maxsted's last as chairman - he admitted Westpac did not act fast enough to introduce "robust" monitoring of money transfers potentially linked to child abuse.
He said while Westpac identified and filed suspicious matter reports on the customers whose transfers led to legal action by the financial crimes regulator, the bank was too slow.
"We should have implemented more robust transaction monitoring earlier than we did," Mr Maxsted told shareholders in Sydney.
"This would have generated more suspicious matter reports to AUSTRAC."
The bank's money laundering and child exploitation scandal dominated the first two hours of the AGM, with one investor calling the board "at best incompetent and negligent, and at worst complicit and culpable".
More to come