The relentless pursuit of profit

People are increasingly angry at being ripped off by these four.

“Not all Australians are with Westpac, but we’re with all Australians”. This is the slogan from Westpac’s latest advertisement featuring the Westpac rescue helicopter saving someone out at sea.

Next year is Westpac’s 200th anniversary, which will mean more propaganda about how “great” Westpac is, and its contribution to the community over the years.

However, the mere fact that it has to invest millions in such a campaign shows how low Westpac and its fellow “Big 4” banks — Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB) and ANZ — have fallen in the community’s view. Most importantly, it seeks to cover up a string of scandals and bad publicity, from the global financial crisis to the recent calls for a royal commission into banking.

Since 2009, we have seen CBA agree to pay $136 million in compensation for the Storm Financial scandal and NAB settling a $115 million class action due its involvement in sub-prime mortgage securities.

Fund managers and traders have been jailed for insider trading and fraud. Banks have paid out numerous fines and refunds, totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. ASIC has accused the banks of market manipulation of the bank bill swap rate. ANZ has been shamed by allegations of racism and discrimination.

More damaging, however, has been the CommInsure scandal reported by ABC’s Four Corners in March this year. CBA spent years rebuilding its reputation after its shameful financial advice scandal and remained adamant it had learnt its lesson.

According to CBA chairperson David Turner: “We will be the ethical bank, the bank others look up to for honesty, transparency, decency, good management, openness.”

However, CBA used dodgy tactics to take insurance customers’ money and avoid insurance payouts, leaving customers unable to claim insurance when they needed it most.

During the federal election this year, Labor and the Greens pushed for a royal commission into the banks, which failed to materialise. What did eventuate was a review by the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) into the banking industry. The Big 4 bank CEOs were also made to front up to a parliamentary committee in October to get a slap on the wrist.

As Green Left Weekly pointed out on October 14, PM Malcolm Turnbull’s proposal for a banking tribunal is a way for it to reduce the pressure for a royal commission. However, a tribunal would adversely impact consumers who would be burdened with legal fees and layers of complexity.

In response to growing public anger and calls for a banking royal commission, the Finance Sector Union (FSU) has, to its credit, fought to ensure that individual bank workers are not made scapegoats for the banks. The FSU has consistently warned that the relentless pursuit of profits by the Big 4 banks is having a detrimental effect on staff.

Acting national secretary of the FSU, Geoff Derrick, pointed out that bank staff take pride in delivering high levels of customer service, but are being pushed to achieve sales targets to the point where some feel they have no choice but to sell products to consumers who do not need them just to keep their managers off their backs.

In the coming months, the ABA will be producing a report on their investigation into the banking industry. The FSU’s submission to the ABA includes many testimonies from members about the rotten culture of meeting targets at all costs and the detrimental impact it has on bank workers and their families.

Green Left Weekly has reported on the victories of the FSU over the years, such as its enterprise bargaining agreement wins at all Big 4 banks to separate sales targets and pay outcomes. Along with exposing the crimes, scandals and community anger at the banks, Green Left Weekly fights for ordinary bank workers and helps get their voices out. Furthermore, it provides the analysis to understand that the real problem is the capitalist system we live under and that the banks are central to this rotten system.

Just as the big 4 banks will be promoting how important they are to the community, Green Left Weekly will be there to fight them and argue for putting them under our democratic control for the benefit of society and the planet.

But to do this we need your support. We can help you join the growing networks of activists committed to real change. And you can help us network more people by contributing to the Green Left Weekly 2016 Fighting Fund.

Direct deposits can also be made to Green Left, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.