It’s now clear why the finance sector fought so hard against a banking royal commission.
Evidence of lies, deceit and fraud just keep on coming at the commission, much of it has occurred under the noses of directors holding some of the country’s most prestigious positions.
The banks’ campaign against a royal commission included the predictable threat that customers would eventually foot the bill.
But what is the cost of a financial sector that has often defrauded its customers and overpaid its executives regardless of the methods used to generate profits?
Hang the expense of a royal commission and its consequences, Australians will be better off in the long run if its findings are acted on and not politicised.
“One positive from the royal commission is it’s occurring before an asset price collapse” says former fund manager Peter Morgan.
“So financial institutions are in a strong enough position to make the necessary profound changes”.
Last November, Australia’s banking leaders caved to the political pressure.
NAB chairman and former treasury secretary Ken Henry said: “There is something real here for which we have to take responsibility. There are instances of poor conduct, poor treatment of customers and these are matters for which we have to hold ourselves accountable.”
Despite evidence of cover ups and stealing from customers, AMP’s board has done the bare minimum, bringing forward the departure of chief executive Craig Meller, and investors are in the dark as to whether he was paid handsomely on his exit.
Investor groups want wholesale changes to the AMP board including its chairman Catherine Brenner.
“We think the board needs to take some accountability,” said Louise Davidson, CEO of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors representing Industry Super Funds managing more than $2 trillion in assets.
“We expect to see some changes at board level which we hope might be announced before next month’s AGM.”
But the fallout could be even more serious for wrongdoers in the financial services sector.
Some observers see similarities with fraudster Bernie Madoff who stole billions from American investors.
Nine years ago he was sentenced to 150 years in jail.
Like Madoff, Australia’s financial institutions have stolen many millions from consumers over many years.
The Australian Shareholders Association’s Judith Fox said “so far what we’ve seen coming out of the commission it certainly looks like some of the financial services sector have set up parts of their business to be ripping people off”.
To date, accountability at the top has extended to nothing more than undignified departures, bruised reputations and perhaps a pay cut.
No-one looks close to serving time like Bernie Madoff, Mr Morgan said.
“The philosophy out there in the marketplace with regard to white collar crime in Australia is the bigger you are the safer you are,” he said.
“There has to be a fright at the bigger end of town that regulators are going to be damn tough.”
Australian Shareholders Association CEO Judith Fox admits that is a problem here.
“We just don’t see people going to jail,” she said.