Building on last year’s reforms to address concerns with their culture, Australian banks have announced a series of new initiatives including improved protections for whistleblowers and a new external dispute resolution system.
According to the Australian Bankers' Association (ABA), a ‘Better Banking’ program has been launched to build on the initiatives announced last year, and introduce new initiatives that reflect customers’ thoughts on what is needed to improve the industry.
The announcement comes after the release of the third Independent Governance Expert Report by Auditor-General Ian McPhee, who said that so far banks have demonstrated a “clear commitment” to improving customer outcomes and building public trust and confidence in banks.
The ABA said that the newly introduced initiatives include:
- A renewed commitment to support customers in financial difficulty, including making financial hardship support programs more accessible and a new debt repayment service to help people manage multiple debts;
- Providing support to farmers and small businesses by introducing new best practice standards on valuation practices and how banks appoint receivers; and
- Helping customers better understand how they can switch accounts and banks by holding a roundtable in March with banks, consumer groups and government representatives to identify and address customers’ underlying concerns about switching.
In addition, the ABA said that the ‘Better Banking’ program will include the appointment of customer advocates in each bank to manage complaints, as well as “improved protections for whistleblowers” from July.
The banks have also agreed to identify and share information about financial advisers with a history of poor conduct, while supporting the federal government’s financial adviser professional standards legislation (which is currently before Parliament).
Steven Münchenberg, ABA chief executive, explained that the package of initiatives encompasses those announced in April 2016.
“Banks are also making a $1 billion investment in a new payments system to allow payments and transfers to happen in ‘real time’, overcoming the current delays when money is transferred from one bank account to the other,” he added.
Commenting on the newly introduced initiatives, ABA chairman and NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn said, “We have heard the concerns of Australians and we are committed to taking action so that banking with all of us is a better experience. This program of initiatives is our commitment to continue to raise the standards, service and trust in our industry.”
[Related: Banks taking 'positive steps' on reforms]