The Guardian May 16, 2001


Banks on track for $10 billion bonanza

by Andrew Jackson

The big four banks are projected to steal a whopping $10 billion profit 
this financial year, with financial analysts applauding their cost-cutting 
measures. Meanwhile, back in your local branch (if it hasn't closed), the 
queues lengthen, the mass sackings continue, the paltry pay offer was 
rejected, and Westpac's chief (CEO) finally realises, "the public don't 
like us."

The last and largest of the profits announced was by the National Australia 
Bank (NAB) who stripped the public of a massive 29 per cent jump in profit, 
up to $2 billion in just six months.

Stating that "our strategies are delivering", NAB's CEO Mr Frank Cicutto 
described the bank without a hint of irony as "firing on all cylinders".

NAB has recently sacked 5000 staff, and closed 70 branches in the last 
year.

And while the GST has prompted a sharp increase in bankruptcies, the banks 
have shielded themselves against bad debts by slugging customers with huge 
fee increases and wider interest margins on loans and credit cards.

As the profits were announced share prices soared, and all banks rewarded 
their owners with fat dividends ripped straight out of customers' pockets.

If one was forced to chose a "worst offender" among the banks it would be 
Westpac by a nose, with a $924 million half-year profit, and a bloody-
minded attitude towards its staff and the public alike.

Westpac has shed 5,500 jobs in the last two years, and closed over 200 
branches. In the last year alone its customer fees have risen 14 per cent.

With inflation hitting six percent, it has offered its workers a raise of 
just 3.5 percent this year, which the Financial Sector Union has rejected 
as inadequate.

Worst affected are staff in one of Westpac's mortgage processing centres in 
Adelaide, some of whom have not had a payrise for five years. While they 
were in the process of negotiating a new Enterprise Agreement, Westpac 
announced that the centre would be outsourced, with the further loss of 
1200 jobs.

FSU National Secretary Tony Beck said, "The announcement is even more 
disgusting in that... the bank has already told staff if they do not agree 
to work for a new provider they will leave Westpac without any retrenchment 
payment.

"In the current Adelaide job market this is a choice many staff are unable 
to make."

Meanwhile, Westpac Chief Executive Dr David Morgan gave a frank display of 
duplicity last week when addressing a meeting of the Trans-Tasman Business 
Circle.

"We do have a problem ... the public don't like us", said Dr Morgan. He 
went on to admit, "every one of our common customer concerns is in some way 
well-founded".

Citing, in particular, services for pensioners and rural areas, he said it 
was clear that the bank's performance had been "manifestly inadequate, and 
it is clear that we need to do a lot more".

Yet his insight quickly turned to arrogance, as he flat-out rejected the 
need for even limited reforms such as re-regulation, a banking "social 
charter", or the extension of fee-free accounts.

"This runs close to saying that the banks should share with government the 
responsibility for broader income redistribution, and I'm certain that no 
sane person is going to suggest to the electorate that we be given such 
powers."

Clearly Dr Morgan has missed the point of regulation, which is when the 
government takes power "away" from banks and forces them to act fairly and 
responsibly, which is something the electorate is clamouring for. In fact, 
for all his frank admissions and crocodile tears, Dr Morgan offered 
consumers no concrete evidence or assurances that his bank would make any 
changes for the better.

As Dr Morgan goes home to enjoy the lifestyle his $2.4 million annual 
salary affords, Mr Beck has vowed the FSU will not allow him to rest easy.

He said Westpac staff were deeply shocked at their treatment by the bank, 
and says the FSU will oppose the outsourcing "with all available options".

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