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On The Record

CEO Ian Narev’s Address at the 2016 Annual General Meeting

CEO Address at 2016 AGM

Thank you Chairman and good morning everyone. I too would like to acknowledge the Noongar people of Whadjuk nation, the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on today. Pay my respects to their elders past and present and to all other Indigenous Australians here today. And to welcome you all, and to thank you very much for joining us. 

Our executive team visits Perth fairly regularly, but given the usual rotation of the Commonwealth Bank’s Annual General Meeting around the country, the last time we held our Annual General Meeting here was in 2009, seven years ago and when we reflect back on what the world looked like in 2009, boy it was a different sort of a place. When we last met here, on the one hand we were in the midst of a global financial crisis, and on the other hand, we were in the midst of a mining boom. At that stage in terms of the Commonwealth Bank, we were third of the four major banks in customer satisfaction with customer satisfaction at about 74 per cent. Our shares were trading at $51.00. We had only two women on our executive team and we had only two women on our Board. 

A lot has changed in those seven years and the Commonwealth Bank, as the Chairman mentioned, has had to adapt, but one thing that has remained very consistent over the seven years, is our strategy. So for those of you who were at this meeting in 2009, welcome back; you would have heard my predecessor talk about the importance of customer satisfaction. You would have heard as I recall in his remarks, him talking about becoming more efficient, about the need to invest in technology. He talked a lot in 2009 about the importance of the Bank being strong through the global financial crisis. And he said that all of this is underpinned by people, great people. 

Now seven years on, if you look at any of our strategy discussions, communications internally or externally, you will see very very similar themes. We talk about customer focus being the core of what the Commonwealth Bank does. We talk about the importance of building strategic advantage in the strength of the Bank in technology and in productivity. And again, we emphasise the fact that all of this depends on the quality of the Commonwealth Bank’s people. That consistency has really been of a lot of benefit to all our stakeholders. 

So seven years on, our customer satisfaction has moved up 10 percentage points from 74 per cent to 84 per cent. We have moved from being the third of the major banks in customer satisfaction to the first of the major banks in customer satisfaction overall and under the net promoter’s score methodology. For those of you who held shares in 2009, the return on those shares in the ensuing years has been 104.5 per cent or a total of 10.8 per cent per year including the growth and the dividends. The next best major bank: the return is 77 per cent or 8.5 per cent per year. So your $51.00 share has gone up by 40 per cent and at the same time, you have received $25.00 of dividends during the period on that $51.00 share. 

As a result of this strategy, we have grown to become the most valuable listed company in Australia; Australia’s largest taxpayer. We now have half of the senior Executive Team who are women and four women on the Board. All this has happened over the last seven years under the Chairmanship of David Turner and as a fellow board member, as an executive and as a fellow shareholder, I would like to acknowledge David’s extraordinary contribution and thank him for his principled and inclusive leadership. In all those capacities, I would like to also convey our excitement at the appointment of Catherine as David’s successor. 

But as the Chairman mentioned in his address, businesses can’t look backwards. Learning from past experience is a very important part of management and governance, but relying on past success is fatal. So when we have the next Annual General Meeting in Perth, the Board, the management team, the shareholders at the time will no doubt be talking about how among other things, the Commonwealth Bank has reacted to a world of unprecedented low interest rates and global deflation. About how the Commonwealth Bank has adapted to a world of significantly increasing competition as a result of ongoing technology innovation and innovation in banking business models. And they will be talking about how the Commonwealth Bank has adapted to higher levels of scrutiny, higher levels of community expectations regarding large companies generally and banks specifically. 

So what are we doing now and what do we intend to do in the future to meet those global challenges? Well, the first thing I can say to those of you who have read and heard about the ongoing pressures on bank profitability that your management team is alive to these pressures and is determined to ensure that we cut our cloth to suit the times. That said, we are a 105 year old company and we will resist any temptation to boost short-term performance by decisions that could harm our long-term competitiveness and our long-term ability to achieve our vision. So we will invest in ensuring that we have the capital strength, the liquidity strength and the strength of lending standards to ensure that we maintain the confidence of the funders while at the same time being able to perform our vital role of extending credit. We will continue to invest significant money in technology because our goal has to be to make sure that both the customer experience with Commonwealth Bank and the efficiency of the Commonwealth Bank is at least as good as the best of the new technology competitors. And we will invest to ensure that we meet and indeed exceed the increasing expectations of the community. 

Now on this last point, let me say personally and on behalf of the Commonwealth Bank, that we have not always done as well as we should have, but we have learnt from these experiences and we are now taking committed long-term fundamental action. First of all, together with Australia’s other major banks, we are actively participating in a broad program of reform under the umbrella of the Australian Banker’s Association which is looking at, among other things, the impact of remuneration practices on our people’s behaviour, the ease of use of customer complaints procedures and of whistleblowing policies. These programs are all being independently governed. We are executing them with very significant intent and we will continue to do so. 

But that is actually just the table stakes. Beyond that, as the Chairman has mentioned we are committed to a fundamental program, our vision and values program, of ensuring that our products, our policies, our processes are all guided by very strong values. As we continue to exercise that program, to execute the program which is led by me, which is the single initiative on which my team spends most of its time and which the Board received its latest update on only yesterday. As we execute that, we will minimise mistakes, we will harness the passion of our people and we will also, as the Chairman mentioned, as we inevitably make mistakes as a business of this size, address them speedily and with fairness. 

When we are an organisation of this size and we are going back in many cases a decade or even more to ensure that we address past mistakes and bring the business to contemporary standards, this will take time, but we are executing this with daily intensity. We have a long-term commitment to it and it is already making a very significant difference to your bank. 

Ultimately, when we next meet here, the extent to which we have or have not succeeded will be dictated, above all else, by the passion of our people, the capability of our people and the culture which we collectively create. You know a lot of people use the term ‘big bank’, well let me tell you what this big bank is. This big bank is 40,000 Australians and another 10,000 people overseas. They are this big bank and if you spend a lot of time as I do in branches, in business banking centres, in call centres, in all parts of the Group, you will see why we are proud to represent the people of this big bank and we are so confident in the culture that they create. 

Yes, occasionally they make mistakes, and even more occasionally, some among their numbers, deliberately go out to do the wrong thing. We will deal with that and are dealing with that, but overwhelmingly the 50,000 people that comprise your bank, come here excited to make a positive difference for our customers. When, as a result of their hard work, we generate good profits, that should be celebrated and the reason it should be celebrated is that the ultimate beneficiaries of those profits are you. Once we have made our revenue and paid the salaries of our 50,000 people and paid the more than 5,000 small businesses that comprise our partners and invested tens of millions of dollars in the community and been Australia’s largest taxpayer, after we do that each year, the balance 70 plus per cent of the balance goes to you. And in the last seven years, since we have been here, 41 billion dollars of dividends have been paid back to our shareholders. 80 per cent of our shareholders are Australian families either directly or through their pension funds. As David said, they are not Australia’s elite. You are Australians from all walks of life. And that is why we are proud to work for you and we are proud of the outcomes, which the hard work of our people deliver for you, our shareholders. We thank you for your support. We thank you for the interest that you have shown in the Commonwealth Bank by attending today. We listen and welcome your views today and beyond, whatever they are and we can assure you that doing our best for you is a very strong motivation. Thank you.