ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott labels strip club visits 'unacceptable'

ANZ Banking Group chief executive Shayne Elliott and his top human resources officer have labelled alleged strip club visits and other offensive acts by bank employees as unacceptable and vowed to crack down on the behaviour.

Mr Elliott took to Twitter – a rare move for an Australian CEO wading through a reputational crisis – to break his silence on allegations brought by former traders Etienne Alexiou and Patrick O'Connor.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott says past behaviour on the trading floor was "unacceptable".
ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott says past behaviour on the trading floor was "unacceptable". Photo: Josh Robenstone

The pair, in claims first revealed by The Australian Financial Review, are seeking millions in damages and have blamed a toxic culture at the bank for behaviour that led to their own sackings.

In response to strident criticism on social media from a number of prominent female corporate leaders, including Bank of Melbourne director Carol Schwartz, Mr Elliott said "historic" behaviour in the bank's Global Markets division was "unacceptable".

Examples of behaviour alleged by Mr Alexiou in his statement of claim include a visit in June 2011 to a lap dancing bar with the senior executive who recruited him in 2011 and two female human resources executives, along with alcohol and drug use.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, expanding further on his initial response, Mr Elliott said: "We have a strong, inclusive culture at ANZ with 60,000 overwhelmingly great people ... Where we find breaches of our Code of Conduct, [we] have taken and we will continue to take the action that is necessary to ensure the handful of people involved have no place at ANZ."

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Separately, the bank's group general manager, human resources, Susie Babani, said on Twitter that doing business in strip clubs was "never OK". "Both men associated with this allegation no longer work at ANZ," she said in an extended statement. "We want our people to speak up and to alert us to unacceptable conduct. When they do we will investigate and we will take the necessary disciplinary action."

ANZ has said some of the allegations raised in the court documents are false, while also committing to investigate all new cases brought to its attention.

One of Mr Elliott's first moves, after the October 2015 announcement of his appointment to succeed Mike Smith, was to get started on a strategy document to explain what his vision for the $73 billion bank's "core purpose" should be.

Fairfax understands Mr Elliott will present this to the market in February. Such a cultural review was partly in response to allegations that ANZ traders had manipulated one of the key interest rates that determine pricing across the Australian economy, but it will likely consider the latest allegations too.

Sources on ANZ's dealing floor described a "flat" mood as staff digested the revelations of their former colleagues on Friday and astonishment at the size of the bonuses paid to Mr O'Connor and Mr Alexiou. However the reports did help shed light on potential reasons for some of the recent unexplained departures among senior staff.

Mr O'Connor also said in a statement to the media that the court process would reveal more examples of an out of control management team.

That could include details of a infamous Hunter Valley episode in March 2013 where some inebriated members of the markets' management were alleged to have damaged the golf course.

The reports on bad behaviour had also sparked debate about whether such culture was limited to ANZ but was prevalent in other dealing rooms.

In his memoirs The Itinerant Economist, former Westpac fixed income strategy research analyst Russell Jones, who returned to London in late 2012, wrote that he was more impressed by the resilience of Australian banker's livers than the resilience of the system.

"What followed over the next thirty six hours was a monumental piss-up that began at Sydney airport, settled into a steady rhythm on the three hour flight to Cairns, was sustained by a couple of cases of beer in the minivan to the hotel and then progressively descended into a series of scenes from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas once we arrived at our destination," Jones wrote about the fixed income team's "offsite" in Port Douglas.

"Some people were virtually stretchered off our Qantas flight when it landed back in Sydney on Sunday afternoon"

Sources in Westpac recall that offsite as the one final gulp of the golden age ale of the financial markets. Mr Jones, for his part, said "the heroic drinking" didn't seem to impact the performance of his colleagues, and was generally good natured.