NAB resignations proof of Hayne's success

Thursday's resignations by NAB chairman, Ken Henry, and CEO Andrew Thorburn are further proof Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne has struck the right balance in his report on the banks.

The former High Court Justice was always going to have to walk a fine line between driving meaningful reforms and preserving the integrity of the banking system.

While he has been roundly criticised by a coven of pundits and talking heads for not doing enough to make the big financiers bleed, nobody would have been happy if Hayne's report had crashed the economy and taken home prices with it.

This week's high level departures, which come in the wake of earlier resignations by senior NAB and AMP officials during the commission's hearings, are proof of the power of the report.

Neither Henry nor Thorburn, despite what they said in their exit speeches, went willingly.

Less than 48 hours before both were saying they intended to stay put and work as change agents within the organisation they had let down so badly. This was despite being the only executives named and shamed by Hayne.

"NAB stands apart from the other three major banks," Hayne said. "Having heard from... Mr Thorburn... and Dr Henry I am not as confident as I would wish to be that the lessons of the past have been learned.

"I was not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do, and then having its staff act accordingly."

A mutual failure to recognise that after being criticised so publicly their absence was essential to any credible process of culture change was further proof Hayne was right when he said Henry and Thorburn didn't grasp the magnitude of the problems.

The commissioner's verdict, coupled with NAB's poor performance against the other members of the big four since the GFC and the massive vote of no-confidence in Henry's chairmanship (over the remuneration report at the recent AGM), left them nowhere to go but out the door.

NAB experienced the lowest post-Hayne report bounce of any of the major banks.

It will be interesting to see how the stock, which fell 18 per cent during the royal commission's tenure, fares over the next few weeks.

The good news for the public is the departures indicate the NAB board is finally awake to the fact it can't just deliver more of the same. Expect to see a marketing blitz, possibly as early as this weekend, declaring a new era has begun.

NAB, and to a lesser extent both Westpac and ANZ, will be paying close attention to the CBA play book. Commbank's CEO, Matt Comyn, is one of the few Australian banking executives to have survived the past year with his reputation intact.

Comyn has already cracked down on compliance and accountability within CBA. He consistently presented himself as contrite and open to change during his eight hours of testimony.

He, more than any other banking chief to date, has shown he is aware standing still is not an option in the post-Hayne banking environment.

For the banks and their leaders it is now a clear case of change or be punished.