NAB chief executive Ross McEwan is sending the bank's entire workforce of around 34,000 employees in Australia and New Zealand back to school to sit a "Banking 101" course at a cost of around $50 million over three years.
The course will be run by the Financial Services Institute of Australia (FINSIA) and will mirror a similar program the former head of RBS devised for bankers in Britain.
The entry-level course will run for about 60 hours, beginning with an introduction to conduct and ethics before tackling more traditional fare such as credit skills.
Mr McEwan said the initiative was designed to bring the competencies and capabilities of NAB’s bankers to a higher and more uniform level while meeting the needs and expectations of its customer base. A poll of RBS customers revealed 84 per cent preferred to deal with an accredited banker.
“They wanted to deal with a professional who was qualified. You wouldn’t expect an electrician to turn up to your house who wasn’t qualified and you wouldn’t expect an accountant to look at your books who didn’t have the right qualifications either,” Mr McEwan said.
FINSIA CEO Chris Whitehead said he hoped the course became the gold standard for Australian bank employees.
“We need broad participation from the industry for this to work. That’s why it is great to have the support from NAB and BNZ,” Mr Whitehead said.
NAB bankers would have access to additional units or modules as they rose through the ranks of unsecured lending to secure lending and corporate lending where bankers have the authority to lend up to $50 million.
Mr McEwan said he would himself complete the entry-level course because his intention was to “lead from the front”.
NAB denied it was upskilling its employees in preparation for the conclusion of the six-month loan deferrals offered in response to the coronavirus crisis, that many have described as a cliff.
In late April, the bank said it had frozen repayments for 70,000 home loan customers and 34,000 business customers worth more than $40 billion.
“It goes beyond the COVID crisis,” Mr McEwan said. “I think it goes back to some of the findings of the royal commission where the bank was found wanting because we weren’t getting the basics right.”
NAB was battered by the year-long commission hearings which revealed the bank was running an out of control referral scheme for home loans, had uncovered a fraud ring operating out of its branches in western Sydney and was an outlier on breach reporting leading to an utterly dysfunctional relationship with the corporate regulator.
The final report released by Commissioner Kenneth Hayne in February 2019 led to the twin resignations of former NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn and chairman Ken Henry after he concluded he wasn't confident the bank had learned from its past or was willing to take responsibility for its mistakes.
During his time at RBS, Mr McEwan ushered in a series of "banking exams" for staff that took three years to complete. Employees would first complete a Chartered Banker ‘Professional Banking Fundamentals’ before taking on ‘Certified Banker’ qualifications.
The RBS program was introduced after the GFC in 2008 and subsequent government bailout amid concerns about the bank's reputation, conduct issues, poor credit skills and a broad lack of awareness.