Justice, journalism and the jugular
There are some in financial services who say the royal commission and media are being too harsh. They should remember the damage these executive criminals have done to the reputation of the whole industry and the harm caused to consumers.
Over the course of the past five days, ifa has brought you a real-time rundown of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry with a blow-by-blow analysis of the action.
The response from the financial services industry has been mixed.
On a basic human level, most have been transfixed, in the same way that many of us joyously congregate each night to watch our fellow citizens awkwardly propose marriage, lose weight or ruin a panacotta on national television.
Some have rejoiced at the justice that aggrieved consumers are now receiving and the mainstream attention on topics such as vertical integration, conflicts of interest and dishonest behaviour they have long called out.
Others are aghast at the ferocity of the proceedings, concerned for the broader reputation of the industry or simply sympathetic for industry colleagues who have been hung out to dry in the witness box.
ifa’s coverage has also been the subject of debate. Many readers and social media followers have praised our approach, while some others have criticised our adoption of new-age social media techniques and described our satire as “bullying”.
We understand the position of those that feel distressed watching these proceedings, particularly those who did not realise the extent of the problem and are therefore experiencing a level of shock (like Barnaby Joyce and Scott Morrison for example, though their “disturbed” alarm looks all too feigned).
But we are neither shocked nor surprised. To the contrary, we feel satisfied and vindicated that the truth is finally coming out and that the longstanding claims of the institutions that our questions have no basis have proven to be false.
Like all entrenched powers, the media should be held to account, and we welcome forthright feedback from our readers anytime.
But try to see it from our perspective.
Almost every single question that counsel assisting has asked, we have asked – in press conferences, face-to-face interviews, email exchanges and public callouts on this very website over a period of several years.
Forget the really salacious stuff. Even simple questions like ‘how does your BOLR policy work?’, ‘Do you accept conflicted remuneration?’, even ‘Which licensees do you own?’ have been consistently met with spin, obfuscation and downright bullshit.
Had these organisations respected society’s fourth estate and had the decency to answer these questions truthfully in the past, perhaps they might have saved taxpayers $75 million and onlookers the pain of watching this whole ordeal unfold.
But, of course, in reality the media had no chance of receiving truthful answers. As it turns out, even ASIC has been lied to systematically for years.
Only the royal commission – with its prosecutorial power at the individual level and the very real prospect of jail time – has motivated these executives to finally speak like normal human beings and somewhat transparently answer questions (except CBA's Ms Perkovic that is, who still continues to “obfuscate” and “dissemble”).
The commissioner and counsel assisting may seem harsh in their approach, but if you had read through the thousands of documents indicating criminal and sometimes disgusting conduct, then you would probably be lacking patience as well, as is much of the press.
Yes, the individuals being hauled up before the commission are people too. Yes, they have families and feelings and mental health concerns like the rest of us.
But frankly, their behaviour so far suggests they do not deserve any sympathy.
These are not downtrodden victims of an unfair system. They are highly educated societal elites at the top rungs of the corporate ladder.
They sit on charity boards and receive awards at institutional conferences and take home six- or even seven-figure salaries.
This does not make them less deserving of public scorn for their behaviour. In fact, in many ways it makes them more.
Some of you may have personal connections with the executives we are seeing squirming in the witness box. They may be business partners, mentors or even personal friends.
But their decisions and strategies over the past decades have posed a threat to your reputation, your livelihood and the wellbeing of your clients.
The chickens have come home to roost at last.
Justice should not be apologised for.
Aleks Vickovich is managing editor of ifa.
ifa rolling coverage of the royal commission financial advice hearings can be followed here: https://www.ifa.com.au/strategy/25404-royal-commission-financial-advice-hearings-live-blog
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