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'Deeply sorry': NAB chief and chair exit after horror Royal Commission

NAB Chairman Ken Henry addresses NAB’s 2018 annual general meeting in Melbourne, Wednesday, December 19, 2018. (AAP Image/Ellen Smith)

National Australia Bank has announced chief executive Andrew Thorburn and chairperson Dr Ken Henry will leave the company, as the Royal Commission claims its first executive scalps.

Thorburn will finish at the end of the month, when current director Philip Chronican will take over as acting chief executive.

Henry has announced he would retire from the board once a permanent CEO has been appointed.

The final report from the banking Royal Commission, publicly released on Monday, was scathing in its assessment of NAB, and explicitly named Henry and Thorburn in its criticism.

The pair have since been the subject of speculation about whether their positions were tenable, with the bank putting its shares in a trading halt Thursday afternoon to finally address the concerns.

“I acknowledge that the bank has sustained damage as a result of its past practices and comments in the Royal Commission’s final report about them,” Thorburn said Thursday.

However, he defended his legacy as chief executive, saying he had “always sought to act in the best interests of the bank and customers”.

“I know that I have always acted with integrity. However, I recognise there is a desire for change. As a result, I spoke with the board and offered to step down as CEO, and they have accepted my offer.”

Henry said he and Thorburn were “deeply sorry” for not meeting customer expectations, and that it was “a difficult decision” to leave.

“I believe the Board should have the opportunity to appoint a new chair for the next period as NAB seeks to reset its culture and ensure all decisions are made on behalf of customers.”

Thorburn became chief executive of NAB in August 2014 after starting at the company nine years earlier as head of retail banking.

Henry, who was best recognised as the author of the Kevin Rudd-commissioned tax reform report before his appearance at the Royal Commission last year, had been on the board since 2011 and had been chair since December 2015.

Royal Commission commissioner Kenneth Hayne, in his final report, singled out NAB by saying neither Henry or Thorburn seemed to have learned from past mistakes.

“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.”

Hayne wrote that Henry seemed to be “unwilling to accept any criticism of how the board had dealt with some issues” and that Thorburn’s explanation for the “charge for no service” scandal as an administrative issue was not good enough.

Acting chief Chronican is a banking veteran, having had executive roles in both ANZ and Westpac over four decades.

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