The APRA Inquiry creates the opportunity for CBA to turn from laggard to leader in culture and governance.

A truism learned from a career inside and outside banking is “you may win a battle with a bank but you’ll never win a war”. But big and powerful banks, accustomed to getting their way with customers, seem to be finally coming to the realization that they are not going to win the public opinion war.

Individual bank PR campaigns and Australian Bankers Association lobbying have, if anything, only inflamed already strained relationships with politicians, regulators and the public and bank bashing remains a political magic pudding – a gift that keeps giving.

The banks have only themselves to blame for the position they find themselves in. The perception is that they have focussed on maintaining their oligopoly in order to benefit themselves and they have consistently missed opportunities to proactively and constructively engage with key stakeholders especially government and regulators.

But rather than being the latest round in the banks versus everyone else battle, the announcement of the APRA Inquiry into CBA actually affords our biggest, most profitable and yet most troubled bank the opportunity to turn the tide of anti-bank sentiment.

In its press release CBA’s Chairman Catherine Livingstone and CEO Ian Narev expressed the mea culpa sentiments we have heard before ….“CBA recognises that events over recent years have weakened the community’s trust in us. We have been working hard to strengthen trust, and will continue to do so. We welcome this opportunity for independent parties to review the work we have already undertaken and advise on what more we can do.”

Looking at this slightly differently, this process could in fact create a competitive market advantage for CBA. None of the other banks will have the opportunity of receiving tailored, expert, independent advice on how to improve its standing. We don’t know what the recommendations will be or what level of obligation CBA might be under to implement any of them but the Inquiry creates the opportunity for CBA to turn from laggard to leader in culture and governance.

So rather than being the next the battle with politicians, regulators and the public, for CBA this inquiry affords a unique opportunity for Australia’s biggest and most profitable bank to also become our most trusted and respected.

You can’t beat ‘em CBA, so best join ‘em.

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