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The CBA culture wars continue


About John

I'm a financial adviser/investor of 25 years, specialising in minimising the impact of black swan events. Black swan events such as the GFC can be devastating and very difficult to predict.


Once again, the Commonwealth Bank is in the firing line.

This time it is under a cloud for, allegedly, not meeting its obligations to report suspicious financial transactions – and the media is having a field day.

Courting controversy, the Commonwealth Bank.

Courting controversy, the Commonwealth Bank. {Picture: iStock

Foremost among their comments/analysis/hysterics (pick your own descriptor), is the conclusion that the CBA has a poor culture and needs a better one.

Read more on this issue: Who thinks Ian Narev is worth $12M a year?

Well, call me pedantic, but I think that qualifies as nothing more than a giant SBO (Statement of the Bleeding Obvious), and a solution needs more than endless SBOs, like some deeper analysis.

Firstly, what is culture? In this context, it should refer to the values that drive expected norms of behaviour – that is, how are people expected to behave, as dictated by beliefs and values of the workforce? If somebody does the wrong thing, they will be pulled up by their peers, not just by the managers. It cannot be captured in policy procedures, memoranda or protocols.

Secondly, what is the current culture? It may not be as obvious as it seems at first. This must be the starting point of any changes and, without a good idea of where you are starting from, getting the changes right may prove elusive.

Thirdly, what would you like the culture to be, and how do you get there? Getting there can be difficult in a big, long-established organisation.

Yes, the CBA has taken a hit yet again, and it may yet suffer reputational damage.

It is early days, and if the final position turns out to be much less serious than first thought, well, it won’t be the first time.

Then there is technology. Defenders of the CBA claim that the whole problem centres on one software glitch, which was quickly fixed when identified.

This, however, highlights a very serious problem, not just in the CBA, but more widely.

Blind adherence to technology can lead to some crazy situations – just think of the comedy, Little Britain, where “computer says no”, or variants of that, lead to some crazy outcomes.

More seriously, a problem in the aviation industry is that some pilots, in some airlines, have become so reliant on technology to fly the plane, that their flying skills are degrading. No problem when the technology is working, but potentially disastrous when something goes wrong.

Let’s hear it for culture first, technology second.

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