Mr McKeon said the company and the industry had to wear some of the blame for the way the public had turned on it, describing many of the reforms still being implemented today as long overdue fixes for “sins of the past”.
“I think if the finance industry and financial planners had done this some time ago many of the reforms that have come through in recent times would have come in not two or three years ago but 10 years ago, 20 years ago,” he said.
Mr McKeon said he was not aware that AMP’s relationship with the regulator was poor when he was chairman. He would not speculate whether it deteriorated after his departure.
He also declined to comment on whether the strategy behind the controversial sale of the life business driven by AMP’s chairman David Murray and acting CEO Mike Wilkins made sense, or whether the price achieved was fair, saying he wasn’t in a position to give an informed comment. AMP appointed former Credit Suisse banker Francesco De Ferrari to take the reins on December 1.
Mr McKeon agreed the troubled company had a long, hard road ahead to restore its reputation, but that was also a much broader problem facing not just financial services companies but all companies that had failed to meet community expectations.
“I don’t think it’s just AMP. It applies to a whole bunch of brands that have been at the least tarnished,” he said. Obviously some of the big banks have recently sold their business so they might think they don’t have to worry about it any more, but I think your question is far, far broader.”
The former Macquarie banker and philanthropist also laid down a challenge to others who attended the boat race – which included IOOF’s Chris Kelaher, AFL chairman Gillon McLachlan and JB Hi-Fi CEO Richard Murray – to take the time to really listen to what consumers were saying about their brands.
“We have a whole bunch of captains of industry next door who are now having a great time and I sure hope for every hour they spend in a place like this they are also going down to Woolworths at Rosebud, very different to Sorrento, and just listening to how their brands are really received,” he said.
“We are getting better information about what our retail markets think than ever before … we get a certain amount of information from our board papers but every now and then you have to pull on a brown jumper and go right under the radar and ask people what they really think.”
Mr McKeon said he did not think the demands being placed on directors today were too onerous, in contrast to some of the other boat-race attendees who were concerned about exposure to class actions and commissions of inquiry.
“I’m not someone who gets too concerned about the significant legal obligations that every director takes on,” he said.
“I’m probably the only person in the big room behind us that would say no … at the end of the day the director is yet another professional and the community at large has, I think, not only very high expectations of professionals but for the most part they are entirely justifiable.”
Mr McKeon said directors were supported by indemnity insurance if they ever needed it and he had faith that the legal system would ultimately “get it right”. He said that in the cases where the directors came up short they would inevitably come toppling down.