Bankwest still causing pain

Ian Rogers

The aftermath of Commonwealth Bank's 2008 takeover of Bankwest continues to distract management – and consume the passions of aggrieved customers.

On Saturday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the bank had hired security firm G4S two months ago to conduct surveillance on consumer advocate Michael Fraser.

The SMH cited a request from the bank to GS4 to photograph people Fraser met, so as to "allow for the identification of individuals". This was with the objective of trying to confirm if Fraser was receiving information from bank insiders.

This work also included attending a recent fund-raising dinner for Coalition senator John Williams, a long-standing critic of the banks. According to the SMH, the fund-raiser was organised by lawyer Stewart Levitt, who is behind the class action against the bank over the Storm Financial debacle.

Also attending was Geoff Shannon, who established the Unhappy Banking advocacy group. Shannon's barrister was also present, the SMH reported.

The immediate context of this effort by CBA is a claimed campaign of harassment, by Fraser, of one of the bank's executives. Banking Day has chosen not to identify this executive or be explicit about his work.

CBA said in a statement that "due to a systematic campaign of harassment, intimidation and threats to one of our employees by a person for almost 12 months, Commonwealth Bank confirms that it has implemented steps to protect the physical safety and general well-being of our staff member."

The bank said it had "informed the police of the harasser's activities."

Michael Fraser said yesterday that the bank was "clueless" as to the identity of his bank sources, even after the surveillance.

Fraser also said he had made an offer eight days ago, by text, to cease to "inform" the bank officer of his "activities". He said the bank did not take up this offer.

Michael Fraser's credentials are somewhat amorphous. The SMH described him as a "consumer advocate and anti-banking lobbyist."

Fraser trades under the business name The Arbitrator. On his website he describes himself as a "business advocate, activist, consultant, adviser and lobbyist."

He said yesterday that he had mostly been "not paid" for his work as champion of discontented bank customers but was beginning to earn a share of settlements won from the banks.

Fraser now also counts some companies among his clients.

The wider context to CBA's energetic response to Fraser, on top of the need to protect a staff member, is the long-running sore over its dealings with business customers of Bankwest who are angry about CBA's review of many Bankwest loans.

Many of these complainants ventilated their views via last year's Senate inquiry into banking but failed to generate much insight (or any redress).

The latest Senate inquiry, into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, is being used as an opportunity to prosecute similar complaints.

Geoff Shannon, the founder of Unhappy Banking, claimed in an email sent to supporters on Friday that he also has at least one whistleblower at the bank.