A man walks past a Westpac bank branch in Sydney. Photo: Reuters / Edgar Su

Australia’s Westpac Group on Monday announced full-year profits had fallen 16 percent to just under Aus$6.8 billion ($4.7 billion), as the impact of a major banking industry scandal continues to bite.

The Sydney-based bank, one of Australia’s four largest financial institutions, said a program to reimburse overcharged customers and an overhaul of its wealth management business were the main drivers of lower profits.

Excluding those costs, Westpac said earnings were still down four percent due to lower income from sales of insurance and wealth products as the firm abandoned its financial planning business.

Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer was frank in his assessment, describing 2019 as a “disappointing year.”

“Financial results are down significantly in a challenging, low-growth, low interest rate environment,” he said.

Westpac said it had repaid about Aus$350 million to 500,000 customers since 2017 as part of its work to address issues uncovered by a damning Royal Commission into the banking sector.

The inquiry, which ended in February, exposed rampant malpractice across the highly profitable industry.

It found banks had charged fees to dead people, charged fees for no services at all, used aggressive selling tactics and provided poor advice that led to significant financial upheaval for clients.

Westpac said it had acted “decisively” to implement recommendations from the commission and was focused on “putting things right” for its customers.

The bank cut its second-half dividend paid to shareholders by 15 percent to Aus$0.80 per share on the back of its poor result, bringing the full-year dividend seven percent lower to Aus$1.74.

Westpac shares were down more than one percent in morning trade.

AFP

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