“I said to the executive leadership group that it has been the biggest, most relentless year of my career – and I know this is true for many of our people at NAB,” Mr Thorburn told staff on the bank’s internal social media channel.
Gary Lennon, NAB chief financial officer, will act as CEO while Mr Thorburn is on leave. Two of Mr Thorburn’s most senior executives departed the bank this year. Chief operating officer Antony Cahill resigned in August to join Visa, while Andrew Hagger left the bank in September, six weeks after a damning appearance before the royal commission.
Mr Thorburn said the break over Christmas and New Year would allow him “to reflect and recharge” and spend time with his family while the long service leave was “a further chance to reflect and recharge and come back ready for what 2019 brings”.
Before he heads on his first vacation, Mr Thorburn will front shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting to be held in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Those shareholders are expected to deliver what could be the biggest “strike” so far against a remuneration report, with some insiders predicting 80 per cent of votes could be cast against the proposal.
Last week, shareholders cast a 64.2 per cent vote against Westpac’s remuneration report, the biggest “strike” for a so-called blue chip corporation.
The pay report rejections come at the end of a disastrous year for the banking sector after the Hayne royal commission exposed a litany of misconduct.
NAB was at the centre of the hearings that exposed issues with its mortgage “introducer” program, its superannuation business and its wealth management arm.
Mr Thorburn fronted the commission last month and was asked to explain why the bank took three years to resolve a fee-for-no-service issue and whether the actions of bank executives were “unethical”.
“I think it ended up being too technical and too legal. But the way I think of ethics, I don’t think this was unethical,” he said.
The royal commission’s recommendations are expected to have major ramifications for the banking industry and the regulatory environment.
Mr Thorburn, a dual Australian and New Zealand citizen, was announced as NAB’s chief executive in April 2014 and has been at the bank since 2005. He is 52 and has three children, all in their 20s.
Mr Thorburn has also had to deal with a procurement scandal in which his former chief of staff formed part of a police investigation.
An alleged scam involving overcharging and kickbacks was discovered by the bank late last year after a whistleblower tip-off.
The findings of an internal investigation were put to former NAB chief of staff Rosemary Rogers in December. Ms Rogers, whose own house was raided last week in connection with the investigation, had been chief of staff since 2009 and was a trusted colleague of Mr Thorburn and former CEO Cameron Clyne.
No charges have been laid.
In November, Fairfax Media reported that a luxury Fiji holiday taken by Mr Thorburn formed part of the police investigation.
In response, the bank pointed to text in its annual remuneration report that said “there had been control failings and breaches of policy in the office of the CEO and a small number of unintended breaches of policy by the group CEO”.
But NAB said in a media statement that the bank acted immediately on Mr Thorburn’s directions, and that the “matters have been resolved and closed to the board’s satisfaction”.
“If these allegations are proved to be true it is a very serious breach of trust and banking is based on trust,” Mr Thorburn told staff in April after NSW police raided three Sydney premises in relation to the alleged scam.