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'Bold' CBA lines up its new chief

INCOMING Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev has vowed to continue driving the bank's customer-focused overhaul when he takes charge in December, in time to steer the nation's biggest lender through its centenary year.

INCOMING Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev has vowed to continue driving the bank's customer-focused overhaul when he takes charge in December, in time to steer the nation's biggest lender through its centenary year.

The 44-year-old, New Zealand-born, former management consultant was yesterday named as the replacement to Ralph Norris, who detailed plans to retire after nearly six years in the role.

The choice of Mr Narev took some in the market by surprise, given his relatively limited experience as a banker. In opting for Mr Narev (left) the board passed over Ross McEwan, head of CBA's giant retail banking arm, who was widely regarded as the front runner. An outside candidate, believed to be Brian Hartzer a former top ANZ banker and now an executive with Royal Bank of Scotland in London was also believed to have been in CBA's sights.

Mr Narev said he was humbled to be nominated to take charge of Australia's biggest bank from December.

"There will be some different style and focus to Ralph but there will be a strong continuity with the strategy," he said.

Investors gave support for the move to stick with an internal candidate, sending CBA's shares up 78? to close at $50.52.

Mr Narev said he was taking charge as CBA, like most large banks, was facing significant external challenges.

These ranged from global economic uncertainty to technology driving competition and bringing about new business models, as well as greater regulatory scrutiny.

Mr Narev joined CBA in 2007, and for the past two years has headed its small-business and private banking unit, a division that generates more than $800 million in annual profit.

Retiring chief executive Ralph Norris said his decision to step down was a "bitter-sweet" moment.

Mr Norris, widely regarded as a determined operator, cited pushing through a series of out-of-cycle rate rises as one of the toughest decisions he had made as chief executive.

"I was always aware of the fact that that was going to be controversial, but in the end I was in this position to make the tough decisions," he said.

Mr Norris has come under intense criticism from politicians, mostly due to last November's super-sized rate rise, but he said yesterday the bank had worked hard to patch up its relationship with the government.

Indeed, he took a "very gracious call" from Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday on news of his planned retirement.

He named as his biggest achievement the change in

the culture of the once government-owned bank to become a more customer-focused organisation.

"Obviously this day does have a bitter-sweet flavour. I'm looking forward to a less onerous role as a retiree," he said.

Mr Norris has previously said he would have failed as chief executive if his replacement had not come from within the bank.

CBA chairman David Turner described Mr Narev as "an extraordinary executive". He said Mr Narev knew how to cope with regulatory changes, economic changes, competition, and all the complexities that went with a fast-changing financial services industry.

"Put them all together . . . and Ian is absolutely the man for this job," he said.

Citigroup analyst Craig Williams said Mr Narev was a "bold choice". His biggest challenge was likely to be in retail banking, he said.

"Having conceded market share in mortgages and deposits for much of the past 12 months, one of the first decisions must be whether to preserve returns or play their hand as the lowest-cost, scale provider in the mortgage market in response to NAB's pricing initiative," Mr Williams said.


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