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Norris makes another tough call

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 named to replace Ralph Norris who yesterday 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 limited experience as a banker.

In opting for Mr Narev, the board passed over the head of CBA's giant retail banking arm, Ross McEwan, 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 the CBA's sights.

Mr Narev has headed up CBA's business and private banking unit, a division that generates more than $800 million in annual earnings, for two years after joining the bank in 2007.

He 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 told reporters.

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 range from continuing global economic uncertainty to technology driving competition and bringing about new business models, and greater regulatory scrutiny.

Mr Norris, 62, yesterday labelled his decision to step down as a "bittersweet" moment. Mr Norris - widely regarded as a determined operator - nominated pushing through a series of out-of-cycle rate rises as one of the toughest decisions he 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.

However, the chief executive's role "is not to be popular", Mr Norris said.

Despite coming under intense criticism from politicians mostly around last November's super-sized rate rise, Mr Norris said 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.

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

CBA chairman David Turner described Mr Narev as "an extraordinary executive".

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Video: Business Editor Danny John discusses the CBA succession.


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