Westpac chairman Lindsay Maxsted says one year should be enough time for the royal commission to get to the bottom of the banks' misconduct problems, stressing the inquiry cannot investigate all disputes.
After the bank's annual meeting on Friday heard of one dispute with a customer stretching back six years, Mr Maxsted said the upcoming judicial inquiry must look into some individual customer stories.
However, he said it was important the commission examined the detail of exactly how banks had handled the disputes, including their responses to problems after they had arisen. He also argued that the government's one-year time limit - which some view as unrealistic and inadequate - would be ample.
''We certainly don't see this.. as an exercise to revisit every single complaint that anyone's ever had against a bank, then it would go forever," he said.
"It's a question of focus and so on, but obviously that up to the commissioner to report back to the government," Mr Maxsted told journalists after the meeting in Sydney.
The comments highlight the potential challenge within the commision's brief. It must investigate "misconduct" across one of the country's biggest industries, which will require hearing from victims in what are often highly complex matters, within a year.
Leading academic experts have also predicted the commission will need to limit how many customers it hears from , given its wide brief and relatively short timeframe. However, large numbers of aggrieved bank customers are likely to push for their stories to be heard by the commission.
In a sign of the complexity of some disputes, the meeting in Sydney was addressed by one customer who had been in a dispute with Westpac for the past six years. Mr Maxsted said such cases typically involved the Ombudsman, the courts, arbitration, and settlement negotiations, and this should be taken into account by the inquiry.
Resolutions before the meeting passed without any significant opposition from shareholders. The remuneration report, which said chief executive Brian Hartzer was paid $6.7 million in the latest year, was backed by 95 per cent of shareholders.
Issues of conduct and bank reputation featured heavily in the meeting, with Mr Maxsted saying rebuilding Westpac's public reputation would be the bank's "biggest challenge" over the long-term. Still, he said he hoped the inquiry could ultimately have a role in "restoring trust, respect and confidence in Australia's already strong financial system".
Mr Hartzer said he hoped the royal commission could stop banks being attacked by politicians, even if it did uncover further problems.
"Banks have been a political football for too long. That's why we have now accepted the need for a royal commission to create certainty and confidence in our banking system," Mr Hartzer said.
Mr Hartzer conceded the inquiry might find "issues" in the industry, but he hoped it would also show the bank was acting to resolve past problems, and investing in customer service.
"The important thing about the royal commission is it's a turning point for the industry, in that we will finally have an opportunity to put this set of issues behind us as an industry, which is really important," Mr Hartzer said.
While the bank had viewed a royal commission as unnecessary, Mr Maxsted said it had last week changed its mind on a royal commission in order to end the uncertainty in the industry. Discussions with Treasurer Scott Morrison had commenced a week earlier, albeit at meeting called to discuss a separate issue, and bank chairmen had also spoken with each other directly, he said.
Mr Maxsted's opening remarks also highlighted the bank levy, which he said had seen the equivalent of 2?? a share go to the taxman, after banks paid the levy for one quarter.
He said shareholders had absorbed the impost this time, but the bank had not reached a position on whether it would be passed on to customers in the future. The bank would continue to push for the scrapping of the "highly inefficient and distortive tax", Mr Maxsted said.