The Australian economy remains strong and pressure on households will ease as inflation moderates, Commonwealth Bank chief Matt Comyn believes.

“The rising cost of living continues to impact many of our customers and while most remain well positioned, we also recognise that some of our customers are finding the current environment very tough,” he told shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting in Sydney on Wednesday.

The bank was contacting every customer who came off a fixed-rate mortgage to discuss options and provide flexibility and financial assistance for those who needed it, he said.

“The economy remains fundamentally sound and we remain optimistic about the outlook,” Mr Comyn said.

He repeated his defence of the bank’s $10.2 billion cash net profit after tax for 2022/23, announced in August, while conceding it was understandably a focus for many people.

“Ultimately, the size of the profit is a function of being Australia’s largest bank,” he said.

More than 17 million customers chose to bank with CBA, trusting it to look after $900 billion of their savings and manage almost $1 trillion in loans, Mr Comyn said.

He added that more than 12 million Australians owned shares in the bank directly or through their superannuation fund.

Chairman Paul O’Malley said without a strong balance sheet, “we cannot support the Australian economy”.

In response to a number of shareholder questions, Mr O’Malley defended the bank’s support of the voice referendum and CBA’s $2 million donation to Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition, an issue he said the board considered extensively.

“We understand and respect that there are many different views in this society,” he said.

Mr O’Malley said CBA introduced its first reconciliation action plan in 2008 and its seventh in 2023.

“The benefits that we see from the voice are broad,” he said.

“As a bank, we are a better bank when we attract and retain the best possible talent that reflects the diversity of all of Australia.”

CBA does not have a representative mix of Indigenous employees but it is working to achieve that, Mr O’Malley said, as well as consulting with Indigenous businesses on carbon sequestration and on products that economically benefit Indigenous landowners.

Unlike the past three years, environmental activists did not attempt to forward a resolution related to climate change at Wednesday’s AGM and there were none of the protests of previous years.

Market Forces acting chief executive William van de Pol said that was due to CBA’s significant reduction in lending to fossil fuel expansion, backed by policies further restricting finance for new coal, oil and gas.

“Commonwealth Bank is miles ahead of Australia’s other big banks, ANZ, NAB and Westpac, which face shareholder resolution calling on them to stop fuelling climate change by lending billions of dollars to new fossil fuels,” he said.

But he added that CBA had more to do, with 350 shareholders presenting an open letter to Mr Comyn and CBA’s board calling for the bank to address its remaining gaps in climate policy.

CommBank’s policy fails to rule out lending to new liquefied natural gas processing facilities, and it could still finance “climate-wrecking fossil fuel companies” such as clients Glencore and Santos until the end of 2024, Mr van de Pol said.

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