A poorly constituted e-mail sent on Melbourne Cup Day this week saw Westpac's full-year profit results potentially exposed before being finalised and lodged with the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). The revelation forced the institution to bring forward its results announcement to 4pm (AEDT) on Wednesday after halting trading of its shares two hours earlier in response to rumours the results were being distributed through the market. The corporate watchdog has launched an investigation.
Thirty-seven brokers and analysts from 16 broking firms received a spreadsheet by e-mail Tuesday evening that -- with some manipulation -- could expose blacked-out squares, including the current year's results.
Two analysts immediately contacted the institution, which distributed retraction e-mails to all recipients concerned -- one from the investor relations manager and another from the general counsel.
A severely embarrassed Westpac chief executive, Dr David Morgan, said, "the buck stops with me. "The accountability is absolutely mine. That's the way it is and the way it should be."
Westpac's chief financial officer, Philip Chronican, said yesterday any employees responsible could be in trouble.
"If we find out if somebody was negligent in the work then yes, of course we have to look at some disciplinary action, but that is far from clear at this stage," he said.
Your writer is going to head out on a limb and suggest that a mistake of a scale that forces the chief executive of one of the nation's Big Four banks to dust off the old "buck stops with me" line could be a career-limiting move. One hopes if any negligence (fuelled by Cup-day exuberance or not) is exposed, the person or persons responsible had put a tidy sum on Makybe Diva to help them get through any period of unemployment that may shortly transpire.
The situation ranks as one of corporate Australia's worst e-mail blunders. At a time when Dr Morgan and his executive team should be basking in the glow of a record AU$2.818 billion profit -- 11 percent up on the previous year -- they must deal with the fallout from a serious breach of market rules. One would guess a full review of how the institution communicates information to the ASX and market generally is on the cards -- almost certainly encompassing e-mail drafting and distribution protocols.
Without commenting on the as-yet unavailable specifics of how this incident occurred, it does expose the need for thorough training in -- and enforcement of -- the disciplined use of e-mail by individuals at work. At ZDNet Australia , we regularly receive e-mailed press statements in which frequently amusing document change histories remain visible, while law firm Allens Arthur Robinson is still living down the e-mail catfight between two of its secretaries in Sydney that spread like wildfire within and outside the legal community.
Does your organisation offer training in the appropriate use of e-mail? Do you have any e-mail horror stories you'd like to share with us? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your thoughts.
Iain Ferguson is news editor of ZDNet Australia.