05/03/2016 2:32 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Ian Narev: CBA 'Focused Too Much On Process Rather Than People'

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Ian Narev, chief executive officer of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), speaks during a news conference in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. Commonwealth Bank warned of the risks posed by global economic turbulence as the lender posted its slowest first-half profit growth since the financial crisis. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Commonwealth Bank chief executive, Ian Narev, says he's "saddened and disappointed" about revelations of alleged unscrupulous behaviour in the company's life insurance business and will apologise personally to those impacted by the failures.

A joint ABC and Fairfax investigation has uncovered that the CBA's insurance arm, CommInsure, rejected legitimate heart attack claims using an outmoded definition found in the fine print of policy documents.

Leading cardiologists are said to consider CommInsure's policy definition as years out of date and senior staff at the business were reportedly informed the heart attack definition was a problem.

Responding to media reports, Narev said the bank had let down those affected.

"It is clear that in relation to the customers who have been the subject of recent media enquiries, we failed to meet that responsibility," he said in a statement.

"I am saddened and disappointed by the handling of these cases. I will personally write to the customers concerned to apologise and offer to meet with them face to face."

He said in the reported cases CBA "focused too much on process rather than people", but noted that life insurance policies were usually complex.

"Claims processes involve the review and assessment of detailed documentation," Narev said.

"Whilst thoroughness is important for the integrity of the system, this must be balanced by customer need and dignity.

"Here, we got that balance wrong. We focused on details which caused delays at critical times for customers that needed help."

In his statement, Narev said the bank was deeply committed to being ethical.

He said in 2015 CommInsure paid more than $850 million worth of life and income protection payments to 22,000 people and their families.

"We will do our utmost to maintain the highest standards and avoid mistakes. But as we have said before, being ethical does not mean being perfect," Narev added.

"So an important part of being ethical is responding the right way to mistakes."

Those with queries about CBA life insurance policies are being urged to contact the bank.

More On This Topic