Ross McEwan (left) and Allegra Spender

Hauled before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics on Wednesday – as all the big bank bosses are, periodically, since the damning Hayne Royal Commission – NAB chief executive Ross McEwan was asked whether he would consider a return to wealth management.

“It would have to be quite a dramatic change in the legislation to convince me to go back into that market and I have no plans to do so at this point in time,” McEwan said.

“I do think there’s a need. Australians do need to get advice, particularly as they get nearer to retirement, but it’s not a service we are in a position to provide.”

By now, the big four bank bosses have become accustomed to the question. McEwan’s answer pretty much stuck to the party line. The regulatory environment precludes the bank from providing the kinds of simple advice people need, without breaking the law or making a loss.

But for at least one member of the committee, the answer wasn’t good enough.

“A lot of Australians are finding this time very difficult financially,” retorted independent MP Allegra Spender, the former McKinsey & Co consultant who at last year’s election took the blue-chip Sydney eastern suburbs seat of Wentworth from Liberal Dave Sharma in the so-called “teal wave”.

“One of the questions I have is: are we missing an opportunity there for people who are in financial stress, by offering simple digital products to people or making suggestions to people that might benefit them financially that currently, given the regulation, banks are unable to provide?”

Spender noted there was still “uncertainty” about whether the government would implement Michelle Levy’s Quality of Advice Review recommendations in full, and whether the banks should or could do more.

As McEwan said, that will largely depend on how many of those recommendations the government will accept – and specifically, whether it changes its mind on the proposal to exempt banks from the best interests duty and subject them to a new ‘good advice duty’ to reduce the regulatory burden.

The Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones has expressed scepticism about the idea, making clear that super funds, and even insurers, are higher in the pecking order among the financial services providers who may be granted a more light-touch regulatory regime in a bid to encourage them to give more advice.

But Spender’s sudden and seemingly passionate foray into the debate may complicate things further for the government, which is already dealing with a strident response from the reviewer herself. Levy remains of the position that her recommendations must be implemented as a package, and that banks must be part of the equation.

Though she is a backbencher, and has no party affiliation (putting aside the observation that the teals as a bloc increasingly look and sound like one), Spender has some influence. The Albanese government might be popular, but it has a relatively slim majority of 2 seats in the House. There are 11 independents, of which Spender is one of the more high-profile of seven “teals” whose campaigns were backed by activist funder Climate 200.

She is a solid media and parliamentary performer, and given much of the upper executive ranks of the ASX 50 reside in her electorate, has the ear of business and vice versa.

Partly, Spender’s comments reflect savvy retail politics. She is invoking the households struggling amid a cost of living crisis, which is a smart tactic in the current environment. But it is understood that her office has also heard representations from industry lobbyists. And it seems likely that eastern suburbs-based advisers and other stakeholders have made their views known.