NAB CEO Ross McEwan (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

The acquisition by IOOF of NAB's wealth management arm MLC brings to an end one of the most sordid periods in Australian corporate and political history -- one in which the biggest and most important companies in Australia systematically ripped off their customers, all while politicians defended them.

Fueled by the dream of vertical integration, the idea of cross-selling bank customers financial services and clipping the ticket on the growing pool of compulsory superannuation savings, the big banks began buying up fund managers and insurance companies 20 years ago, when the Commonwealth Bank acquired Colonial.

Other big names were soon ticked off. Westpac bought BT, NAB got MLC. ANZ teamed up with ING. Smaller fund managers and insurers were swept up along the way. The deals created armies of financial planners to sell bank-owned financial products and insurance policies to bank customers, as well as a new breed of star fund managers like Chris Cuffe, Kerr Neilson and Hamish Douglass, who made millions and were feted by the business press.