10 minute read
With 18 years of experience in legal counsel leadership roles within international financial institutions, ANU alumna Cathie Armour is currently one of the Commissioners of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the country's corporate, market and financial services regulator. As a Commissioner, one of her areas of focus is steering Australia’s market regulation and enforcing its market-integrity laws.
In this interview, Cathie shares what she has learned throughout her career, the role of financial systems in community wellbeing and how her ANU degrees shaped her professional journey.
Q. Can you tell us about your career path and what led you to the role you're in today?
My career trajectory is underpinned by studying economics at The Australian National University (ANU); which introduced me to the world of finance. I also studied law and gravitated to working in the banking and finance teams within large commercial law firms. As a junior lawyer, I was seconded to an investment bank and had a front-row seat for the October 1987 market crash and its impact on financial markets. That period was followed by a stint in a Wall Street law firm in New York in the late 1980s, which further fed my interest in financial markets and their effect on our lives.
I joined JP Morgan in Australia, and through their international businesses saw the consequences of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and rode the exuberance and bust of the dot.com bubble. My time in investment banking continued with 11 years at Macquarie Group. I enjoyed being part of an Australia-headquartered business that was growing across the globe. Being part of an investment-banking team during, and in the aftermath of, the Global Financial Crisis was a terrific learning experience both personally, as a leader, and intellectually, as a corporate finance lawyer.
I thoroughly enjoyed my career in finance and had an expertise in financial markets and their regulation. I believe the financial system plays a critical role in the wellbeing of our community, so when an opportunity arose to apply for a role as an ASIC Commissioner I jumped at the chance. I want to make the most of this role and contribute to a fair, strong and efficient system for all Australians.
My career trajectory is underpinned by studying economics at The Australian National University, which introduced me to the world of finance.
Q. You have held senior positions in both the private and public sectors. How has your experience in the two shaped your management style?
Every leadership role, whether in the public or private sector, poses its own distinct challenges. I have had the privilege of working with teams of people with terrific skills and often market-leading technical expertise. Working with sophisticated teams means management is about creating a framework that allows team members to operate with confidence, and empowers staff to make key decisions and judgments about their work. In both the public and private sector teams I have worked in, having a shared sense of purpose has always been critical to success.
In the public sector, I have learned the value of having a little more patience as a manager. The issues we need to consider have the potential for much broader impacts than many commercial private-sector decisions. Public-sector teams recognise this responsibility and are committed to their agency’s mission. Often the input of a manager is to encourage teams to consider the breadth of consequences of a decision and to understand the diversity of likely views. I have learned to try to resist the instinct of a commercial manager for quick action. I’m slowly developing my capacity to consider an issue in a broader context, particularly its second-order influences in the financial system.
The financial sector has a key role in the global economic recovery.
Q. What role will the financial sector play in global economic recovery effort post COVID-19, specifically in balancing consumer and government expectations?
The financial sector has a key role in the global economic recovery. This is because the financial system serves our ‘real’ economy. It helps businesses raise capital and manage risk by providing avenues for investment and access to funds for all of us, allowing both investors and consumers to conduct their daily activities.
So far, the financial sector has played an important role in assisting business and government with responses to the COVID-19 lockdown. For example, Australian-listed companies have raised a significant amount of new equity in a very short space of time, to allow those companies to bolster their balance sheets during this time of business uncertainty. The financial sector has also taken steps to allow customers to defer their loan-payment obligations where they are affected by COVID-19.
ASIC is engaging with lending and leasing businesses and consumer representatives on how COVID-19 situations interact with the responsible-lending obligations.
Q. 'Responsible lending’ has been greatly scrutinised by the public in Australia. Do you foresee how such scrutiny will intensify in the coming years, taking into account the current global economic outlook?
‘Responsible lending’ is a requirement of our consumer credit laws designed to minimise the risk of consumers entering into an unsuitable credit contract. Broadly speaking, a product is ‘unsuitable’ if it’s likely the consumer can’t make repayments as they are due over the term, if they could only manage this with substantial hardship, or if the product won’t meet the consumer’s requirements or objectives. There has been discussion over recent years about how this concept of ‘responsible lending’ translates in practice, particularly in large financial institutions looking to conduct lending and leasing businesses as efficiently as possible to best use automated processes. Last year, ASIC updated its Regulatory Guidance on how it considered businesses could meet these responsible-lending obligations after an extensive consultation with industry, consumer organisations and other interested parties.
ASIC is engaging with lending and leasing businesses and consumer representatives on how COVID-19 situations interact with the responsible-lending obligations. In late April, we responded to the Australian Bankers Association on specific questions their members had about the way these laws would be applied in the current situation. The questions and our responses are available on the ASIC website.
It may be worth noting that the 'responsible lending' obligation was introduced in response to the Global Financial Crisis. After considering the impact of that crisis on Australians and our consumer protection policy framework, it was determined, amongst other things, that laws were necessary to introduce standards of conduct to encourage prudent lending and leasing in the consumer credit industry.
My ANU degrees introduced me to the intellectual ideas that have driven my career.
Q. How did your degrees at ANU prepare you for your career?
My ANU degrees introduced me to the intellectual ideas that have driven my career. It was the place where I learned how two key tenants of our society, our legal and financial systems, interact to contribute to our community wellbeing. By understanding the philosophies underpinning law and economics, I have been able to understand and operate in the ever-evolving world of financial regulation.
Leaving these technical benefits aside, at ANU I also met many people who are now my lifelong friends and whose careers I have shared in.
The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs in Economics. Click here for more details.