What does your day job involve as General Counsel and Company Secretary at ANZ Bank?
Well, it's relatively frenetic.
I am addicted to my phone, so I get up early to run the kids around and sadly check it first thing to get into it straightaway.
All sorts of interesting and thorny issues end up with me, along with the great team we have at ANZ NZ. That's what the role of the General Counsel at a complicated organisation entails.
I like to really understand issues I have a say on and be as forward thinking as possible. Those issues include being above the cliff helping prepare for ongoing and substantial regulatory reform to the bottom of the cliff solving issues when things have gone wrong.
The amount of regulation that banks must contend with is increasing substantially. In that context, the role of the in-house financial services lawyer becomes more important in both interpreting and understanding laws and regulations and the business we work for and enabling that business to continue to grow. We've got to make sure that we give ANZ NZ the freedom to perform for our customers and compete, including in areas where our competitors aren’t subject to the same regulation.
What did your early career business roles teach you?
I did law and finance at Otago. But I’ve never worked in private practice. The day after completing profs I left for London. I worked in financial services businesses for a couple of years including on the trading floor at Salomon Brothers (‘famous’ for the book Liar’s Poker), at Lehman and ABN Amro in finance and compliance roles.
I went into a legal role at Henderson Global Investors working on their global retail fund offering and then moved into a property role for a number of years at Henderson structuring unit trusts for properties in London, Europe, Asia etc. There was a legal aspect to that role but there was also the business development side selling and structuring the investments to large global investors as well as structuring the products. It helped me understand risk appetite from a business perspective. So through that role, from a legal perspective, I learnt a lot about what to care about and what not to care about in terms of what mattered to the business. You can tie yourself in knots if you’re not focused on the right things. I think it made me better in performing in-house roles.
What are the challenges you and your team are facing that keep you awake at night?
The tsunami of regulation coming through keeps me awake, especially where that regulation puts pressure on the people implementing the reform and also those that are exposed to uninsurable and unindemnifiable risks. We’ve worked really hard at ANZ NZ to help both sets of people; it matters even more given the past couple of years.
Because there is personal exposure, you have to ramp up the level of protection that you're putting around these people. This drives conservatism. At the board level in NZ if there’s too much risk good people may be reluctant to take on governance roles.
In my role it's easy to take issues the bank faces to heart but at the end of the day, it's a job and you've just simply got to do your best. When it is stressful you need to be able to step out of that and get on with life. I've learned that throughout my five years in role. In the early days, I took things too much to heart but as you grow in a role you get to understand what matters and also observe and learn from people in similar roles as well as the Board. You realise you are much better performing when you're able to be calm, objective and to some extent bring an independent mindset.
How do you unwind and find that balance?
During a stressful period a couple of years back, I decided to look after myself better, eat well and do a lot of exercise. I run. I have done the Kepler Challenge twice and a few other marathons. We've got a place up north of Taupō Bay, which we bought when we were relatively young, and we got up there as often as we can. It’s a great place to chill out and forget about things. We've got three kids who are 11 to 14 and our weekends and early mornings and evenings are dominated by their sporting activities, currently cricket and water polo. Family takes priority over everything and it’s a message we try to get across to people in the team. We've had some very busy years with everything that's been going on. We've got people that work really hard and love the job but we try to make sure that they look after themselves as well.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I care about the people that I work with and for and the team. I'm very curious so I like to get into the detail and get my head around issues that I’m involved in. I like to be visible. I like to know and understand how each member of the team is going. We also have weekly calls with the team which we started during Covid and have kept going as they have been good when we can’t have face-to-face interaction. I'm naturally introverted so I'm not going to be giving long speeches, but if people have an issue and they come and talk to me, I believe I am supportive and willing to listen to what's going on.
What are some of the trends that you're seeing and how do you see the in-house legal profession evolving?
We're seeing younger lawyers being prepared to come in-house earlier in their careers which is fantastic. I think that trend will continue and we welcome that with open arms. The role of technology and automation will increase but not at the expense of the role we play as in-house lawyers.
The importance of the team will continue to grow particularly in the face of increasing regulation. Going back to what I said at the beginning, creating an environment for our businesses to out-perform will be an important focus for financial services legal teams within the regulatory framework that is being set. Teams that can create that environment will create competitive advantage for their businesses and its customers.