Departing deputy chair looks back at two-decade APRA stint

APRA stalwart talks about challenging experiences and 'most proud of' moments

Departing deputy chair looks back at two-decade APRA stint

Insurance News

By Terry Gangcuangco

Departing APRA (Australian Prudential Regulation Authority) deputy chair Helen Rowell (pictured), who has been with the regulator since 2002, has taken time to look back at the past 21 years before saying goodbye to the team that she is certain she will miss.

In a Q&A with APRA, Rowell cited three achievements at the watchdog that she had a role in and is particularly proud of. These are the introduction and implementation of prudential standards for superannuation; the Superannuation Data Transformation project and creation of the MySuper and Choice Heatmaps reports; and the evolution of APRA’s people framework and practices.

In terms of challenges, the biggest for Rowell were the global financial crisis and being a witness at the financial services Royal Commission. The latter, according to Rowell, was an experience she will be unlikely to forget.

“Obviously, it was important to represent APRA well in an environment of very intense scrutiny and criticism of the industry and its regulators,” she said. “I was extremely well supported by people across all of APRA to ensure I had the information and resources I needed to prepare and respond to the questions of the Commission, both in the lead-up to, during, and after the hearing.

“It was a great learning experience for me and provided useful insights for evolving APRA’s approach to regulation and supervision.”

Financial services then and now

Having been with APRA for over two decades, Rowell has a rare vantage point from which she is able to compare the financial services industry in its current state to how things were when she started out at the regulator.

Asked to identify the biggest difference, Rowell said: “There have been many industry changes over that period, reflecting the evolving size and complexity of the financial system and the entities within it; changes in business models and structures, and the evolution in the external environment, particularly technological developments and other external risks and opportunities.

“The increase in connectivity between entities across the system, both domestically and internationally, as entities use a wider set of partners and service providers to meet consumer expectations has increased the complexity of the risk environment within which entities operate and the speed with which issues can spread (as we have seen recently with the banking collapses in the US).

“Another key change would be the significant evolution of governance and risk management frameworks and approaches adopted by financial sector entities, with an increasing recognition of the need to adequately manage both financial and non-financial risks. That has been coupled with a much stronger focus by many entities on better meeting the needs and expectations of consumers, as well as shareholders and other stakeholders.”

Moving on

Of Rowell’s 21 years at APRA, a decade was spent as an executive board member and deputy chair.

Lifting the lid on her decision to move on, Rowell said: “I decided over a year ago that I would not seek a further five-year term. From a good governance perspective, it feels appropriate for APRA to follow the approach to tenure and succession planning that we expect of the entities we regulate.

“However, it also feels like the right time for me to pursue other challenges and have a bit more flexibility, including to spend more time with my husband who has been retired for a few years now.”

With her tenure ending in three weeks, Rowell wants the next three months to be about relaxing, being with family, and travelling.

“We have a trip to Europe planned for August, which includes visiting my son and his wife in Scotland and enjoying a cruise along the coast of Norway,” she shared. “We also have a rural property that I am looking forward to being able to spend more time at.

“Later in the year, I will turn my mind to what’s next, as I remain passionate about contributing to improved health and financial wellbeing for the Australian community and advancing diversity and inclusion. So, I look forward to finding ways to continue to contribute to those objectives.”

What are your thoughts on Rowell’s reflections? Share what you think in the comments below.

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