Much more yet to do

Rob Everett, The Financial Markets Authority

Appointed as CEO of the Financial Markets Authority in 2014, Rob Everett has enjoyed a successful tenure in a role working to enhance the importance of focus on customers for New Zealand financial institutions.

Taking time to sit down with MEttle, he reflects on highlights of his seven years in the role and, with the recent announcement of his move to CEO of NZ Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP), what his future holds.

Rob Everett is proud of his seven years as CEO of the Financial Markets Authority (FMA), particularly about what has been achieved working alongside the Reserve Bank to build and strengthen public trust in the financial sector.

“Over my time at the FMA, we have been active in setting robust frameworks across a broad range of products and sectors, including anti-money laundering, financial advice, derivatives, managed funds and insurance. We have also built a strong track record of enforcement, with a number of notable court proceedings and sanctions, we have published high-quality guidance on our expectations and have built a culture of constructive engagement with industry.”

Highs and lows

A highlight of Everett’s time at the FMA was the pivot towards assessing conduct and culture outside FMA-licensed sectors, such as advice, managed funds and derivatives. This he says was undertaken alongside the Reserve Bank and incorporated a joint review of conduct frameworks within banking and insurance.

“This really broke the mould for us in terms of supervisory collaboration, and it pushed to the fore the need for consumers to be able to trust that banks and insurers are designing their operations to treat their customers fairly.

“The review led to the Conduct of Financial Institutions (CoFI) Bill, which closes a large gap in the regulatory regime, introducing conduct regulation for banks, insurers and non-bank deposit takers. The Bill will broaden the FMA’s remit well beyond our initial focus under the Financial Markets Conduct Act on investors and investment products to cover a much wider range of financial services.”

On the flip side, Everett admits to disappointment in the lack of engagement from the broader industry on the themes laid out in FMA’s Conduct Guide issued in February 2017. Beyond the FMA-licensed sectors, in his view the broader industry didn’t pay much attention and did little to adjust their business practices, which was a strong feature of the reviews undertaken with the Reserve Bank.

“We found only patchy evidence that the banks and insurers had learned any lessons from the Australian Hayne Royal Commission, which was ongoing at that time. As is well known, the commission highlighted some scandalous conduct within the financial services sector and led to the departures of a raft of board chairs and chief executives.”

Anti-complacency

Originally from the UK, and working at Merrill Lynch in roles around the world for years, Everett’s international outlook led him to be surprised and concerned when he arrived in New Zealand by the lack of awareness of – and lack of focus on – what was happening elsewhere in the world in relation to treatment of customers within financial services.

“There seemed to be deep complacency that such issues wouldn’t appear in New Zealand, and I just didn’t share that confidence.”
Everett was also struck by the close inter-connectedness of financial services and business generally within New Zealand.

“It is something to consider and watch, particularly when it comes to managing potential conflicts. On the plus side, as a regulator you can reach the decision-makers and drivers of behaviour in the industry far quicker and less formally than is possible somewhere like the UK or the US.”

That said, Everett observes there’s a growing awareness within the industry of what it means to put the customer first, and he has witnessed several positive changes in the market over time.

“Doing the best and fairest job for customers has to be to be embedded in the company culture, with the appropriate inclusion in all core processes and systems.”

“My discussions with boards – including some outside of financial services – tell me that directors are keen to understand how to do the best and fairest job for the customers. They know that this has to be more than glib slogans or an occasional board agenda item. It has to be embedded in the company culture, with the appropriate inclusion in all core processes and systems.”

Much more yet to do

However, there’s no doubt in Everett’s mind that there is still much work to do, and he believes the financial services industry in New Zealand will flourish if it remembers the customer is at the centre.

“This sector provides vital products and services to pretty much every New Zealander including advice, insurance, banking, managed funds and investment products. This requires confidence that the financial products and investments that are being offered and sold are being done so honestly and fairly.”

Beyond this, Everett believes that when it comes to directors’ duties, company law is decades behind where it should be.

“The current focus on duties to shareholders has no explicit acknowledgement that companies form an important part of society and our overall economic ecosystem.

“There needs to be proper discussion around companies being responsible for how they treat employees, creditors, suppliers and the environment. Other jurisdictions have shifted their company law to make these responsibilities much clearer. The current focus on ESG matters, climate change and responsible investing makes this all the more important.

However, he is full of admiration for the job done by directors at the smaller end of the scale.

“I wish to salute directors working in small, thinly-resourced companies, and those in the early stages of their development or in high-risk, volatile sectors. Failing needs to be acceptable otherwise no-one will take the risk to set-up a new business. Those directors are not doing it for the money or the status; they constantly face difficult decisions, and without them their businesses will struggle. Any change in company law needs to take that into account.”

“Public trust and confidence in corporate and financial services sector is critical to our economic recovery.”

New beginnings

As his time at FMA comes to an end, Everett reflects.

“I have loved working with the passionate and committed staff at the FMA and I’ve been honoured to serve all New Zealanders in my role. I’m proud to hand a strong and experienced team to the next Chief Executive.”

Everett recognises that these are tough times to be operating in, and he hopes that the FMA can assist organisations wherever possible into the future. More generally, he acknowledges that public trust and confidence in corporate and financial services sector is critical to New Zealand’s economic recovery, and applying a relentless focus on what this sector delivers to customers and investors goes a long way to building that trust.

As he prepares to step into a new role as CEO of NZ Growth Capital Partners, Everett says he’s enthused about the intersection of early stage growth investing, mainstream investing and capital raising.

“I’m excited at the opportunity to assist early stage and growth companies in developing their businesses and finding investors who are aligned to their goals and their values.

“We have a world-class entrepreneurial and innovative tech sector here in New Zealand, and it can help us re-shape our economy. I know too that New Zealanders are proud of the cutting edge companies operating here and want to support them.”

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MEttle, a collection of stories and interviews with influential New Zealand business leaders, curated by MinterEllisonRuddWatts.

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