In a sure sign of the politically charged climate of banking in Australia, the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA) has picked former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh – a genuine bolter - to lead the powerful banking lobby group through a period of dramatic transition.
According to the ABA, Bligh – considered a banking outsider – will begin transitioning into the role, before former NAB executive and current chief executive Steven Münchenberg officially stands down after almost seven years as CEO.
Bligh, a decorated Labor premier but banking sector novice will present as free of both industry and political baggage at a time of intense public and political scrutiny for the sector, as calls for a Royal Commission into the banking sector refuse to die down.
The ABA’s first female CEO will commence in the role on 3 April.
ABA chairman, Andrew Thorburn, announced the appointment of Bligh to lead the ABA as it fights a running battle with deteriorating public trust, the sector’s reputational disintegration and the ascension of fintech disruption around the world.
Thorburn said Bligh’s focus will firmly be on the culture within banking and lifting respect for the profession; creating a strong vision for customers and on how the industry responds and leads on regulatory reform.
“As I’ve met with Anna I’ve seen the leadership, values and accountability she will bring to the role – and a willingness to confront and challenge the industry to continually improve," Thorburn said.
“Anna has a track record of community service and a strong ability to connect with people. She is highly regarded and respected by community, political and business leaders and understands the need for all stakeholders to work together to deliver the best outcome for customers.
“We have also heard the message from customers and from the public, and the industry is serious about change. The appointment of Anna demonstrates our commitment to this."
Significant national influence
Bligh said in a statement that banks are “critical to the strength and stability of our national economy and the prosperity and well-being of every Australian.”
“We all rely on our bank for the most important financial decisions of our lives, so we want a system that is open, fair and trustworthy," she added. “I am excited by this opportunity to lead and shape the reforms needed to strengthen public trust and confidence in our banking system.”
Entering Queensland Parliament in 1995, Bligh has more than three decades experience in public service, and still wields significant national influence. She is the current CEO of YWCA NSW, she has also been a non-executive director of Medibank Private Ltd since 2013.
Prior to her appointment at Medibank Private, she established a long and notable career in the Australian Public Service becoming the Queensland state’s first female Premier from 2007-201.
Bligh had previously served as Deputy Premier from July 2005, where she was also Treasurer and Minister for Infrastructure, running the $33 billion Queensland State Budget.
Formerly Minister for Finance, State Development, Trade and Innovation, Bligh also held positions as Queensland's first female Education Minister with further responsibilities across the Arts portfolio, overseeing construction of the Millennium Arts Precinct.
Bligh was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the Australia Day honours in January.
She holds Honorary Doctorates from the University of Queensland and Griffith University and the National Emergency Services Medal for her service during the Queensland floods of 2011.