Atlas cites innovation in technology as one area which has created huge opportunities in banking but warns boards need to avoid standing still because of the risks involved.
“I think the challenge for boards at the moment is that this environment creates risk aversion [but there is a] need for speed [in banking] so [customers] probably would prefer [us] not to be as risk averse as the current environment is forcing boards to be.”
Atlas also says boards need to carefully assess where their role ends and a company’s executive management’s begins. “Boards need to constantly recalibrate that,” she says.
“In the financial services sector, we are highly regulated and the regulators seem to want [boards] to be more involved with management than I think we should be to satisfactorily perform our roles. So that's a challenge boards need to meet.”
When prompted on the role of companies taking a stand on social issues such as climate change or marriage equality, Atlas says the law requires [boards] to act in the best interests of the company and shareholders.
“We operate on the basis that we're acting on the long-term interests of shareholders and, to do that appropriately, you need to take into account all stakeholders [including] customers, employees [and] the community,” she says.
“For example, at Coca-Cola Amatil (where Atlas is Chairman) clearly it's important for the board to consider all matters to do with waste recycling, plastic [and] obesity. These are all social issues but they're all very much issues that affect the value of the company,” she explains. “I do think boards consider these issues in context of what their company does and where it's appropriate for them to take a stand.”