ANZ Board Minutes: is the golden era of banking over?

ANZ Non-Executive Director, Ilana Atlas, doesn’t believe the “golden era” of banking is over.

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Despite challenges post-Royal Commission and a low-growth environment, she says there are still great opportunities and banks need to be optimistic.

" Boards consider [social] issues in context of what their company does and where it's appropriate for them to take a stand.” – Ilana Atlas“Every era brings new challenges and change,” she told bluenotes in our Board Matters podcast. “It's about seeing what opportunities the current environment provides us.”



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.”

Social priorities

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.”

Whole self

Beyond her work with ANZ, Atlas is also Chairman of Coca-Cola Amatil and Jawun – a not-for-profit organisation which manages secondments from the corporate and public sectors to a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partner organisations. She is also a Director of the Paul Ramsay Foundation and OneMarket Limited. With such a variety of roles in her portfolio, does she split her personality for each role?

“The reality is we're all very multifaceted,” she says. “We have lots of different interests, lots of different passions. But clearly when you are considering issues, you do consider them from the perspective of the shareholders of that specific company.”

Atlas says despite the differences of each company, she always brings her whole self to each board.

Looking ahead

And the priorities for ANZ’s Board in 2020?

“We will continue to work harder and also be more aware of the regulatory environment in which we live,” she says.

“So it's a matter of trying to balance being highly regulated with actually spending enough time on how to grow the organisation. There are huge opportunities available to us and we need to find them.”

In September 2014, Ilana Atlas joined ANZ’s Board as an Independent Non-Executive Director. Atlas brought a strong financial services background and legal experience to the Board, with roles at Mallesons Stephen Jaques (now King & Wood Mallesons) and Westpac on her résumé. She recently sat down with bluenotes managing editor, Andrew Cornell, as part of the Board Minutes series to discuss the golden period of banking, social issues and bringing her whole self to Boards.

Andrew Cornell is managing editor of bluenotes

To access more of the Board Minutes series, click HERE.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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