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Westpac appoints new chairman

The major bank has announced that a former ANZ CEO will become the successor to its outgoing chairman, Lindsay Maxsted.

Westpac has named John McFarlane, a former CEO of ANZ and the former chairman of Barclays, as chairman-elect and non-executive director of the Westpac Group board (subject to regulatory approvals).

Mr McFarlane will succeed the outgoing chairman, Lindsay Maxsted, on 2 April 2020.

As chairman-elect, Mr McFarlane will be responsible for appointing a permanent CEO, with an internal and external search process currently underway. 

In the interim, he will work closely with the acting CEO, Peter King, and the board to “effect needed change”, according to the bank.

The former ANZ CEO has extensive banking experience and was also previously a director of the Australian Bankers’ Association, where he spent two years as chairman.

Outgoing chairman Mr Maxsted welcomed the announcement, stating that Mr McFarlane is a “respected banking leader globally who brings to [the] organisation more than 44 years’ experience in financial services”.

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He particularly noted that the incoming chairman has worked across retail and wholesale banking and markets, as well as in life and general insurance. Mr Maxsted highlighted that Mr MacFarlane has board and public service experience, having been a main board director of five of the world’s leading financial institutions, including as executive and non-executive chairman, chief executive, executive and non-executive director roles.

Mr McFarlane was previously the chairman of TheCityUK, the UK’s coordinating financial services body, and was most recently chairman of UK-based bank, Barclays. Mr McFarlane retired from Barclays, after five years of service, in May 2019.

Whilst chairman at Barclays in London, Mr McFarlane reportedly helped the bank “streamline, reposition” and “sustainably returned to profit”, following the global financial crisis. He also helped deliver a “successful turnaround program at UK insurer Aviva”, and is reportedly “passionate about driving progress in the banking industry”, Mr Maxsted said.

“He has a proven track record in delivering results, along with cultural and organisational change,” Mr Maxsted continued.

“This experience, coupled with his strong customer and employee focus, will be invaluable to Westpac as the organisation executes its strategy and implements its response plan for the AUSTRAC Statement of Claim.”

Speaking of his appointment, Mr McFarlane said it was an honour to become chairman of Australia’s oldest company.

“People close to me know that on my return to Australia, I hadn’t intended to take another major leadership role. However, I’m passionate about the Australian banking sector, and I’m excited by the challenge of returning Westpac to its place as a leading global bank, following recent events. 

“To some extent, the internal and external challenges ahead for Westpac are not dissimilar to those in my last five financial institutions, and I have therefore grown comfortable about my capacity to work with the board and management to effect the necessary change. Nevertheless, I’m sufficiently battle-hardened to realise things can be tougher than you think and that in banking, nothing is ever certain.”

According to the incoming chair, his initial focus will be “resolving the company’s current issues, but equally important, to position it as quickly as possible for long-term success”.

“Fortunately, Westpac has wonderful core customer franchises, each with significant opportunity. 

“The appointment of a world-class CEO can take time. In the interim, momentum is important. I will work closely with Peter King and the board to continue to make any changes necessary. People should expect to see positive change during this period.”

Mr McFarlane paid tribute to the outgoing chair, stating: “I also realise that success isn’t only as a result of the efforts of current incumbents, but to the foundations laid over time by our predecessors. In this respect, I would like to pay particular thanks to Lindsay Maxsted for his significant contribution to the company and am proud to take over the role from a leader of his calibre.

“We will work closely over the next two months to ensure an orderly transition. However, we both wanted to move quickly with this announcement to provide certainty to the market and to assure it of our joint commitment to the success of the company,” Mr McFarlane said. 

[Related: Westpac appoints veteran to oversee AUSTRAC response]

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