"Embrace diverse ideas and perspectives": Q&A with Simon Weaver January 2019

Simon+weaver

In his new role as the Sydney-based head of Australasia for Willis Towers Watson - a move which has delighted his kids - Simon Weaver talks to Industry Moves about the financial services industry's "volatile environment" and the shape of its future post-Royal Commission. He also touches on the current worldwide focus on culture and governance and the industry's gains in regards to gender diversity and inclusion, an issue that he is particularly passionate about.

The Hayne Royal Commission report is due shortly. How do you think this will shape the future of financial services?

There’s no doubt the financial services industry can do more to meet community and regulator expectations. One of the interesting things for me will be how Commissioner Hayne’s findings and recommendations dovetail in with the Productivity Commission report.

But we’re already seeing impacts from the Royal Commission when it comes to insurance for the financial services sector. Most, if not all insurers, are including Royal Commission exclusions as they write Australian financial institution risks. Australia remains a volatile environment for financial services, which is a combination of the Royal Commission and a highly litigious culture. Directors’ and Officers’ Liability here is especially tough; there’s been a lot of large claims from shareholder class actions and these are expected to continue in the wake of the final report.

You mentioned community expectations – what does that mean for the superannuation industry?

APRA has already clearly signalled that funds need to focus on member outcomes and this is a major theme that also underpins the Royal Commission and the Productivity Commission report – doing the best for members.

The new Member Outcomes prudential materials issued by APRA include some significant changes among the final requirements, but the overarching sentiment is that trustees can no longer have a ‘set and forget’ or wholly compliance-focused approach.

Our retirement team is highly experienced in helping funds with strategies to put Member Outcomes first and foremost, particularly with their business planning.

"I’m also very pleased to see the superannuation industry has lifted female representation on trustee boards. The latest APRA figures are very heartening to see the progress being made."

What do you see are the other major issues for financial services this year?

There’s a big focus on culture and governance worldwide and that’s a significant conversation we should be having with asset owners, including superannuation funds. There’s a strong need to pursue best practice, not only in investment models, but in an organisation’s people and business models. This has gone from being a ‘nice to have’ to a matter for survival in the Australian market, given the global forces for change and the continuing calls for consolidation in our industry.

We’re still in a low return environment, so getting an edge is vital to investment performance, in a way that manages risk while taking opportunities. But there are other issues. As a company, we look to promote inclusion and diversity and it’s something that I’m personally passionate about. We were thrilled to be included on Bloomberg’s 2019 Gender Equality Index which recognises organisations who are committed to transparency in gender reporting and advancing women’s equality. It’s all part of ensuring we embrace diverse ideas and perspectives and that’s crucial to our ongoing success.

I’m also very pleased to see the superannuation industry has lifted female representation on trustee boards. The latest APRA figures are very heartening to see the progress being made.

How are you settling into Sydney?

My kids are delighted. I split my time between Asia and Australasia last year but we made the permanent move as a family early in December and only got into our house a couple of weeks ago. I’ve spent probably the last 20 years of my career working in Asia so this is a wonderful opportunity for us and we’re very much looking forward to enjoying the Sydney lifestyle.

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