Outgoing Financial Markets Authority chief executive Sean Hughes has a lot he's proud of as the first boss of the new market regulator, but he's got time for one or two regrets as well.
“I would have liked to have spent more time with real New Zealanders because at the end of the day I’m here to serve the public and it’s a privilege to be in this position but I approach it with humility.
"I recognise that I’m paid for by the New Zealand public and that ideally in a perfect world I would have balanced my time between the government sector, the market and the investing public and it is my regret that I didn’t get to spend as much time with investors as I would have like to have done.
“But it is not unusual in setting up a new organisation that you spend most of your time focusing on laying the foundation stones and building the platform and I only hope that my successor has more of an opportunity than I’ve had to get out there and talk to the real mums and dads.”
More time with investors
“I would have liked to have spent more time with investors to understand what their concerns were, what their needs were around both education and information.
“I think we’ve tried to do work on improving the accessibility and quality of information that investors get about financial products. I still think there’s a long way to go. I still think investors have the unenviable task of trying to wade their way through hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents to try to understand what is being offered and what the risks they face are."
FMA chairman Simon Allen said Hughes had done an outstanding job leading FMA, from its establishment three years ago, to building credibility and confidence in the new regulator and financial markets.
The FMA board will seek an external agency to assist with the search for a new CEO and an appointment is expected to be made by the end of the year.
“While the board is naturally disappointed that Sean will not be continuing beyond the end of his three year contract, we respect his decision. We also recognise the significant work he has put into FMA’s establishment and its positioning in both the domestic and Asia-Pacific markets,” Allen said.
Hughes' first term as CEO was due to expire later this year. In explaining his decision not to go for a second term, Hughes said that the Financial Markets Conduct Bill, currently before Parliament will be a big part of the FMA's work ahead.
“That legislation is yet to be passed by Parliament and it seemed to me that this was an appropriate time to signal to the market that I was leaving and to give the board a reasonable opportunity to identify and appoint a successor and for me to be here to assist with that transition process.
“I have to say what attracted me to this role three years ago was the fact that I had a blank sheet of paper. That I was establishing an organisation and a brand and a reputation from scratch and that I had the privilege to lead a new bunch of people into the future.
“It’s really about my own appetite. I’ve really given the best of what I can give over the past three years. It’s been personally very enriching but also quite exhausting. I’m at a point where I thought the responsible thing to do was to send a very clear signal to my board that they needed to start thinking about my successor.
“What I didn’t want to do was just roll over into another term and in a couple of years time say actually I’ve had enough and I’m leaving – and leave midway.
“I think the responsible thing to do is send a very clear signal as to what your intentions are and that’s what I have done."
Hughes doesn't have another job lined up yet and will look at his options later. He has an open mind about what he will do next and where it will be, though his wife and family are in Melbourne, as his wife has a senior job with Telstra.
He has really enjoyed leading people, but points out that he has been involved in regulation for the past five years and before that he had done another three year stint as well.
“I think it’s important that leaders of organisations like mine have also relevant and recent market experience and I’m keen to look at options that may develop and challenge me in either sector, whether it be the public sector or private sector.”
Among the things he is proud of in his time with the FMA are the setting up of the body as a single regulator, the number of finance company changes completed, the completion of licensing and authorisation of financial advisers, the licensing of trustees and statutory supervisors and the implementation of regulation for auditors.
The FMA has also given a vast amount of guidance to entities such as issuers of securities, to kiwisaver providers and there has been work on investor education.
“When I look back at the record of things that have been done over the first three years I’m very proud of what the team have achieved.”
Hughes term officially expires in October, but he's going to make himself available till the end of December, says he will help the board if asked with identifying a successor and is hopeful of being around to help out the successor.
Asked about his priorities during his remaining time, he said: “I think the team needs stability and confidence around continuity going into the future and so I don’t plan on making any bold new decisions over the next few months. It’s really to make sure everybody understands what their role is. We are facing a challenging future as a regulator but also as the markets. The Financial Markets Conduct Bill, which is still yet to be passed does pose some really significant changes on the markets but also on this organisation and we will have to adapt to change to meet those challenges.
“Now, we are not going to go into hibernation. Necessarily we need to ready ourselves so that we can be there to assist the market to implement those changes and to deliver on the Government’s policies.”
Hughes said it had been an "immense privilege" to lead the FMA.
"Not too many people in their forties get an opportunity to lead and establish an organisation like this from scratch and to be one who has been able to set up the FMA and to be so visible as a leader is a gift I will take with me to my death bed. I have loved every moment of it. At times it’s been frustrating and exhausting but it is something I can turn to my sons and say that it is something I am most proud of in my career."