15 February 2022

Meet Samantha Barrass, FMA Chief Executive

The FMA’S new Chief Executive, Samantha Barrass, joined the organisation earlier this month.  She talks here about what she wants to achieve for financial services in New Zealand.

Q: What attracted you to this role and to the FMA?
When I saw the role advertised, it seemed like the perfect job for me.  There’s nothing that the FMA does that I haven’t been involved in regulating in some way, at some point in my career.  I’ve also spent a lot of time leading organisations through periods of remit change and expansion. So it was a perfect fit career-wise.

On the personal side, it is also an opportunity for me to re-establish my links with Aotearoa New Zealand that were forged during the 20 formative years I spent growing up here.

Q: What are your top priorities?
The FMA is in good shape – there’s nothing broken and we have a good foundation to build from.  We want to maintain our track record as a smart, connected and proactive regulator. 

We also have to build the new capabilities we’ll need as the FMA’s remit expands to include banking, insurance and climate reporting. As part of this, we need to build our understanding of a whole new cohort of bank and insurance consumers, as well as investors.

My top priority is to get to know staff and really understand how the FMA works. I’m also looking forward to meeting people from the firms we regulate, as well as other government agencies.

Right now, it’s all about asking questions and listening - I’m at the beginning of a lot of coffees and a lot of cups of tea!

Q: What are your first impressions of the financial sector here in New Zealand?
Two weeks in, it’s a bit early to judge but I can see that things in New Zealand have largely kept pace with reforms made across the developed OECD economies after the Global Financial Crisis.  There’s a lot here that’s very familiar to me.

(Although one thing I did notice was that it was a lot more straightforward to set up a bank account here than I had thought, which was nice!)

Q: How will your international experience be relevant and help in your new role?
In two main ways.  Firstly, I’ve had a broad range of experience across all the areas that the FMA will be regulating.  At the (then) Financial Services Authority in the UK I was involved in supervising capital markets, as well as other regulatory experience at the London Clearing House, the metals exchange, and in wholesale and retail markets. As chief executive of the Gibraltar financial regulator, I was also responsible for audit and insurance regulation. 

Secondly, I have a strong track record of leading organisations through periods of change.  The FMA’s remit is expanding and this means we will be growing in size and scope with a lot of changes associated with this. 

Q: What do you hope to achieve as chief executive of the FMA – what will success look like? 
Ultimately, success for me is all about ensuring consumers and investors really feel the system is working for them; that they’re getting the products they need, when they need them and the products are delivering on the promises that have been made.

Another thing that’s very important to me is that I want to see we’ve worked well with Māori and that we can see tangible improvements in the Māori experience of the financial sector.  I’m enjoying learning more about Māori tikanga and how the FMA can embed this into its operations. I started te reo lessons while in London and look forward to continuing these.  Personal success will mean that I’ve done the mahi and can speak the reo!

I also want to see that we’ve brought the industry with us, they’ve been engaged with, listened to and that they understand and support the new regimes they are part of.

Firms need to have confidence that everyone is playing by the rules and that there’s commercial value in the consumer confidence that comes from that.

When it comes to climate disclosure and banking conduct, I’d like industry to want to be a part of this because they recognise this will build consumer trust and confidence and they will benefit from this.  

Our new insurance regime should lead to greater consumer confidence to be able to search for and buy the products they need.  That’s got to be the aim.

In summary, there’s a lot to do but a lot for everyone to gain.