As crisis eases, APRA's Laker plans exit
Australia's top financial regulator, John Laker, will step down next year after steering the sector through a tumultuous period that has underlined the strength of the nation's banks.
Treasurer Wayne Swan said on Wednesday that Dr Laker would end his stint chairman of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority in June 2014, to be replaced by Wayne Byres.
Under Dr Laker, who has been in the position for almost a decade, APRA has earned a reputation for rigorous supervision of banks' financial health.
At the peak of the global financial crisis, Dr Laker played a key role in the sale of BankWest, then owned by ailing British bank HBOS, to the Commonwealth Bank.
Dr Laker, a former Reserve Bank official, was also closely involved in developing policies such as the government guarantee of deposits.
"Dr Laker has overseen the strength of Australia's financial institutions through one of the most turbulent periods for the global financial system in 80 years," Mr Swan said. "His tough supervision has helped to ensure our financial system remains one of the strongest in the world."
Key to Dr Laker's tenure has been overseeing the introduction of Basel 3 rules in the Australian banking system. He rebuffed calls by the major Australian banks, which argued they should be exempt from parts of the tough new rules given they escaped the worst of the financial crisis.
Even as the financial crisis appeared to be receding, at least locally in late 2009, Dr Laker famously issued a blunt warning to the sector: "Memento mori." The Latin term for "remember that you will die" was aimed at reminding banks of their own mortality.
The chief executive of the Australian Bankers Association, Steven Munchenberg, said banks had a strong working relationship with Dr Laker, despite often disagreeing with him.
He cited the latest wave of global banking regulations - with APRA imposing tough rules on Australian banks while also lobbying for the banks to be given special consideration where needed - as an example of this pragmatism.
"He does not easily change his views on things, which he would probably see as a good thing for a prudential regulator," he said.
Mr Byres has worked at APRA since it was formed in 1998.