Financial services’ top female executives

While the gender balance of the executive ranks and company boards of financial services companies remain decidedly slanted, a growing number of women are breaking new ground in the upper echelons of the industry.

Related: Women in finance - breaking down barriers and stereotypes

Gail Kelly - managing director and chief executive officer, Westpac Banking Group 

Gail began her banking career in 1980, and by 2001 she had held various senior management roles in a broad range of areas including retail and commercial banking, strategy, marketing and human resources. 

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Gail has spent the last 10 years as chief executive officer of two Australian banks: St.George Bank from 2002 to 2007, and Westpac from February 2008 to date. 

Gail is a non-executive director of the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Bankers’ Association and the Financial Markets Foundation for Children. She sits on the Global Board of Advisors at the US Council on Foreign Relations and is a member of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust. Gail is also Care Australia’s Ambassador for Women’s Empowerment. 

She is the only woman in charge of a ‘Big Four’ bank. 

Marianne Perkovic - head of advice, Commonwealth Bank of Australia 

Marianne started her career as a graduate in the technical services area, but quickly decided she wanted to be a financial planner. 

She approached Barry Lambert for a job at Count Financial, with a plan to work there for five years and open her own business. 

She ended up staying at Count for more than 11 years, rising through the ranks and becoming the firm’s chief executive officer. 

“In coming to Count and looking at the industry, I could see that the industry needed a change,” Perkovic said. “I thought I could have greater influence running a licensee rather than becoming a financial planner. That’s why I stayed at Count and had management opportunities there.” 

From there, she moved to Colonial First State (CFS) as general manager of distribution, but was soon promoted to head of advice. 

Following Brian Bissaker’s departure from CFS and the internal restructure, Perkovic’s role transitioned to the Commonwealth Bank. 

“I have always been a strong advocate of diversity and encouraging more women to come into the workforce, but you can’t deny that there has been a boys’ club culture; but it is changing – especially in the BDM community.” 

Pauline Vamos, chief executive officer, ASFA 

As the head of ASFA, Vamos is a familiar face in the superannuation industry, having built on her career in financial services for the past 25 years. 

Vamos worked with Treasury on the Stronger Super peak consultative group to advise the Government on best practice for the implementation of the reforms. 

She also sits on the Superannuation Roundtable, Infrastructure Finance Working Group and the Advisory Council for the newly established Centre for International Finance and Regulation, and is also a board member for the Banking and Finance Oath. 

Vamos started her career as a lawyer before moving into insurance broking in the mid-1980s. 

She formed the ‘Women in Tower’ group to support and mentor women during her tenure at Friends Provident/Tower Life. 

As a director at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Vamos was responsible for 20 projects related to the Financial Services Reform Act and the Managed Investment Act, employing at least 50 per cent female staff in senior management positions. 

Following a two-year stint as a legal, compliance and regulatory officer, Vamos was appointed to lead ASFA in September 2007. 

Michelle Griffiths, chief executive officer, AVSuper 

As the head of public offer fund AVSuper, a position she has held since 2007, Griffiths oversees the retirement savings of more than 6500 members with funds under management of $1.4 billion. 

She chairs the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) branch of Women in Super (WIS), having successfully made the switch from media to the superannuation industry about 15 years ago. 

Prior to her involvement in the superannuation industry, Griffiths had a successful management career in the fashion and music industries and originally trained as a journalist and professional writer. 

Griffiths’ parting note to her high school was an anonymous quote written in the school year book; ‘the woman who strives to be merely equal to man lacks ambition’. 

Cate Wood, president, AIST 

The national chair of Women in Super (WIS), Wood has played an active role in highlighting women’s issues in the superannuation industry. 

In her early career with the Australian Services Union, Wood worked with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and chaired the ACTU Women’s Committee. 

She played an active role in helping develop the affirmative action plans, equal employment opportunities and industrial issues relating to matters like women’s pay in the late-1980s. 

Wood was appointed as the director of industry fund AGEST Super (which has since merged with AustralianSuper) in 1996, following time out of the workforce with small children, and held the position until 2011. 

She is the President of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and also chairs its education committee. In addition, she is the deputy chair of Care Super and a board member on the ACT Investment Advisory Committee. 

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