Australian Securities Exchange is 'On Top Downunder’

By: The WFE Focus Team Jan 2022

The pandemic has brought many changes to the way we work. In your view, what changes are here to stay that will shape the workplace of the future?  

The desire of employees for flexible work arrangements is here to stay. Those businesses that can adapt to this without compromising overall productivity will have a competitive advantage, including when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

Many companies are decreasing their office footprint, with the workforce of the future not bound by geography or location. Technology means we can do what we need to from anywhere and at any time. Within reason, this should be embraced.

In saying that, I firmly believe that there are huge benefits to having in-person engagement with colleagues and clients.

There should always be a workplace where we can come together, collaborate, share information, solve problems and build social connections. Some of the best ideas come from the unplanned hallway chats or coffee breaks with colleagues, where the mind and conversation are relaxed and free to wander.

As an operator of critical financial market infrastructure, ASX premises remain the primary place of work for many employees. For others, working remotely for a number of days each week, or on an ad-hoc basis, will continue to offer benefits for individuals while delivering the right outcomes for our customers and business.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for your exchange in the year ahead? 

ASX is continuing its technology transformation journey. When CHESS replacement goes live in April 2023, a significant upgrade program across all levels of our equities technology stack will be complete, with the average age of our technology dropping from over 13 years old to 4 years old. The world is watching our implementation of a distributed ledger – or blockchain - technology to replace the CHESS clearing and settlement system. Getting this right is a huge and complex endeavour. But it’s exciting too. The opportunities replacing CHESS with blockchain technology presents for our participants and the overall financial services is immense.

Another key opportunity for us lies with ASX’s DLT as a service, Synfini. The world is progressively moving to ‘as a service’ offerings, with the pandemic accelerating this shift quicker than expected. It has enabled faster digital transformation and increased tech adoption.

Synfini provides customers with access to ASX’s DLT infrastructure, data hosting, ledger services and support. This eliminates the need for organisations to build, run and support their own environment, reducing cost, complexity and risk.

As far as challenges go, while in 2021 ASX had the most number of listings since 2007 - close to 250 - public exchanges continue to grapple with emerging asset classes, such as crypto, and with balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders with simply satisfying what is currently popular.

Public exchanges should never get caught in a race. ASX, for example, aims to be right not necessarily first. That is, what’s right for the market in the interests of long-term market quality. Ultimately, that’s in everyone’s best interest.

Notwithstanding ASX having a record year for listings, other records are being broken too by the likes of private equity (PE) firms and M&A activity. The Economist recently reported that in the first 11 months of 2021, PE firms secured over 13,000 deals globally, worth a combined $1.8 trillion – more than in any previous full year.

We are very alert to the challenges and the increasing competition for companies to come to public market, whether it be from PE or growth in superannuation or pension and sovereign wealth funds. We need to think deeply about how we, as a public exchange, continue to meet the needs of the marketplace, providing capital efficiently, competitively and sufficiently to ensure price discovery, liquidity and access for investors to build wealth for their futures.

What was your most memorable moment this year as a leader?

One of the essential qualities of leadership is adaptability. This can occur at the individual and enterprise level. Like me, I’m sure many CEOs marvelled at the ability of their people and organisations to adapt to changing circumstances throughout the year. As the pandemic developed, so too did the health advice, our hybrid working arrangements, the requirements of regulators and the needs of our customers. Challenges were sudden and often serious. We were constantly on our toes. We learned to expect the unexpected. I am immensely proud of the way ASX adapted to changing conditions, while continuing to operate markets of integrity. We processed near-record volumes, managed the growing needs of our various stakeholders and, as importantly, found time to preserve our own wellbeing.

What are three key industry themes you will be focused on in 2022?

Accelerating digitisation and technology advances: Our customers expect us to be at the forefront of technology to provide contemporary and reliable systems that allow them to operate efficiently and with certainty. We are building an exchange for the future that makes business easier for our customers.

Protecting our businesses from the threat of cyber attacks: As companies globally continue on their own tech transformation journey, the threat of cyber attacks remains an ever-present risk that needs to be managed. Attacks are increasing in both frequency and complexity. These nefarious actors are no longer lone individuals with a computer in their parents’ basement. They are groups of people – possibly state-sponsored or organised crime – that are well-funded, well-organised, highly motivated and very sophisticated. Organisations ignore this threat at their peril.

Pursuit of talented work forces: Organisational success hinges on having the right people. We are in constant competition with other firms for the best and brightest. Demand is particularly high for skilled and talented workers with a STEM (i.e. science, technology, engineering or maths) background.

The pandemic has added complexity to addressing the skills shortage. Last year (2020), Australia’s net overseas migration dropped into negative levels for the first time since World War II. This means that there were more migrants leaving Australia than arriving. The story is much the same in 2021.

Attracting and retaining talent has always been a key focus for ASX, but in tight hiring markets (we’ve all heard of ‘the great resignation’), this is more profound. You can’t stop people from being poached, but I think there is always more that we can do to keep our talent from looking to leave.

Tell us one thing that will change in 2022 and one thing that won’t?

One thing that I think won’t change is the momentum behind ESG issues in business. Awareness about emissions and carbon footprints, ethical supply chains, and customer and data privacy are more topical than ever before.

This momentum will intensify as millennials will soon outnumber the baby boomers in the workforce and make their way into management positions. Driven by values and purpose, the millennial cohort is the most vocal when it comes to calling out societal issues. They are not afraid to voice – and action - their desire for change.

One thing I think we all hope changes is the amount of time we spend in virtual meetings. The pandemic has reminded us of our innate need for in-the-flesh contact with other human beings. As beneficial and enabling as virtual meetings have been, I think the novelty’s worn and old fashioned has its place!


The views, thoughts and opinions contained in this Focus article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the WFE’s policy position on the issue, or the WFE’s views or opinions.