Next Generation CEOs for the Financial Services Sector

Navigating Complexity, Embedding Technology, Embracing Innovation, and Building Strong Cultures

The financial services industry has undergone significant change over recent years, with technology, regulation, and consumer preferences fundamentally changing the way business is done. As the industry continues to evolve, so does the role of its leaders.

While the traditional expectations of leaders – to generate returns, manage risk, and ensure compliance – remain critical, the dynamic environment demands a different set of attributes from CEOs than those required in the past.

Agility and Adaptability

The financial services sector is undergoing significant changes and CEOs need to have the ability to learn and adapt quickly to the changing environment. According to McKinsey & Co, CEOs need to have “a mindset of constant learning and reinvention” to succeed in today’s financial services sector. Similarly, Harvard Business Review states CEOs need to “embrace ambiguity, uncertainty, and change” and have the ability to think creatively and strategically to lead their organisations.

Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO of Macquarie Group, notes “The pace of change is only going to accelerate. The financial services industry is changing rapidly, and leaders must be able to navigate this change and adapt…”. Wikramanayake is one of the region’s most successful CEOs and was recognised as The Australian Financial Review Businessperson of the Year after delivering a record 2022 profit and making Macquarie a central player in the global energy transition.

James Gorman, an Australian, who has led Morgan Stanley since 2010, is also known for his sharp analytical mind and strategic acumen. Under his leadership, the business has transformed from a Wall Street investment bank into a wealth management powerhouse through a series of deals that have made the US wealth business an “asset gathering monster” and “killer machine” which now aims to manage US$10 trillion in assets. This emphasis on serving high-net worth clients has decreased the firm’s reliance on more volatile businesses such as investment banking and trading.

Technology, Digital Transformation and Automation

Today’s CEOs need to:

  • Prioritise digital transformation in their organisations to stay competitive in the digital era. This involves the adoption of digital technologies and the development of digital capabilities. According to Boston Consulting Group, CEOs need to “leverage digital technologies to deliver a superior customer experience, improve operational efficiency, and drive innovation.” These technologies will enable organisations to better develop a deep understanding of customer needs and preferences.
  • Have a strong understanding of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other emerging technologies to capitalise on their potential benefits. This includes investing in the right technology infrastructure and developing a culture of innovation within the organisation.
  • Prioritise data protection and cybersecurity to protect their organisations from cyber threats. According to McKinsey, “CEOs need to make cybersecurity a core business function and embed it into the organisational culture.” This involves developing a robust cybersecurity strategy, investing in cybersecurity technologies, and developing a culture of data protection within the organisation.

Culture Building

Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi, has spoken extensively about the importance of culture in financial services organisations. In an interview with The Financial Brand, Fraser noted that “a strong culture is critical to success in financial services.” She added that “we must ensure that our culture is aligned with our values, and that we are constantly striving to improve and innovate”.

Wikramanayake has been instrumental in simplifying the Macquarie Group’s organisational structure, reducing bureaucracy and empowering its 19,000 employees to take ownership of their work. She has emphasised the importance of a ‘one team’ culture, where employees across different business units work together to achieve common goals. In an interview with McKinsey & Co, Wikramanayake highlighted the need for leaders to have a clear vision, to be able to communicate it effectively, and to create an environment of trust and accountability.

Navigating Regulatory Frameworks

CEOs must ensure compliance with a wide range of regulations related to risk management, data privacy, anti-money laundering, and more. The regulatory landscape is constantly changing, and leaders must stay up to date with the latest developments and adapt their strategies accordingly.

According to BAIN, “CEOs need to have a deep understanding of regulatory requirements and be able to navigate through the regulatory landscape”.

Jessica Tan, Co-CEO of Ping An, has emphasised the importance of proactively engaging with regulators to ensure compliance while also driving innovation. In an interview with PR Newswire, Tan stated that “Regulators play a critical role in creating a level playing field for all players and in ensuring that the financial system remains stable and secure. We must work closely with regulators to identify areas where innovation can be safely introduced, while ensuring that we remain compliant with existing regulations.”

Gorman has also emphasised the importance of regulatory compliance in the wake of the global financial crisis. In a recent interview with The Australian, Gorman stated that “we must never forget the lessons of the financial crisis, and one of the most important lessons is the need for strong regulatory oversight. As leaders in the financial services industry, it is our responsibility to work closely with regulators to ensure that our institutions operate in a safe and sound manner.”


The financial services industry is going through a period of significant change, driven by technology, shifting customer preferences, and regulatory pressures. This has placed increased demands on financial services leaders. By embracing the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing financial services landscape, financial services leaders can play a critical role in shaping the future of the industry and driving sustainable success for years to come.





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