The rock’n’roll banker that is set to chair Aviva

Elizabeth Fournier
FORMER Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) chief executive John McFarlane is being touted as the next chairman of insurance group Aviva, after Sir Richard Broadbent passed over the role last month in favour of a move to Tesco.

The appointment of McFarlane, who currently sits on the board of RBS, is believed to be in its final stages, with an announcement expected in the next few weeks once FSA approval is given.

Born in Dumfries, McFarlane’s career actually began on the stage, with a stint fronting a Scottish rock group called The Sekrets during his university days in Edinburgh.

McFarlane then started work at carmaker Ford in 1969, spending six years in manufacturing before completing an MBA at Cranfield and moving into banking.

After stretches at both Standard Chartered and Citibank, he moved to Sydney in 1997 and ran ANZ for 10 years, during which he improved the bank’s cost-to-income ratio from 63 per cent to a much more reasonable 45.6 per cent.

While at ANZ, McFarlane was also faced with the tough job of dragging the bank out of a reputational hole, after it got caught up in a cash-for-comment scandal.

McFarlane was quick to admit his embarrassment in 1999 when ANZ was named as one of a number of Australian companies that had paid radio DJs to run favourable coverage of them disguised as impartial commentary.

McFarlane has been otherwise much praised for his structural reshaping of ANZ, termed the “breakout” programme. His plan involved widespread cost cutting and a refocusing of the bank’s efforts on its retail business, replacing the high-risk and emerging markets investments that its previous model had relied on.

After a decade Down Under he was widely tipped to take over from Sir Tom McKillop as RBS chairman in 2008, when the bank was close to collapse as a result of the financial crisis.

But Philip Hampton took that job and McFarlane has since maintained a number of non-exec positions, including at RBS, Westfield Holdings and Old Oak Holdings.

The appointment of McFarlane at Aviva will herald the end of a 10-month hunt for outgoing chairman Lord Sharman’s replacement.

It will also see him join Australian-born Trevor Matthews at the company, after the Friends Provident veteran was made UK chief executive on Friday in a surprise appointment following news that Matthew Hodges had left for insurance broker Towergate.

An Aviva spokesman declined to comment on the appointment.