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The career moves that led Matt Comyn to become CommBank's youngest CEO


In this renowned series by UNSW Business School, CEO and Managing Director of CBA, Matt Comyn, shares insights into his 20-plus years’ experience in banking and discusses the true cost of the coronavirus pandemic for CBA and its customers. 

With more than 2000 registrations from across the globe, our first ever virtual Meet the CEO aired on 23 September. Hosted by Mark Scott AO - Mark Comyn shared details of his CBA journey, from his first project developing online car insurance, to becoming the Managing Director of Commonwealth Securities (CommSec) and now the CEO of Australia’s largest bank. 

Commencing his CBA journey in 1999, Matt undertook the role of Business Analyst in the Institutional Banking division where his first project was working on an actuarial model for car insurance ratings. “At the time, I had very little background and understanding of technology. I was very lucky because the people I was working with made huge investments in me over the years, and I got to work in part of a group that were investing into a lot of interesting technological changes - and at scale,” said Matt. 

At just 30 years old, Matt became the Managing Director of CommSec, Australia's largest online stockbroking firm operated by CBA. When quizzed on whether he felt equipped for the role at such a young age, he recognised that confidence and preparation mainly come from experience. 

“In any role, there are various points where you might feel young and perhaps not entirely prepared for every scenario. Inevitably, you will always face different professional challenges, but working through those situations is what builds that confidence. 

“I’m so lucky to have been given enormous opportunities at the bank over the years, in good times and in bad. I was running CommSec during the best bull market and then into the GFC - both experiences were huge development opportunities for me,” he said.

After more than ten years at CBA and working almost all of 2009 to help restore their reputation post the Storm Financial Crisis, Matt made the decision to leave. “I really enjoyed my time (at CBA), I was given great opportunities and really respected the leaders; I just felt like I was at that time where I wanted to pursue work internationally, so I went to work at Morgan Stanley. 

“About five months went by, and I had a planned catch up with Ian Narev (former CEO of CommBank), we got to talking and he asked if I would ever consider coming back to work for CBA. I was hesitant at the time, but after some discussions, I did end up returning (as the Group Executive Retail Banking Services).”

Mark Scott made comment that many people think they need to change jobs to advance; that the career trajectory is all about leveraging off opportunities and the only way to do that is by moving around. 

“At CBA, we invest a lot of time in talent management and provide career trajectories within the organisation, so people don’t feel like they have to go elsewhere to advance. When I left, part of my thinking was that maybe I was going to be institutionalised, and I needed to demonstrate that I can be successful in another organisation – when really that wasn’t the case. 

“However, in hindsight, I found it to be a really good thing. When I returned, I felt as though I recommitted to the organisation and I was even more passionate and enthusiastic about the role,” said Matt. 

In 2017, CBA faced a huge low with the emergence of the AUSTRAC case. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that then CEO, Ian Narev, would be leaving the bank. A lot of speculation at the time was that CBA would need to search outside the bank for new leadership, but against the odds, Matt was appointed CEO. 

“The appointment of any CEO is a real challenge. Particularly when the process plays out so publicly. When interviewing for the position, my approach was to demonstrate not only why I was the right person for the role, but what I would do in that role. 

“There were three things I needed to talk about. One, the current diagnosis of CBA and room for improvement. Two, what my priorities would be if appointed and why. And three, how I would work with the board and what they could expect from me. I did my best and I’m very grateful for the trust that they instilled in me.” 

Appearing before a parliamentary committee earlier this month, Matt stated that the size of the of the economic contraction is less severe than first anticipated, but we face a long and uneven recovery. Mark Scott pressed Matt for his thoughts on how the property market may hold up as we head into 2021. 

“So far, the property market has been more robust and resilient than we expected. 

“In March, we projected a fall in house pricing of around 10 - 12%, but just last week, our economics team increased their forecast of house prices falling much less; by about half of what was originally projected.

“There’s been a number of other economic forecasts that have increased over the last week or two. Some of the Jobs data is much stronger than we were expecting. 

“In terms of new listings coming onto the market, they’re also much higher than we expected. Some of the government policies and incentives have brought forward some of the demand. However, inner city areas, particularly in the rental market, are dependent on people who are temporary or recent arrivals in Australia – so we do see some softness in those markets.”

In a two-minute quick-fire round of questions, Mark asked Matt what his favourite thing is about being a CEO. Matt smiled, “the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives, not just the people who have worked in the bank, but our millions of customers.”

Watch the entire Meet the CEO with Matt Comyn and Mark Scott AO, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education.