Business Irish

Wednesday 23 October 2019

AIB names economist Colin Hunt to take over as CEO

Former special adviser to Brian Cowen proposed to run the country's biggest bank

AIB Bankcentre
AIB Bankcentre
Key focus: If he becomes CEO, Dr Colin Hunt will be tasked with recovering taxpayers’ money pumped into bank
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

THE State-controlled AIB has named Dr Colin Hunt - a one-time economic adviser to Brian Cowen - as its next chief executive.

The proposed appointment is subject to consultation with the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and approval by the Central Bank, but each is expected to be a formality.

Dr Hunt is a well-known economist - he had a high media profile in the early to mid-2000s when he was chief economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers. He was later a special adviser to Brian Cowen until mid 2007, when the former Taoiseach was Minister for Finance, and before that he'd been a special adviser to former Transport Minister Martin Cullen from 2004.

An experienced banker, Dr Hunt has been managing director of wholesale and institutional banking and a member of the senior executive team at AIB since May 2016, after joining from Australian finance house Macquarie's Irish operations.

At AIB, Colin Hunt emerged from a panel of four internal candidates following October's announcement by outgoing CEO Bernard Byrne of his plan to leave the bank.

As CEO a key focus at AIB will be to recover as much as possible of the €21bn of taxpayers' money pumped into the lender after the crash, less than half of which has been clawed back.

Given that he already holds such a senior role his appointment is not expected to require the lengthy regulatory approvals involved in the appointments of external candidates as CEOs.

With the bulk of AIB still in State hands, the appointment of Dr Hunt as CEO and as a director of the bank must also get the go-ahead from the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Ironically, back in 2007 the minister was a Fine Gael senator and raised the issue of whether Dr Hunt was facing a potential conflict of interest by leaving his role as adviser to Brian Cowen to join Australian bank Macquarie.

Paschal Donohoe said at the time that Mr Hunt's knowledge of government strategy might give his new employer an advantage.

However, the appointment had been cleared by the Outside Appointments Board (OAB), which vets people moving to the private sector and had found no issue.

AIB used executive search agency Korn Ferry to help with its succession process following the surprise announcement in November that Bernard Byrne would leave to take up a job with Davy Stockbrokers.

The AIB job is subject to the cap on bankers' pay brought in after the crash - the bank can pay a maximum of €500,000 a year.

Korn Ferry is separately helping to prepare a report for Paschal Donohoe on the pay cap that is due in the new year, and a report by Bloomberg suggests it will advocate a looser regime.

AIB's own chairman, Richard Pym, has been a vocal advocate of loosening the pay cap - blaming it for the loss of senior executives to rivals.

At AIB the four internal candidates were understood to be chief operating officer Tomás O'Midheach; Robert Mulhall, head of retail and commercial banking; and Jim O'Keefe, head of AIB's financial solutions group, as well as Mr Hunt.

With the pay cap review not expected until the New Year, and little political pressure on the Minister to change to a more liberal regime - it's unlikely the pay deal will change before Colin Hunt takes up his new job.

The Korn Ferry report is still being drafted and will be reviewed by officials before being submitted to the Minister, the Department of Finance said.

Irish Independent

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