Sarah Russell: Chameleonic Regulator Who Brings the Outside In
From down under to our tiny country: Australian Sarah Russell (1962) took that step more than two decades ago. At the time, she had been working for ABN AMRO in Sydney since 1994 after starting her career at Toronto Dominion Australia Limited in Melbourne. During her early days at ABN AMRO's Australian branch, she earned her Masters degree in Applied Sciences from Macquarie University. She moved to the Netherlands in 2000 for her new position in Amsterdam. Russell has held various positions at ABN AMRO. She was CFO of the Wholesale Clients business unit and CEO of the Asset Management division from 2006 to 2008, when the financial crisis broke out and the bank had to be rescued by the Dutch state. In 2010, she moved to Aegon, where she was responsible for the insurance company's asset management as CEO of the Asset Management department for nine years and has been a member of the Board of Directors since 2016.
Lubricants for society
Russell has always enjoyed combining her board positions with regulatory roles, which have included three terms as a non-executive director of Scandinavian Nordea Bank. Since stepping down from Aegon in 2019, she has been a professional Supervisory Board member. Last year, she became a Supervisory Board member at pension provider APG, and this year at her old employer ABN AMRO. She is also a regulator at hedge fund The Currency Exchange Fund (TCX). Last year, Russell told a roundtable discussion for Financial Investigator that holding a regulatory position in the highly regulated financial sector is not always easy, but she still enjoys it. She said that regulators in the sector ‘act as a lubricants for society and prevent trust in the financial system from being eroded.’
As a Supervisory Board member, Russell likes to take a broad perspective, she wants to keep learning – from other sectors as well – and she brings the outside in. She indicated during the aforementioned roundtable discussion that she also had to learn to serve on different boards, creating a balance between cultural diversity, inclusion and the role of trust. ‘When I started out as a regulator in the Nordics, I had some trouble getting a certain point across. […]. An assistant to the Supervisory Board discreetly offered some perspective, which allowed me to adjust my argument. The lesson Russell drew? “Realize that as a regulator, you actually have to be a chameleon. You have to be able to change and adapt to the environment in which you work.’