She may call herself an “accidental banker” but there’s nothing accidental about the high-flying career of Nell Hutton, the new chief executive of Westpac’s Institutional Bank.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished school,” Hutton tells Wire in an interview. So she joined a couple of friends in enrolling for a degree in commerce law at Sydney University, where she soon discovered a passion and aptitude for economics.
Hutton’s talent won her place at Cambridge University in England, studying for a Masters in finance and economics. From there, it was a logical step to start applying for jobs in banking, and it wasn’t long before she was stepping through the door at Goldman Sachs’ gleaming offices in Fleet Street, London.
So began a career spanning more than two decades at the U.S. investment banking giant, across roles including head of global markets for the ANZ region. She was also the first female partner to be appointed at Goldman Sachs Australia.
“Goldman has a real performance culture but also, and this might surprise some people, a real culture of teamwork,” Hutton says.
“That’s something that really resonated with me: that the more you work across teams and businesses to draw on the right expertise to solve whatever problem it is that the client is facing, then the better the outcomes.”
Hutton joined Westpac in 2021 as general manager, financial markets, and says she was attracted by the opportunity to work at Australia’s oldest company, and the long and deep client relationships that come with that.
She starts her new role with the WIB business on an upward trajectory. The division’s net profit increased by 51 per cent in the first half of the 2023 financial year compared with the prior half, and Hutton says her top priority is to ensure that positive momentum is kept up.
“For me personally, that will mean making sure I get closer to the parts of the business that I haven't been as close to. So I'll be spending time with our corporate institutional banking and global transaction services teams and clients and making sure that I'm just as much of an expert on those as I am on the financial markets business.”
She’s also keen to ensure Westpac maintains its role as a key facilitator for Australia’s clean energy transition.
“I'm really proud of the fact that Westpac has been the number one lender to greenfield renewable energy projects for the last five years. We are playing an important role and that'll continue to be our focus,” Hutton says, adding that it was important to work with clients and government to explore ways to accelerate the transition.
Westpac last year joined the global Net Zero Banking Alliance, setting targets for reducing its financed greenhouse gas emissions across a number of hard-to-abate industries.
Financial inclusion is another area that Hutton is passionate about.
“We need to be creating an economy where every individual has equal access to opportunity and can reach their full potential,” she says.
As for Westpac’s role in that, Hutton sees big opportunities for the bank to invest in areas which promote inclusive growth, to benefit the broader wellbeing of society. One recent example is the innovative sustainability-linked loan the bank arranged for Australian Unity, which tied financing to a framework the mutual group has developed to put a value on its social impact.
As chief executive of WIB, Hutton’s remit also includes Westpac’s international offices in Asia, the US and Europe, where the bank this year opened an office in Frankfurt.
Those overseas offices are crucial in supporting the inbound and outbound capital flows of the bank’s institutional customers, Hutton says, including offshore capital raisings.
Meanwhile, the Frankfurt office will give the bank more capability in continental Europe, positioning it to take advantage of any opportunities that arise in the post-Brexit landscape.