Over a career spanning more than three decades at the Reserve Bank of Australia, Luci Ellis has never lost sight of the fact that economics, at its core, is about human behaviour.
It’s something she constantly reminds herself of, even when knee-deep in statistics and spreadsheets, as she tries to make sense of all the moving parts that make up a dynamic modern economy.
“One of the things I'll take from my past career is just how incredibly fascinating the economy is, and how human behaviour in the economy is just so important,” Ellis says in an interview with Wire.
It's an approach that will be just as vital in her new role as Westpac’s chief economist, where she’ll be helping to inform the bank’s customers, and broader society, about the economic trends that affect their daily lives.
“Clear communication is always so important, and part of that is finding the right narrative or finding the right metaphor to give people something concrete to hold onto.”
One of Ellis’ early priorities will be to get out and meet with customers and Westpac employees, not just to help them understand what’s going on, but also to listen and learn about their experiences to inform her own thinking.
“I'm also really passionate about data and I want to make sure that we're using all of the external and the internal bank data that we can to derive new insights.”
One of the starkest features of the current state of the economy is its unevenness, Ellis says.
“There are a lot of people who are dealing with cost-of-living pressures, who are really struggling to make ends meet and trying to find other sources of income. Yet there are others who are sitting on extra savings who are doing much better. We're very conscious of that unevenness.”
For those who are struggling, Ellis says there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, with inflation expected to cool over 2024 and into 2025, bringing some relief to household budgets.
Ellis started at the RBA in 1991 as an economist, rising to the position of assistant governor with responsibility for economic analysis, a role she held from 2016 to 2023. She also gained experience as a senior economist at the Bank of International Settlements in 2007 and 2008, a time of great market turbulence at the height of the global financial crisis.
She has been a trailblazer for women in a profession which has been a laggard in embracing gender equality. Things are changing for the better, with the RBA now having its first female governor, but there’s still more to be done.
“There are some fantastic young economists coming through at the moment. It's been my privilege to work with a number of them, both here and at my previous employer, but the economics profession does have a diversity issue,” Ellis says.
“We're not seeing enough women come through. We're not seeing enough people coming through from lower income or regional areas. That's a concern because we need a diversity of perspectives to understand the diversity of human behaviour within the economy.”
Ellis takes heart from becoming the first female chief economist at a big four bank. She has big shoes to fill but is relishing the challenge.