Why service matters to the Chair of ASIC

James Shipton (OM 1987) may have spent 25 years outside Australia building a career in finance and regulation, but when he spoke at this year’s Old Melburnian’s Business Breakfast, it was clear how important his early years in Melbourne were to this path.

Old Melburnian business breakfast

“Melbourne Grammar instilled a sense of public and community service in me,” James Shipton told his audience. “There’s a long list of Old Melburnians who came before us and gave tremendous service to Australia and other countries. This School has produced so many great public servants across the political spectrum along with advocates, those who served in government and many others – and these people have had an enormous influence on my life. They’ve been role models.”

“From a very early age, my teachers at Melbourne Grammar encouraged me to think about the world beyond Australia,” James added. “At Wadhurst I studied the Chinese language. When I moved to the Senior School, I had the opportunity to go on one of the very first trips to China organised by any Australian school. I feel incredibly lucky that I had this opportunity.”

James also remembered the importance of the international community that was part of his daily life as a boarder at the School. “We had, and I believe this tradition continues, a fantastic array of boys coming in from overseas,” he told the audience. “I think that really impacted me a great deal.”

As his career progressed, James began to view the role of corporations and finance through a different lens. “Post- financial crisis, I saw that finance may have been serving the economy, but it was not always serving the community,” he explained. “I thought about what I could do to continue to make the finance and business sector more connected to the community. I commenced working at the Securities and Futures Commission (the Hong Kong market regulator) and, eventually, went to Harvard Law School as Executive Director for their Program on International Financial Systems.”

Appointed to the role of Chair of the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC), in 2018, James now oversees corporate, markets and financial services regulation in Australia.

“Regulation is much misunderstood,” James added. “Regulators aren’t only a police body. Our role is about trying to make Australian corporate and finance systems better by influencing and modifying the behaviours of the people inside those systems with reference to community expectations and norms. We try to do this through law enforcement, through policy development and through productive and positive engagement.”

And, as to the philosophy and role of ASIC? “I want there to be a broad community purpose within the sector which, in my view, can sit comfortably alongside profit and increasing financial returns,” he said.

When asked about the impact of the recent Financial Services Royal Commission, James discussed the Royal Commission’s beneficial role in making many of the ideas he had championed for many years more prominent.

“The Royal Commission provided visual images of the importance of getting this stuff right,” he said. “Through the media, we could see that our frustrations were the same as the frustrations of the people around us, and that there were fundamental flaws in how the system was working. The challenge for us all now is to harness the energy coming from the Royal Commission to make the system better, stronger and more efficient.”


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