July 25, 2018 / 11:09 PM / a year ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-Australia's Macquarie promotes star asset manager as first female CEO

(Corrects remuneration details of Wikramanayake and others in paragraph 8)

* Wikramanayake is the bank’s third CEO since 1993

* She has been at the company since 1987

* Takes the role at start of a tough period for investment banks

By Paulina Duran and Colin Packham

SYDNEY, July 26 (Reuters) - Australian investment bank Macquarie Group promoted Shemara Wikramanayake to be its first female CEO, making her the country’s top female executive at a time of intense regulatory and economic headwinds for financial companies.

The elevation of Wikramanayake, who has worked at Macquarie since 1987 and ran its A$495 billion ($369 billion) asset management arm for more than a decade, marks a new phase for a company known for its record of beating profit expectations.

Her predecessors, Allan Moss, followed by Nicholas Moore, each led Australia’s biggest investment bank for at least a decade.

“It’s always a challenging decision but after 10 years it felt like the time is right,” Moore said on an analyst call before the bank’s annual meeting, referring to his stepping down.

“With Shemara, we have a really outstanding successor.”

Macquarie shares were down 4 percent on Thursday after the bank coupled its announcement of a CEO change with a forecast of flat profit growth in 2019.

The shares have surged 134 percent over the 10 years under Moore’s leadership as the bank almost continually grew profits and beat forecasts. Wikramanayake’s unit delivers about a third of its profit, according to Macquarie.

Wikramanayake was the bank’s second-highest paid person in the 2018 financial year, according to its annual report, earning a total A$16.7 million, less only than Moore who took home A$18.9 million. Another star employee of the so-called “millionaires’ factory”, debt banker Ben Brazil, got A$15 million.

“She is an impressive individual, very deeply involved in the Macquarie culture and its risk management structure,” said Morningstar banking analyst David Ellis.

“The focus on global infrastructure, the focus on energy, particularly renewables, the interconnection between the five business units, is unique. I’m sure Shemara will treasure that and improve on that.”

Fairfax Media reported last year that the 56-year-old had never sold a Macquarie share in 30 years.

Wikramanayake takes the role at the start of what is expected to be a tough phase for financial services companies in Australia. The sector is facing the country’s most powerful type of public inquiry, a Royal Commission, and economists are waiting for the central bank to raise interest rates from record low levels, putting downward pressure on dealmaking.

“It is a different world where it won’t be so easy,” said Steve Miller, an adviser at Grant Samuel Funds Management.

“Achieving superior returns will be more challenging now.” ($1 = 1.3414 Australian dollars) (Writing by Byron Kaye; Additional reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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