Suddenly there are two women in the top ranks of the Reserve Bank — the country’s pre-eminent economic institution — following the news yesterday that Luci Ellis was being promoted to the most influential role in the bank: the assistant governor in charge of the bank’s economics group and, effectively, the chief economic adviser to the governor (Phil Lowe, a previous head of the group) and the RBA board.

The Australian reported it, as did Peter Martin in The Age, but the Financial Review curiously missed what is the most significant appointment to the senior ranks of the Reserve Bank since Phil Lowe was named as governor earlier this year and Guy Debelle as his deputy. The move to promote Ellis to the position of assistant governor (economic), has made her the first woman to become what is effectively the central bank’s chief economist, and a prime contender to become a possible governor in a decade’s time.

As assistant governor (economic) she will move into the post held by the last three Reserve Bank governors before their promotion to deputy governor and then governor. She follows Chris Kent, who has moved to the key role of assistant governor (financial markets), which was held by Guy Debelle from 2007 to earlier this year.

The assistant governor (economic) runs both the economic research and economic monitoring departments and presents an update on the economy to each Reserve Bank board meeting. Its importance cannot be understated and is only matched by the assistant governorship overseeing financial markets, which gained importance in the wake of the GFC.

Ellis has that experience, as well; she has been head of the bank’s financial stability department since 2008 and is one of the country’s main experts on housing. She joined the RBA in 1991 and worked mainly in its two economic departments before being seconded to the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland where she was involved in analysing the US subprime mortgage debacle, which triggered the GFC.

Ellis follows (by a month) the ground-breaking appointment in October of Michele Bullock as the RBA’s assistant governor (financial system). She is responsible for the bank’s work on financial stability, including production of the twice-yearly Financial Stability Review, as well as the bank’s oversight of the payments system. It is Bullock’s second gig as an assistant governor; previously she was assistant governor (currency).

Unlike Lowe, Debelle and Kent, Ellis doesn’t have her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. She did her doctorate in economics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and has a first-class honours degree from the University of Melbourne.

Peter Fray

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