Aussie bank turns Sims Brown, yellow and black

Ian Rogers CBA
‘What’s it like for those looking in’ asks US insurance marketing exec turned bank fixer Priscilla Sims Brown
‘What’s it like for those looking in’ asks US insurance marketing exec turned bank fixer Priscilla Sims Brown

A former television news reporter for stations in Los Angeles and Chicago turned insurance marketing executive is the latest person – and a rare outsider – to join the leadership team at Commonwealth Bank.

Priscilla Sims Brown will take up the job of group executive, marketing and corporate affairs from the beginning of August.

Sims Brown, 61, is leaving her job as CEO of an American insurance fintech, Emerge.me to take her first ever job in the banking industry. Her role at the head of a US “start-up digital healthcare platform she joined in 2017”, to cite CBA’s media release, implies Sims Brown was and will be receiving a super competitive salary package to enter the complicated world of Australian banking.

CommBank’s CEO Matt Comyn on Friday said: “Sims Brown is a seasoned senior executive with extensive investment management, insurance, and financial services experience.

“In addition to her marketing and corporate affairs expertise, Priscilla has an impressive track record of driving ambitious growth and customer transformation agendas, particularly during challenging periods.”

Commonwealth Bank is defining one point of difference from its peers by hiring women with little or zero background in banking for top tier jobs that were once the preserve of the old guard, meaning men. With the recent retirement of David Higgins, five out of eight independent directors of CBA are women, including the most recent addition to the board, the Intel anthropologist, Professor Genevieve Bell.

On CBA’s executive leadership team, Sims Brown will be in the minority; eight blokes in dark suits keeping her, Sian Lewis (the HR chief) and Vittoria Shortt, (the ASB CEO in New Zealand) company.

She will assume responsibility for half of the job held for the last two and a half years by Anna Lenahan, the bank’s general counsel who also oversaw corporate affairs. Lenahan retired from the bank over the weekend and for now the deputy CEO, David Cohen, will oversee CBA’s demanding legal and compliance matters, his old portfolio.

The appointment of a new senior lawyer as CBA group general counsel and governance “is expected to be made soon,” Comyn said.

The 33 year long career of Priscilla Sims Brown in insurance kicked off in 1986 at Equitable Life Assurance Society in Illinois in 1986, a potted biography published by The History Makers (archivists of the African-American story) relates.

In 1991 she became the vice president of Lincoln National Investment Management, rising to become president of their broker dealer in 1994. In 1999, she was named vice president of the company’s investor relations group.

Sims Brown served as vice president of corporate and public affairs at the Lincoln Financial Group from 2003 to 2006 until her appointment as chief marketing and brand officer of the group. Lincoln, at present anyway, is a Fortune 500 company and ranked fourth by revenue in the life and health segment in the US.

In this role “she raised the company’s consumer awareness and led the integration of key acquisitions.”

Sims Brown left Lincoln Financial Group in 2009 to become the head of marketing at Sun Life Financial.

After briefly serving as the chief marketing and development officer at AmeriHealth Caritas, Brown became the senior executive vice president and chief marketing officer for AXA US in New York in 2014.

In a 2011 Q&A with Sports Business Daily Sims Brown reflected on the question: “What has it been like to go from reporting the news to making news?”

She answered: “It gives you a unique, sort of outsider’s view -- particularly of companies. I was doing business reporting and to go from that to being on the inside, you always maintain a little of, ‘What’s it like for those looking in?’

“I think that’s a bit of an asset to me as I think about our business -- to think about how customers, stakeholders and shareholders are thinking about the business.”

Sims Brown will soon be wondering how widely and how well these questions were dealt with at Commonwealth Bank over the torrid years now defined by 2017’s and 2018’s excoriation of the bank’s legacy via AUSTRAC, APRA and Ken Hayne’s banking royal commission.