Thomas Murray, the global consulting firm specialising in securities servicing and banking services, is looking to expand its global reach. In Australia and New Zealand it is well known for two things: the ‘star chamber’ and its first two big asset-owner clients.
London-based Thomas Murray celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, with co-founder Simon Thomas stepping up from his former chief executive role last year, becoming executive chairman, to allow for the re-recruitment of Australian, Ross Whitehill as chief executive. After serving as COO at Thomas Murray in London from 1995 to 2008, Whitehill went off to BNY Mellon but returned in early 2018 to take up the current top job a little later.
In an interview last week, joined by Melbourne-based business head Brian Keogh, Whitehill said that the famous – or infamous if you are a custodian – star chamber was still an important and unique part of the Thomas Murray assessment process in securities services reviews.
Perhaps because of its historical name (‘star chamber’ referring to the 15th century English court which became known for political and social oppression) the hours-long interview process of securities services contract candidates, tends to strike terror in their hearts. They need to be able to answer all questions on the spot, which Keogh says gives a good idea of the chain of command within their organisations and who will be really running the task.
“You get a good feel for the delegated authority,” Keogh says. “You get a sense of who you will be comfortable dealing with.” He hasn’t been on the other side, though. Keogh and Adam Zani opened the Thomas Murray Melbourne office in 2015. They were both from NAB Asset Servicing. They have subsequently been joined by Albert Kwok, a technology expert and long-standing director seconded from the London office.
Whitehill says that while Thomas Murray is better known in the marketplace for its work in custody consulting, it actually does more business on the banking side – monitoring counterparties such as sub-custodians, TAs, PBs, CCPs, CSDs and advising on related risks and services. “We deploy our own proprietary technology for much of this work, and many banks use our white label technology” he says. “We are a bit like the ‘Intel inside’ technology in that space… For questionnaire issuance and due diligence, we use our ‘Supplier Select’ technology product, and have a great offering for funds, banks, investment managers etc., across the financial services industry.”
Thomas Murray has a big client base in Australasia, as well as Europe and Canada. Whitehill says he wants to expand that in the US. The firm has an office, already, in Canada and Colombia. It has worked for the World Bank and sees itself as becoming a truly global player.
In Australasia, the late Paul Costello appointed Thomas Murray to advise on the selection of a custodian for NZ Super, of which he was the first chief executive. The fund chose Northern Trust, which was that firm’s first client in the region. Costello, who had been the chief executive of Superannuation Trust of Australia before going to his homeland, briefly, at NZ Super in Auckland, went on to become the inaugural chief executive of Australia’s Future Fund. He chose Thomas Murray again as the advisor and the Future Fund, chose Northern Trust as the custodian in 2007.
There was a famous newspaper cover story following this. It was in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and it said: “Our Future in their Hands”. Northern Trust, an American company had taken over the control of Australia’s Future Fund, the story said. Happily, all this has now settled down.
Meanwhile, Whitehill is also expanding the product range for Thomas Murray, in both the banking and securities servicing sectors. He says, for instance, that the firm is expanding its cash correspondent monitoring services and has recently launched a cash-monitoring service with 25 banks as working group members. The initial pilot program is assessing Canadian and South African cash correspondent banks on behalf of the participating working group members.