Peter Kearns: Lessons learned from 40 years in banking and finance

Thinktank GM announces retirement

Peter Kearns: Lessons learned from 40 years in banking and finance


By Ryan Johnson

After a distinguished career spanning more than four decades in the banking and finance industry, Thinktank Property Finance general manager Peter Kearns has announced his retirement.

Throughout his storied career, Kearns (pictured above) worked in a variety of management roles at Dutch financier AMEV, AMP and Citibank across credit, mortgage administration, product innovation, compliance, and strategy.

However, after a 17-year tenure at non-bank lender Thinktank, Kearns said it was time to give himself “a break and do some other things”.

“My time in the industry has been an extraordinary experience,” said Kearns. “I am particularly proud of what we've been able to achieve together at Thinktank. It has truly been the most gratifying experience of my working life and I have formed many strong friendships throughout my time there.”

Thinktank CEO Jonathan Street said Kearns’ involvement with the non-bank lender had been instrumental in the company’s success.

“Looking back on our 17 years working closely together, the business has far exceeded our original expectations and Peter has unquestionably been a cornerstone of what we have been able to achieve, leading to exceptionally strong portfolio performance through multiple cycles,” Street said.

Lessons from the 1980s to the GFC

Over his working life, Kearns has navigated various markets that brought many significant changes, challenges, and opportunities to the banking industry.

From the newly deregulated, high-interest rate environment of the early 1980s that resulted in the entry of foreign banks and consolidation in the banking industry to the significant black-swan events of the GFC and the COVID-19 pandemic, Kearns said he had seen it all.

“I've been really in the commercial side of the business since the beginning really. So, I've been through a lot of cycles, ups and downs,” Kearns said.

However, in the early 2000s, Kearns said non-banks underwent a resurgence, particularly after the GFC, although some didn't survive before then.

“It was a fairly raw industry back then but since the GFC there's been a lot of activity in the non-bank sector, and that's certainly changed the industry quite markedly.”

Overall, Kearns said while there were a few bumps along the way, the industry was predictable when viewed through a long lens.

“There’s nothing new. It’s all just a cycle.”

A more competitive and digitalised industry

In more recent years, the banking sector has undergone significant transformation, characterised by increased competition and a rapid shift towards digitalisation.

Kearns said while it was now tougher for newcomers to enter the market, there was generally more competition between major banks, second-tier banks, and non-banks, especially in residential lending.

“The rise of aggregators in the broking sector has played a crucial role in enhancing professionalism and improving how brokers and clients navigate the marketplace, which was more challenging before the aggregator market emerged,” Kearns said.

Kearns also remarked on the role technology had played in the industry.

While broker market share for home loans had grown from 40% to 70% within a decade on the back of this technological advancement, Kearns said it was only a matter of time before the commercial market began a similar transformation.

“I think the fact that there's so much additional IT that's coming through all the time, and there's small companies that are really putting a lot of effort into getting these niche markets, ultimately, it will break through, and it will be a much stronger part of the digitised market than it has been,” he said.

Street said while these overarching market forces helped drive the non-bank space to new levels, it’s people such as Kearns who helped create the change.

“We believe that our success as a no-bank lender is grounded in quality credit management,” said Street.

“The fact that we have been able to organically grow our loan book to $5.4 billion while maintaining consistently high credit quality, is largely due to Peter’s unrelenting commitment to prudent lending standards and communicating a consistent, common-sense view on credit risk appetite.”

Advice for the next generation

Beyond his professional achievements, Kearns has been widely regarded as a mentor to many in the industry.

Street said his unquestioned work ethic, integrity, and dedication to coaching and fostering a collaborative work culture have inspired those around him to pursue higher goals and register career success.

 “Trust and respect are two words that genuinely characterise Peter,” Street said.

In terms of advice for the next generation, Kearns said they should “seek out someone who's a strong mentor to give them good, solid guidance on what the good and bad parts of the business are”.

“Also, have a variety of experiences. I've been through several different companies, and they've all been a little bit different in the way they operate, and by getting some of those experiences, it shapes what type of financier or broker you want to be down the track.”

Kearns said he had always strived to be fair and reasonable throughout his career, and that was the motto he lived by.

“Also, make sure you've got prudent lending standards, and that the business you're putting on your books is quality business.”

Leaving a legacy

Kearns's retirement marks the end of an era in the banking and finance sector, yet his impact and influence are sure to endure.

“I want our staff to wake up in the morning and be happy to come to work and, when they leave at night, feel like they've achieved something,” Kearns said. “If they've done that, they'll have a pretty happy and good career, I would think.”

“I look forward to this new phase of my life, and to continuing many valued relationships I have formed along the way.”

What impact did Peter Kearns have on your career? Comment below.

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