Nama's chief executive Brendan McDonagh, the Department of Finance's banking head Des Carville and Dara Deering, head of Home Building Finance Ireland, are among candidates vying to become the next chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), according to sources.
Nama and Home Building Finance Ireland fall under the aegis of the NTMA, while Mr Carville is on secondment from the agency to the Department of Finance.
The line-up also includes the NTMA's director of funding and debt management, Frank O'Connor, and Andrew O'Flanagan, director of the agency's National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) and NewERA units, the sources said.
It is also understood that the firm leading the search, Spencer Stuart, has also engaged with Sean Crowe, the former chief executive of Bank of Ireland's markets and treasury division, among other potential candidates. The NTMA and six named individuals either declined to comment or were unavailable for comment.
The NTMA’s board initiated a process in June to find a successor to Conor O’Kelly, the current chief executive of the agency, as he prepares to step down next year. The former stockbroking executive took over the NTMA in 2015 on an initial five-year term, which was extended for about 2½ years in 2020.
The board of the agency, led by chairperson Maeve Carton, is expected to select the next chief executive by the end of the year with the consent of Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. The three previous heads of the NTMA were ministerial appointees, before laws governing the organisation were amended in late 2014, changing its governance structure and remit and establishing a board.
The NTMA has raised almost €37.3 billion in the international bond markets since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, to fund government supports for households, businesses and the health system. The bonds were sold at an average interest rate of 0.16 per cent, helped by European Central Bank (ECB) efforts to keep euro zone borrowing costs down.
The Government estimated last week that it will have a €237.8 billion debt pile by the end of the year. While that will equate to 55 per cent of forecast gross domestic product (GDP), it will stand at 106 per cent of the underlying domestic economy.
Mr O’Kelly’s successor will face the job of managing this enlarged debt pile, which is set to continue to grow over the medium term – albeit with Mr Donohoe only planning to borrow for capital investment from 2022.
Much will depend on the trend of ECB interest rates, which investors expect to remain low for some time. A key challenge is what rates will apply when the massive borrowings taken on during the Covid crisis come to be refinanced.
Other key areas under the NTMA's remit, which has grown extensively in its 31 years of existence, include the State Claims Agency, which is managing more than 12,000 active claims against State bodies, with an estimated outstanding liability of more than €4 billion, and the €9 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF).
The candidacy of Mr McDonagh comes as Nama, where he has been chief executive since its inception in 2009, is in wind down and on course to deliver a lifetime surplus of €4.25 billion for taxpayers. There had been fears when it was set up that it could make a massive loss.
Mr Carville joined the NTMA in 2013 from Davy's corporate finance business and has been on secondment to the Department of Finance throughout this time, where he is responsible for managing the Government's bank stakes. He is presiding over the sell-down of the State's Bank of Ireland stake and was a key figure in the initial public offering of AIB in 2017.
Ms Deering was hired in 2019 to lead Home Building Finance Ireland, having previously served as executive director of retail banking at KBC Bank Ireland and also retail director at EBS.
Mr O’Connor joined NTMA in 2010, initially as head of treasury in Nama, having spent the previous two decades with AIB. He has been directly responsible for managing the surge in fresh borrowing during the pandemic.
Mr O'Flanagan was hired by the agency a decade ago as chief legal officer, having previously served as the legal head at ESB and Ervia and also worked in New York and London as a corporate lawyer. He became director of the NDFA and NewEra two years ago.
Sean Crowe left Bank of Ireland late last year, having been a central figure in the group’s emergency fundraising during the financial crisis. He joined the bank in 1993 as a financial markets trader and went on to hold on a number of executive roles in the markets and asset management areas before becoming group treasurer at the height of the financial crisis in November 2008.