National debt agency hunts for new boss as Conor O’Kelly due to step down

O’Kelly’s successor faces task of managing enlarged debt pile due to Covid crisis

NTMA chief executive Conor O’Kelly was appointed in 2015 on an initial five-year term, which was extended  in 2020. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

NTMA chief executive Conor O’Kelly was appointed in 2015 on an initial five-year term, which was extended in 2020. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A search is commencing for a new chief executive for the State’s debt management agency, the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), with Conor O’Kelly, the current incumbent, due to stand down next year. The post is expected to be advertised later this month.

Mr O’Kelly, a former stockbroker, was appointed in 2015 on an initial five-year term, which was extended for around 2½ years in 2020. It is understood that the board has agreed to start the search for his successor and has appointed executive search firm Spencer Stuart to manage the recruitment process.

Mr O’Kelly is expected to stand down in the middle of next year.

He joined the NTMA having overseen the sale of NCB Stockbrokers, where he was chief executive, to Investec. He previously spent 11 years in senior positions with Barclays Capital in London, Tokyo and New York.

During Mr O’Kelly’s term in the NTMA, the cost of servicing the national debt has fallen as interest rates remained low and fell further after the Covid-19 crisis hit.

Low interest rates

Before the latest crisis, the NTMA had worked on refinancing debt at low interest rates and pushing out the average length of loans, with the annual cost of servicing the debt falling. As a result of the crisis, it has had to borrow heavily again, meaning the national debt has climbed sharply.

It was €236.5 billion at the end of May, compared to €206 billion at the end of 2019 before the crisis hit.

Mr O’Kelly’s successor will face the job of managing this enlarged debt pile, with State borrowing likely to continue, albeit at declining levels, for some years.

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.

As well as managing fundraising for the State and the national debt, the NTMA includes the State Claims Agency, which manages legal claims against the State. It also provides advice to the Government on managing investment projects and State agencies and manages the Irish Strategic Investment Fund.