Alexandra Heath

Alexandra Heath

Alex Heath’s passion for the world of economic policy was apparent very early on when she completed her BEc (Hons) at the University of Sydney, and it set her on course to apply for a cadetship with the Reserve Bank of Australia. She enjoyed her cadetship so much that once she finished her Honours she returned to the RBA, and went on to hold positions in a number of areas in the Financial Markets and Economic Groups. In addition, she has spent 2½ years at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. She has worked on a variety of topic areas including the impact of financial regulation on financial markets, global imbalances, the foreign exchange market, macroeconomic forecasting and labour market dynamics. As if this was not all impressive enough, Dr Heath also holds a PhD and MSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

Currently she heads up the Economic Research Department at the RBA, and her passion and commitment, along with her wealth of knowledge and expertise is inspiring. Here she shares with us her fond memories of her time at the School of Economics and her ongoing commitment to work within public policy.

What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?
My happiest memories of my time as a student are mostly around the friendships I made. Particularly by third year and in honours the classes were getting smaller and more specialised, and we were quite a tight knit group. I still keep up with many of my friends from university days. Sometimes I even have the opportunity of working with them as our professional lives cross. It amazes me how many of us are still working in economics and finance.

Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?
I would have to say my favourite Professor was Denzil Fiebig. He had the dubious honour of teaching me at least one econometrics course every year for four years and supervising my honours thesis when the supervisor I had originally organised went on sabbatical. Denzil is a great teacher and had an amazing ability to find the right academic paper to answer any question. Although Denzil mainly works in a different field of economics to what I deal with on a day-to-day basis, we have stayed in touch, and we help each other out from time to time.

What is your proudest achievement?
I think completing my PhD is probably one of my proudest moments. More recently I was pretty happy when the 2013 RBA conference volume was published because it represented the true end of the first annual conference I have seen through from concept and organisation to execution as the Head of Research Department. There are plenty of smaller things that I have been proud to have been able to achieve during my career at the RBA, but none of them have required so much sustained effort or been quite as personal as these two examples.

Who inspires you?
That is a tough question. In general, I’m probably most inspired by people who have a vision for making the world a better place for others and act on their convictions with integrity. There are so many people who do this in their day-to-day lives; it’s hard to come up with a single name.

Tell us more about yourself and how you ultimately became appointed to the position of Head of Economic Research at the Reserve Bank of Australia
My story is pretty straight forward. Between third year and honours, I did a cadetship at the RBA. During my honours year I had to choose between a private sector job and the RBA - I chose the RBA partly because of the public policy aspect of the job appealed to me, but also because there was a clearer connection between what I had enjoyed studying in my undergraduate degree and what was involved in the day-to-day of being a central banker. I think I’m still at the Bank because I still find the public service aspect of the job very satisfying, and there is a never-ending supply of new policy questions which allow me to keep learning new things and extending myself. These motivations also took me to the LSE to do post-graduate study and to arrange a secondment to the Bank for International Settlements. It appears that I’m not one to sit back and take it easy!

What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?
My mantra is probably something like 'So much to do - so little time!' In terms of what I am driven by, I like to solve problems and make things work better, and I like to get involved in new things.

What has been the most memorable success you have had?
I am not sure what this says about me, but memorable successes and proudest moments are pretty highly correlated. Maybe it says I’m very outcome oriented.

What are your plans for the future?
I don’t have any immediate plans to change what I’m doing. One of the benefits of being the head of a research department in a central bank is that there are lot of interesting questions to work on. At the moment I’d like to find more time to think about what drives exchange rates and whether these factors have become more financial in nature, and how to model interconnectedness in financial markets where there are different classes of participants. I am always thinking about ways we can be more productive and collaborative with our research work.

What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?
Stay open to opportunities - they are often unexpected and you have to be ready to take them when they appear.