The Banker's Central Banker of the Year 2023 awards celebrate the officials that have best managed to stimulate growth and stabilise their economy.

Global and Europe

Ásgeir Jónsson, Central Bank of Iceland 

To raise interest rates against the recommendations of your peers takes not only courage, but also decisiveness, which is what Iceland’s central bank governor Ásgeir Jónsson has in spades.

The “straight-talking” governor did not waste time in May 2021 when it came to instituting the first post-pandemic rate hikes in the West. At the time, many other central banks believed it was too soon to raise rates and that inflation was only transitory.

Having lived through the 2008 banking crisis, which saw 98% of Iceland’s banking system collapse, and inflation and interest rates skyrocket, Mr Jónsson was determined not to let inflation take hold again in the small island economy. “We got a very harsh awakening during the 2008 financial crisis and have attempted at almost every level to improve our policy framework,” says Mr Jónsson. “So far, that has paid off, but there are a lot of challenges that lie ahead.”

Starting in May 2021 and continuing throughout 2022, Iceland’s central bank instituted a series of consecutive rate hikes, sometimes between 75 and 100 basis points (bps), to try and bring inflation closer to its target of 2.5%. At its last Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting in November, even though inflation looked set to start falling and the 2023 gross domestic product growth outlook had improved, Mr Jónsson stuck to his guns, raising the key policy rate by another 25bps to 6%, marking the fourth time in a year it had raised rates. 

He hopes 6% will be the end of the central bank’s rate-hiking cycle, but having swum against the tide for so long in raising rates until other central banks followed suit, he is prepared to do whatever it takes for inflation to fall back to a level he is more comfortable with.

The early rate hikes appear to be having some effect. Consumer price inflation remains stubbornly high, but fell from 9.9% in July to 9.3% in September. However, the minutes of the MPC’s November meeting suggest the central bank is still concerned about “imported inflation” and the fact that underlying inflation had continued to rise, resulting in price increases across the board.

In addition to hiking interest rates, Mr Jónsson has also demonstrated his willingness to put the brakes on lending, to avoid the banking system, households and corporations from becoming overly leveraged.

In 2019, the central bank merged with Iceland’s Financial Supervisory Authority. This gave it unprecedented macroprudential powers, which Mr Jónsson has made good use of — his rationale being that in a small open economy like Iceland’s, you need to keep a watchful eye on credit creation. 

At a recent speech in Paris, Mr Jónsson outlined some of the ways the central bank is looking to create resilience in Iceland’s small open economy: controlling leverage ratios and capital creation by imposing higher capital ratios in excess of 20% on Icelandic banks; and borrower-based measures (capping leverage or debt-service burden) that limit how much households or corporations can borrow.

With housing market imbalances increasing due to a mismatch between supply and demand, and housing prices rising rapidly, in December 2021 the central bank put in place measures to limit high loan-to-value lending to households.

“We want to keep the economy safe,” says Mr Jónsson. “But when you start to control so many things at once, you inadvertently assume responsibility for everything and there’s always the risk that you will be blamed if something goes wrong.”

This award is very positive and an important recognition of the work we have done since the crisis

Ásgeir Jónsson

Mr Jónsson says he is honoured to be named Central Banker of the Year by The Banker, describing it as a positive for Iceland to be recognised in this way.

“I’ve been central bank governor for three years, and at first when I met other governors abroad, I always had this feeling I wasn’t taken seriously,” he says. “I’m younger than most of them, and coming from a small central bank I would often hear jokes being made about the Icelandic [financial] crisis, or some quirky things people have heard or read about Iceland. So, for me this award is very positive and an important recognition of the work we have done since the crisis.”


Harvesh Seegolam, Bank of Mauritius 

Harvesh Seegolam has endured a baptism of fire since becoming one of the world’s youngest central bank governors in March 2020. His stewardship of the country’s financial sector through one of its most challenging periods in recent history earns him The Banker’s Central Banker of the Year award for Africa. 

In addition to supporting the Mauritian banking sector through the Covid-19 crisis (which saw the economy shrink by 15% in 2020) via the Bank of Mauritius (BOM) support scheme, Mr Seegolam has had to work hard to win back the trust of international institutions, following a grey listing of the country by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and a 2020 black listing by the EU, for perceived deficiencies in the country’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing frameworks. Such efforts have borne fruit; the FATF removed the country from its grey list in December 2021, with the EU following suit in early 2022.

The BOM has been active in working to combat inflation, which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates will peak at 10.2% before falling back in 2023. The central bank raised rates in March 2022 for the first time in 11 years, with three subsequent rises taking the country’s key repo rate to 4% by early November and has made several interventions on the domestic foreign exchange market to support the Mauritian rupee, even as foreign currency inflows increased with the recovery of the tourism sector. It was reported in early November that the central bank was advising the government on a possible environmental, social and governance debt issuance, its first foreign bond since 2000.

In addition to maintaining financial stability, the BOM has been active in helping advance a digital agenda for the banking sector. The central bank introduced a licensing scheme for digital-only banks in December 2021 and has subsequently received enquiries from “a cohort of well-established foreign banks” interested in taking advantage of such opportunities. 

The BOM is also working on the introduction of a retail central bank digital currency. The digital rupee, which will use a two-tier hybrid model, is being developed in collaboration with the IMF, and is intended for use by consumers and businesses alike. 


Diego Labat, governor, Banco Central del Uruguay

Diego Labat became Uruguay’s central bank governor in March 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic began to grip the world. His strong stewardship has helped to steady the economy and improve the country’s outlook throughout the worst of the pandemic.

In September 2020, the Banco Central del Uruguay (BCU) reintroduced the monetary policy rate after seven years of trying to control inflation through changes in the money supply. It used the one-day interbank money market rate, which was set at 4.5% per annum.

In addition, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) reduced the ceiling of the inflation target range by one percentage point and set it at 3–6% as of September 2022. Inflation eased to 9.1% in October, but remains well above the target range. Expectations remain entrenched at 7% for November 2024. 

Under Mr Labat, BCU has shown a strong commitment to rein in inflation, gradually withdrawing the monetary policy stimulus since mid-2021. On November 15, the MPC increased the policy rate from 10.75% to 11.25% — the 11th consecutive hike since August 2021.

Monetary tightening has proved important to re-anchor inflation expectations, continue strengthening central bank credibility and controlling inflation. Uruguay’s strategy of gradually raising interest rates over the rest of the year succeeded in curbing inflation below 10% without causing a slowdown. 

This recognition is the product of a broad democratic tradition and institutional steadiness

Diego Labat

Monetary policy has been effective in Uruguay despite the importance of dollarisation in the Latin American nation. Almost 60% of bank lending is in US dollars.

“This recognition is the product of the broad democratic tradition and institutional steadiness that Uruguay has built and shown to the world throughout its history,” says Mr Labat.

The reforms have given a sign of renewed commitment to reducing inflation once the economy is in firm recovery, helping to reaffirm the central bank’s credibility, he adds.

“It is necessary to promote more competition in financial markets, give more space to the fintech sector, and upgrade and modernise the payment system. We are working on an ambitious agenda on these topics,” says Mr Labat.

“Finally, the future must be sustainable. The principles of this agenda are increasingly at the centre of our decisions.”


Nguyn Th Hng, governor, State Bank of Vietnam

Proactively responding to the pressures faced by Vietnam over the past year has been Nguyễn Thị Hồng’s forte, as she has helped the country to navigate economic pressures and keep on target for strong economic growth.

Ms Hồng became the first woman to hold the position of central bank governor in Vietnam when she was appointed in November 2020. Since then, her work has helped Vietnam to maintain a strong economic position and enabled her to scoop the award for Central Banker of the Year 2023 for Asia-Pacific. 

The country’s economy is in rude health, with Vietnam’s gross domestic product forecasted to grow at 8% for 2022, beating the official government target of 6–6.5%. Additionally, the aim is to keep inflation under 4%. In response to the US Federal Reserve raising rates, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) increased rates by 100 basis points during both October and November to fight inflation. 

In supporting Vietnam’s consumers, Ms Hồng has been direct in getting her message across. Following concerns about the liquidity levels at several commercial banks in November, in a televised speech Ms Hồng assured depositors of the security of their funds in all banks in Vietnam. Siam Commercial Bank was subsequently put under special measures, with executives from other banks drafted in to provide support. SBV reaffirmed it would protect the bank’s customers under all circumstances. 

Banks have been given strong direction on how to best support areas of the country facing difficulties. As fuel shortages started happening in the country, Ms Hồng urged commercial banks to lend to oil and gas companies to ensure supplies. Petrol stations in the country had been shutting down or limiting sales due to financial difficulties or storage issues. To boost growth, SBV raised the credit growth limit for the banking system by 1.5% to 2%, with banks directed to prioritise lending to sectors that can best support economic growth, including product, exports and agriculture. 

Ms Hồng has embraced innovation, signing a memorandum of understanding with the National Bank of Cambodia to develop a digital payments system that will help improve trade between the countries. 

Middle East

Fahad Almubarak, Saudi Central Bank (SAMA)

Fahad Almubarak has hit the ground running since being reappointed the governor of SAMA in January 2021. Having previously held the position between 2011 and 2016, Mr Almubarak took control of a strengthened central bank. SAMA, which reports directly to the country’s ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, while retaining its independence, was given additional objectives in late 2020 around maintaining monetary stability, promoting financial sector stability and supporting economic growth.

“The Saudi Central Bank mandate includes monetary and financial stability and economic support,” says Mr Almubarak.

“In fulfilling its mandate, SAMA continues to facilitate the process of sustainable and inclusive economic development and diversification by maintaining exchange rate stability and exploiting the potential of the Saudi financial sector as well as harnessing fintech.” 

The country’s banking sector has been supported by strong economic growth this year, with higher oil prices making Saudi Arabia one of the world’s best performing major economies in 2022. Inflation meanwhile remains low at around 2.7% for the year, with SAMA raising rates in line with the US Federal Reserve. 

After passing through the Covid-19 pandemic largely unscathed, apart from profitability, Saudi banks remain liquid and well capitalised, with profits recovering strongly in 2021 and into 2022. Yet, under Mr Almubarak’s leadership, SAMA has acted to protect the sector from liquidity shortages, with credit growth significantly outpacing deposit growth, thanks to a mortgage and small and medium-sized enterprise lending boom. 

The regulator propped up the sector with a SR50bn ($13.3bn) liquidity injection in June and is likely to provide further support in 2023 if lending growth remains elevated, according to Fitch Ratings. 

Beyond ensuring the stability of the sector, SAMA has been one of the region’s most progressive regulators in recent years, in terms of its embrace of digital innovation, with electronic payment volumes exceeding cash payment volumes for the first time in 2021.

After launching its open banking policy in 2021, the central bank published its open banking framework in full in November 2022, with a view to services being offered to the public from the first quarter of 2023. The past year also saw the licensing of several new payment firms, with a digital banking licence — the third of its kind — granted to D360 in February. 


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