But the AOFM had begun to spread its wings long before the pandemic.
When Mr Nicholl joined the Canberra-based agency in 2011, there were $175bn of government bonds outstanding, a quarter of the current volume.
“AOFM has grown from a handful of central banks investing reserves in Australia to more than 100, with African central banks buying the bonds,” Mr Coote said. “He has increased the investor base and that is not an easy task. [Rob] and his team were said to have been partly responsible for getting people to invest in Australia.
Australia’s triple-A rating from major rating agencies, along with a stable financial and regulatory environment, helps with this funding task.
More than half of today’s public debt is held by Australians, with 45% in the hands of foreign investors in Asia, Europe and North America.
“It will be a big loss for Australia and now there are big shoes to fill,” Mr Coote said. “He leaves a very great legacy.”
Mr Johnson said another achievement of the AOFM under Mr Nicholl was the lengthening of the public debt profile through the introduction of longer-term maturities, bringing Australia in line with its peers.
“We went from a 10-year bond to a mature 30-year bond which has become popular with investors,” Johnson said.
Equally important, Mr Nicholl had pledged to issue short-term debt such as bills. “It may not be as cost-effective, but it’s very handy to have, especially in the event of a shock.”
Born in the country of Victoria, Mr. Nicholl is praised for his inclusive leadership style. A financial intermediary who did not want to be named said that the AOFM belongs to the type of institutions that are generally very conservative and promote personnel from within.
“Thanks to his open approach, he got a lot of information from the market. It bought a new level of professionalism,” the person said.
“No other central borrowing authority in the country has ever had to raise so much money and his leadership has been rewarded with this new role he is taking on.” The person added that the position at the IMF was extremely competitive and “an absolute honour.”
Mr. Nicholl opened the eyes of many foreign managers to the residential mortgage-backed securities market.
“He has done an exemplary job in a changing environment,” said Chris Dalton, chief executive of the Australian Securitization Forum.
The AOFM invited Mr. Dalton to participate in investor roadshows in Tokyo to promote investment in the Australian bond markets. “[Rob] has not only been effective in managing the government’s balance sheet, but has also recognized that international investors should have an interest in sectors such as the residential mortgage-backed securities market.
International investors are regular buyers of such instruments.
Prior to AOFM, Mr Nicholl was a Senior Executive in the Tasmanian Treasury and the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources. He also worked as a senior adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister of Tasmania at the time. He spent several years in academia as a researcher and lecturer in economics.
He will finish at the AOFM around mid-September before going to Washington DC, a city he knows well having spent 18 months there in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.
His replacement will be appointed by the Australian Treasury and coincides with a number of high-level government posts also up for grabs. Wayne Byres, chairman of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, resigned last week.