Kerri Ryan > CFO, RSL Queensland

RSL Queensland: Much more than just pubs and pokies

With more than two decades’ experience in the finance and corporate services sector, Kerri Ryan is right where she belongs as the CFO of RSL Queensland. By Nina Hendy.

Trying to change a historic brand and introduce greater transparency and financial sustainability is a tall order for the CFO of RSL Queensland, Kerri Ryan.

But she’s not at all daunted by the task, taking one step at a time on a transformational journey for the historic organisation.  

Having come from a commercial background and spending a decade in the not-for-profit space, Ryan realised that she needed to work for an organisation with purpose and values alignment. When a recruiter presented her with RSL Queensland as a potential job opportunity in late 2021, she started doing some research and quickly realised that the organisation was about much more than just pubs and pokies.

The 108-year-old organisation is steeped in history and legacy. From the beginning, she was intrigued by RSL Queensland’s public financials and mission. There are large prizes in lottery wins, too, with ticket sales forming an important part of the income generated for the organisation directly supporting veteran services and programs.

In December, this included a $12.5 million apartment complex right on the beach. “Sometimes I wonder what Raymond Huish, who funded the first prize home by mortgaging his house back in 1956, would think if he could see the phenomenal organisation that he strongly contributed to and how impactful it has been on the lives of veterans and their families,” she says.

In Queensland alone, there are 230 sub-branches across 10 districts, all made of up incredibly committed and purpose-driven volunteers, often veterans themselves, there to support current and ex-serving members, Ryan explains.

“As the CFO, my priority is to secure RSL Queensland’s commercial capability and assets. We’re not linked by a company structure, and all run by volunteers, and once I got my head around that and understanding the services that they provide – advocacy, homelessness, employment programs and could see that it was going to be a great fit for me. It’s so different to working in the corporate sector, where it’s all about the shareholders,” she says.

Changing of the guard

Ryan has a number of new executives who joined the team at a similar time to her have collectively embarked on a process to simplify what had been a complicated operating model.

The plan is to set aside a sustainable sum annually that can be paid back into charitable services provided by RSL Queensland, bringing consistency to veteran services, programs and the partners the organisation works with.

“Organisations can become unnecessarily complex. When I joined there had been a turnover in the executive, which has meant that the new team has spent the past two years bringing fresh ideas into the organisation, and we were ready to act on that,” she says.


While not reporting to shareholders, RSL Queensland does have a number of stakeholders, veterans and members to consider. Transparency, communication and a clear decision-making framework has been critical. “Having that corporate and member mix on our Board can influence our decisions, and we recognised that we needed to become more commercially focused to be able to deliver on our remit,” she says.

This led to the decision to design a Capital Management Framework, which will be implemented this year. This will ensure the financial sustainability and management demand from veterans will be assured while enabling some capital can be invested back into the business.

“Our membership recognised the need for change and for more commercial influence, and voted yes for a skill-based board in the constitution. This was a landmark move for RSL Queensland, and we now have some great commercial minds on our Board and committees,” she says.

“We plan to set this allocation of funds for a longer period supported by balance sheet management to mitigate the impacts of a fluctuating economy and to manage the elasticity of our revenue generation to provide a level of certainty to veterans and their families and partners and also to better manage the consistent demand for our services,” Ryan says.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that when an organisation grows rapidly, there’s going to be lots of opportunity to get under the hood for a CFO and dig into evolving the ways things are done to make sure that every dollar earned can get back to our veterans and their families,” Ryan says.

Brimming with experience

Ryan came to the CFO role with significant experience. She has worked in local government, for Suncorp Group and did a stint with a startup, where she honed her entrepreneurial skills.

She also spent a decade with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation during a period of immense change.

At the time, the Federal Government awarded the organisation $444 million for a program of six years of work, with the first year dedicated to building the organisation to be able to meet the milestones of the contract and responsibly acquire public funds.

This meant that the organisation went from an organisation with an annual turnover of $10 million to just under $80 million overnight. Key learnings from that period of time was the influence of the committee and board, taking guidance from others, building trusted relationships with peers and being a stable and calm leader for your team in the face of uncertainty and at times, chaos.

Shoring up the future

Ryan says that life is very different in charge of a not-for-profit organisation, which can take CFOs some time to master. The challenge is ensuring financial sustainability so that the balance sheet is managed, some money is put away for a rainy day and not for profits need to get better at balance sheet management and financial sustainability.

“The metric of success for us will be the creation of a sustainable and consistent revenue streams annually, which allows RSL Queensland to offer continuous services and manage stakeholder expectations over the long term,” she says.

Leveraging the skillsets from our committees and boards to build a better capital management framework, and getting better at planning and long term budgeting.

Ryan, who is a single mother raising four children, took out the top gong in the CFO of the year in the not-for-profit category supported by CFO Magazine last year after being nominated by her team.

While the win was a huge accolade for her, Ryan is insistent that she’s not looking to raise her brand. “I’m more interested in hoping that other women might gain some inspiration by reading about my journey,” she says.

“I encourage women to pursue and excel in the finance field and continue to break down barriers so we can contribute to more diverse and dynamic financial industry,” she says.