Back story: Frank O’Riordan

Frank O’Riordan, the CISI’s new President in Ireland, talks about managing risk, creating pioneering investment products and his plans for helping members further their careers

From meeting members at their offices to catching up with old competitors, colleagues and acquaintances, Frank O’Riordan MCSI has wasted no time in finding out what people want from the CISI since becoming President of the Institute in Ireland in May this year.

“One of the main things members want is help in keeping up to speed with developments in financial services,” he says. “Things evolve quickly and people need us to provide them with courses and events featuring industry experts that are topical, timely and relevant to their jobs.”

A recent CISI/ACCA seminar on managing risk held in Dublin, at which Mairéad Devine, Head of Governance, Auditing and Accounting Policy Division at the Central Bank of Ireland was the keynote speaker, attracted around 100 people, and Frank says: “The demand to hear what Mairéad had to say was a reaffirmation that if you address topical subjects through recognised authorities, people will make an effort to attend.”

Frank is often a keynote speaker at Irish and European investor conferences, with people keen to learn from a man with almost 30 years’ experience in the asset management and funds industry.

A large chunk of that experience has been gained working for AIB Investment Managers and AIB Fund Management, where he held a number of senior roles, including CEO, Chief Investment Officer and Chairman of the Board. After retiring from AIB in 2012, he was appointed Director and Trustee of the AIB Group Pensions Scheme and also works as an independent consultant, as well as being a non-executive director of a number of fund management companies.

He says: “I’ve seen the industry from a lot of different vantage points, which I think helps me in terms of what I think the CISI can do for it.”

Global reachSomething Frank thinks the Institute is particularly well placed to do is help members share best practice and discuss common issues.

As Chief Executive Officer of AIB Investment Managers, Frank repositioned the business from a traditional Irish-oriented manager to an internationally focused one that enjoyed an unbroken profit record. “This is a global industry and a lot of the issues people in financial services are facing in Ireland are very similar to the ones being faced in New York, London and Singapore,” he says.

“As a global service provider with international accreditation and with so many members, the Institute has great potential to be a focal point for people to share experience on common issues. This is arguably something that could be built on."

Balancing riskOne issue currently generating much debate among members is risk management. Frank, who enjoyed a spell as Head of Risk at an asset management firm, says attitudes towards risk management have fluctuated wildly since the recent global financial crisis.

He says: “Pre-2008, there was either a glaring misunderstanding of risk or, in some cases, just a blatant ignorance of it. Then the pendulum swung too far in the other direction – in terms of being over-prescriptive and entirely rules-based – but I think it’s starting to balance out into a more mature and dynamic appreciation.

“People are now saying that risk in itself is not a bad thing – it’s part of what we do in financial services and, as long as we recognise it and measure it, I think that’s a much healthier attitude to have.”
“No matter how good people are, no one is brilliant at everything. Someone with a slightly different perspective can come along and add value.”Team ethosIt’s also much healthier for investment firms to encourage teamwork rather than relying on particular individuals, reckons Frank, who speaks from personal experience. In 2010, as Chief Investment Officer of AIB Investment Managers, he redesigned the firm’s investment process, taking a more team-based approach that was less dependent on key individuals. It led to a sustained performance turnaround.

“I’m not saying decisions should be made by committee and, yes, you have to have individual responsibility and accountability,” he acknowledges, “but no matter how good people are, no one is brilliant at everything. Someone with a slightly different perspective can come along and add value.”

Product pioneerSuch an approach saw Frank, while CEO of AIM Investment Managers , lead a team that was one of the first to launch multi-manager investment products into the Irish institutional market.

“That worked very well for us,” says Frank. He adds that AIB was also a leader – not only in Ireland but a lot of countries – in providing global equity income products that, while not offering high-yield equity, deliver regular dividends that grow in value.

He recalls: “One of the reasons we were the first movers in this area was that we were trying to develop more mature investment products for the charities and not-for-profit areas; something that would protect their capital against the ravages of inflation.

“By generating sustained capital growth coupled with income at a relatively low risk, it has been shown that good companies with good dividend records can grow dividends in line with inflation. That whole area has become very popular in the last five years in particular, and we’ve seen a lot of new entrants into the market, where there is clearly a demand,” says Frank.

AIB Investment Managers , however, was sold in 2012, as part of the restructuring of AIB Bank following the 2008 crash. He admits: “I suppose the regret is that the firm was sold at the bottom of the cycle and we weren’t there to capitalise, but that’s how things happen. and the industry moves on.”

He’s upbeat, though, about the current economic prospects for Ireland as a whole. “The country was probably first into the 2008 fallout and, for a combination of reasons, such as policy changes, it has probably been first out of it in terms of both economic and employment growth, which I think is very good news,” he says.

Giving backFrank accepts that such shifts in economic fortune are all part of life in an industry that he loves working in.

“If I had my time again, would I have done anything else? The answer is 'no',” emphasises Frank, who rates enthusiasm as perhaps the most valuable attribute a financial services professional can have.

“Generally, the thing you love is the thing you’re probably best at. It also gets you up in the morning, and I think you need that to survive and thrive in this competitive industry.”

It's an industry that Frank has worked in since joining ICC Bank in 1980 as a Senior Economist, having completed a Master's degree in Economics at University College Dublin.

His education helped him launch his illustrious career, and as the Institute’s President in Ireland, he’s keen to help others follow in his footsteps. Frank, who has been a member of the CISI since 1999, says: “It’s nice to try and give something back and feel that you’re helping the next generation.”
Published: 23 Jun 2015
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