As a child, Oliver Knights never dreamed he would end up in the financial services sector. “I always thought I would become a lawyer. From watching television programmes or reading about the law growing up, I thought it would be something that suited me,” he says. A brief stint of work experience during his school years soon put an end to this ambition. “I was put off by the vast amounts of paperwork, but it was mainly because of the tempo.”
Oliver’s interest in financial services was sparked during a spring week at Barclays Capital while studying for a bachelor of arts in Russian at University College London. The experience, which offered his first insight into the inner workings of a banking organisation, led him to secure an internship at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management (MSPWM) in the summer of 2011, working on the sales and portfolio management sides of the business, followed by a full-time role after graduating in 2012. With a background in linguistics and – at the time – no financial qualifications, this was a very proud moment for Oliver. “Given the competitiveness of the industry and the ratio of applicants to available positions, I felt that being one of only two people that were offered the role was a big achievement.”
The next few years saw a move, after the sale of the MSPWM department to Credit Suisse in April 2014, and a promotion, in January 2016, to Oliver’s current role. The job is both diverse and exciting, he says, consisting of “anything from building pitch documents for prospective clients, to monitoring and reviewing existing clients’ portfolios or proposing new investment ideas”.
The “dynamism of compliance and regulatory matters” also keeps things interesting. Regulation is now a substantial part of the day job, says Oliver, chiefly as a result of poor compliance in previous years. “The regulatory environment is hugely fluid. Being able to adapt is deemed enormously important in our roles advising clients, particularly those in the private client space.”
"I have learnt that your network can be your greatest asset in almost any industry, particularly private banking"
Given recent movements in the political world, the ability to adapt and comply with new rules or agendas will be more important than ever going forward. “Neither individuals nor the markets like the ‘unknown unknowns’ of the world, and this uncertainty [caused by Brexit] will likely cause further upset across Europe in months, if not years, to come.”
A people’s game
Alongside the fast-paced nature of the financial markets, it’s relationships that provide the real draw for Oliver, and client relationships are at the heart of the role at Credit Suisse. “I consider myself a ‘people person’ and so by joining the private banking industry and working in the role that I do now, it allows me to initiate, build and develop relationships with clients, which I find thoroughly rewarding.”
Networking, too, is highly important. “I have learnt that your network can be your greatest asset in almost any industry, particularly private banking.” Events, dinners, meetings and conferences should all be taken as opportunities to expand one’s network, whether you are a school-leaver, graduate or seasoned professional, he says. “You never know when that contact could be of use to you in the future.”
Education is essential
Having obtained the highest score in the CISI’s Private Client Investment Advice & Management (PCIAM)
exam in 2015, Oliver is also a strong believer in the power and value of education. “I didn’t study finance at university, so I found studying PCIAM incredibly useful,” he says. “Even for those that come from a finance or economics background, the qualification covers a number of areas that will likely be new and relevant to the majority of roles dealing with private clients.”
Using the knowledge gained while studying for PCIAM, Oliver hopes to help grow the Credit Suisse department and progress his career in private banking, building out and eventually managing his own client book, while learning and challenging himself along the way – future qualifications will likely play a part in this. “The world of finance is incredibly broad and there’s always something new to learn that can either complement or deepen your understanding of a particular subject matter.”
What will the future hold?
Oliver believes millennials have a key role to play in shaping the future financial landscape, beginning with working culture. A healthier work-life balance that allows employees to “switch off” will become progressively recognised and improve productivity, while more teamwork among colleagues and flatter structures in the workplace will increase efficiencies, he says. Casual, flexible and open working environments, alongside integrated and advanced technology, will also become the norm.
The millennial generation could also play a crucial role in changing the public’s opinion of the industry. “People’s perception of financial services, for those that haven’t worked in the sector, tends to be negative. With Brexit on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how this landscape changes as we learn more about what will and what will not be available to the UK.” It won’t be any easy task, but Oliver hopes that the fresh insight and impact of millennials will help to bring the financial services industry back into a more positive light.
Read more about Oliver and other outstanding young professionals in our cover story in the Q2 special 25th anniversary edition of The Review. The print edition is available to all members who opt in to receive it, except student members. All eligible members who would like to receive future editions in the post should log in to MyCISI, click on My Account/Communications and set their preference to 'Yes'.