Luck of the Irish: a country of opportunities

With strong international links and a growing CISI membership, Ireland is punching above its weight in financial services 
by Phil Thornton


Over the past three decades, Ireland’s financial services sector has expanded its horizons to become a large internationally competitive player. The International Financial Services Centre (IFSC), a special economic zone designed to boost activity and employment in the Irish economy, opened in 1987 on a then-derelict 11-hectare site near the centre of Dublin with the aim of becoming a leading location for a range of internationally traded financial services. It employed just 60 people at the time.  

Today, figures show that more than 38,000 are employed in the IFSC and the government has a goal of increasing that to at least 45,000 people by 2020. Additionally, there are a further 10,000 finance professionals working across the rest of Ireland from the IFSC. Impressive figures, considering that, “until the 1980s, the principal banks were domestic in ownership, running relatively small-scale operations by international standards”.

Thanks to this phenomenal growth story, Ireland is now home to more than 430 international financial services companies, including over 200 foreign-owned companies spread throughout the country, according to Ireland for international financial services: international messaging, February 2019 – an update to the Irish government’s International Financial Services 2020 Strategy (IFS2020). The international financial services sector holds €4.4tn in funds under administration, and over the past five years, assets under administration in the international sector has grown by more than 55%.

IFS Ireland is the government-led initiative created to represent and position Ireland’s vision to the world. Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan (Chase), BNP Paribas and State Street are just some of the blue-chip operations that have chosen to locate in the IFSC alone. 

The country has benefited from access to a large pool of talented staff, managers, professional advisers, regulators and service providers through the IFSC. It also has a low tax environment compared with Britain. According to IDA Ireland, Ireland’s corporation tax rate is currently 12.5%, while the UK’s corporate tax rate is 19% – this is in comparison to France at 33.3%, Germany at 30% and Belgium at 29%.  It also has close links to the vast European financial services market – something that the UK may lose as it leaves the EU.
"Somebody moving from the City or Canary Wharf to the IFSC in Dublin can easily plug in to the Irish CISI network with its associated and immediate benefits” The creation of an exceptionally strong international financial services sector over recent years has been matched by Ireland’s increasingly important role within the CISI’s global network. CISI Ireland was the CISI’s first office outside London in 1993. Its first CISI president, Kenneth Beaton FCSI(Hon), and committee were appointed in that year.

The appointment of Deirdre Heffernan ACSI as the CISI’s dedicated client relationship manager in 2006 was a clear recognition of the expansion of the financial services sector in Ireland and its role within the institute’s global network. Deirdre worked for the Bank of Ireland Securities Services from 1991 to 1998 in a range of roles, before moving to Citco Bank Nederland as one of the early employees in the IFSC. She was also involved with the Irish Funds Industry Association when it was established.

More recently the CISI Ireland National Advisory Council (NAC) that formalised the committee has played a key coordinating role for the financial community. The council is made up of financial services practitioners working voluntarily to represent and promote professionalism in the financial services sector in Ireland. “We are active in the financial community and we are working closely with other sector bodies such as Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Irish Association of Investment Managers, bringing the members together through CPD events and shared initiatives,” says Deirdre. She says that CISI Ireland has also engaged with financial services consultations such as the Central Bank’s Review of minimum competency requirements

CISI Ireland NAC member Eugene Kiernan, Chartered MCSI, an adviser and consultant to a number of funds and investment committees, has been with the NAC since 2014. He says the council aims to promote, grow and represent the institute in Ireland. “The outstanding benefit of the NAC is that with its ear to the ground and the diversity of its members – directors, consultants, asset managers, wealth managers – it is fully informed and fully integrated into the fabric of financial services here,” he says. “This is critical in ensuring the CISI stays relevant.”

Brian Healy, Chartered FCSI, has been a CISI Ireland member for more than 15 years. He has held various leadership roles in the Irish Stock Exchange and has engaged with the CISI during his time at the Exchange on continuing professional development (CPD) and training programmes for stockbrokers and other staff. “It was, and still is, one of the pre-eminent training and educational institutes for professionals in securities markets,” he says.

He says that Ireland’s open, competitive and relatively small economy has meant that Irish market participants have always benefited from being part of the CISI, with its depth of membership and broad global reach. “The UK/Irish link has always been of central importance. Somebody who might be moving from the City or Canary Wharf, who finds themselves working in the IFSC in Dublin, can easily plug in to the Irish CISI network with its associated and immediate benefits.”
Membership benefitsAll members become part of an international network with opportunities to meet and interact with colleagues via a combination of events, forums and social media. They all have access to online membership benefits, which include training tools called Professional Refreshers, CISI TV, downloadable membership badges to show affiliation with a professional body, and various discounts.

Even more important are the range of globally recognised qualifications the CISI offers, which are a benchmark for professionals wherever they are operating.

The number of students in Ireland taking CISI qualifications has risen by 63% since 2008. Deirdre puts this down to an increased awareness of the global portability of CISI qualifications and their applicability to many jobs within the sector, coupled with their recognition by many global financial regulators. The most popular qualification in Ireland is the FCA-recognised Investment Operations Certificate, which is taken by practitioners in some 50 countries. 

This portability will become even more relevant as some financial firms may relocate in the wake of Brexit. In November 2016, the CISI announced a deal enabling cross-border recognition of its financial services qualifications between Ireland and the UK. It means UK-based professionals transferring to Ireland who hold the CISI’s Investment Advice Diploma are exempt from three modules of the Qualified Financial Advice (QFA) Diploma. The QFA Diploma is the benchmark qualification approved for provision of financial advice in the Irish market by the Central Bank of Ireland.

Frank O'Riordan MCSI has been president of CISI Ireland since 2015 and a member since 1999. Speaking of the internationally recognised CISI qualifications, he says: “That is a huge advantage for CISI members and helps facilitate CISI’s ambition to grow our membership across the globe.”
Winning big In 2017, Alan Ryan became the first Irish award winner to receive a CISI global award, which he won for being the highest scoring candidate worldwide in the Fundamentals of Financial Services exam.

“The qualification has helped give me a better understanding of my day-to-day tasks,” says Alan, who now works as a senior analyst at Northern Trust in Limerick. “I would definitely recommend the qualification because it’s helped me greatly in my career so far and hopefully as I complete more qualifications, it’ll continue to do so.”

The 2019 awards took place on 4 April 2019 at the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland. Martina Kresnik, corporate actions analyst at Citi in Dublin, won the overall Investment Operations Certificate award. She says: “The CISI qualification was offered by my employer as part of our training programme. The CISI was acknowledged as the best option on the market to support our professional development during our careers. The IOC qualification helped to enhance my skills in asset servicing, as well as my knowledge in securities and investments in general. I would highly recommend the CISI as it offers the opportunity to foster strong careers in all areas of financial services.” 
Events hubIreland hosts a number of events for members, with talks by some of the country’s most prominent figures. In May 2018, Des Carville, head of the shareholding and financial advisory division at the Irish Department of Finance, delivered some fascinating insights into the successful flotation of Allied Irish Bank Group

In January 2019, two senior figures from the Central Bank of Ireland came to address CISI members in Dublin on the bank’s Minimum Competency Code and Fit and Proper regime. Members took the opportunity to raise questions with regard to those staff who may have dual ‘control functions’ within firms.

Other high-profile events this year have included a panel session with senior fund managers on absolute return strategies on 5 March and a presentation on estate planning by Susan O'Connell, partner at O’Connell Brennan solicitors, on 27 March.

Eoghain Murphy, head of private banking Ireland at Barclays and an NAC member since 2017, says the council is keen to promote the education courses and CPD events where members can build their sector knowledge. “I believe it has been very successful over the past few years and most specifically with the quality of the CPD events it has provided over the past 12 months where attendance has been very high,” he says.   

In a sign of the CISI’s growing importance, it was selected as a media partner for the 2019 European Financial Forum on 13 February 2019 in Dublin, which brought together international and Irish financial services executives, policymakers, regulators and thought leaders to explore the disruptive forces that are shaping the sector. Speakers included Anne Finucane, vice chairman of Bank of America, Michael Corbat, Citigroup’s CEO, and the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.
Looking forwardBrian says there has been a “quantum leap” in financial services in terms of the onus of accountability, with the need for executives in financial services to proactively demonstrate their ‘fitness and probity’ being a case in point. “The CISI is a key resource in providing insights into and analysis of market trends.” He says: “From the quality of material that you come across in The Review to the training courses that are available online to CPD and networking events, all of these contribute to active learning.”

Eugene says that Ireland will continue to be a major player in the financial services sector, a sector increasingly under the spotlight where financial wellbeing into retirement is becoming critical due to the challenges of lower interest rates for savers and our ageing populations. “The key for success for any jurisdiction is to remain relevant, responsive and competitive,” he says. “What needs to be maintained are standards and values. The CISI can play a huge role here in educating and informing, and also in matters of integrity.”

Frank says it is becoming increasingly commonplace for people in the financial sector to move jurisdiction. Brexit has accelerated that process, although he is keen to point out that the global financial sector has been growing in Ireland for the past 20 years. Brexit has undoubtedly given it a “shot in the arm”, he says. 

“The CISI can help members who are leaving one jurisdiction, say London, to another jurisdiction, say Dublin, in terms of being the organisation on the ground. We let them know that they can jump straight in, in terms of CPD events, networking and accreditations. Members should be aware that we will hold their hand in moving from one place to another. The CISI is here to help.”

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Published: 28 May 2019
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