Brian Healy likes a challenge. This is evident in his numerous professional roles at the Irish Stock Exchange (ISE), where he is responsible for the firm’s core trading and infrastructure business related to equities, fixed income and various key support functions; at Euroclear Group, chairing the Irish Market Advisory Committee; and at the Irish Investor Compensation Company, acting as non-executive director and chair of the Audit and Risk Committee – but also in one of his pastimes: sea swimming. Every year Brian takes part in a New Year’s Day swim in 9° water in the Atlantic, but saves most of his outings for the warmer summer months.
The early days
Upon completing his Bachelor of Commerce in 1990 and a postgraduate degree in finance in 1991, Brian trained as a Chartered Accountant with global firm Arthur Andersen. “It was one of the later arrivals in Ireland in what was then the ‘big six’ accounting firms, and so it had a broader range of engagements and a more eclectic range of clients than the other firms in Ireland,” he says.
During his time at the firm, Brian carried out groundbreaking work with the European Commission on setting up a new model for the auditing of the Common Agricultural Policy, which, after being piloted in Ireland, was rolled out across the EU; worked with International Paper in setting up its first Irish operation, a large manufacturing plant on the River Shannon; and provided consultancy for Coolmore Stud, the world's leading thoroughbred racehorse breeding operation.
Following a number of promotions through the business, involving an increasing amount of financial services and corporate finance work, Brian made the decision to move into a commercial setting. A call from a headhunter in 1998 prompted just that, and he began a new role at the ISE. “I took the job thinking it would be an interesting three-year role, starting with responsibility for the ‘Big Bang’ project for the Irish market, but it turned into something much longer.”
A diverse operation
Today, the ISE is one of a small number of independent exchanges in Europe. It’s a lean business – 115 people in total – with 35,000 securities from 4,400 issuers across 85 countries. Brian’s role covers a wide span from trading, clearing and settlement, to responsibility for the creation and development of key strategic partnerships. The firm’s long-standing technology collaboration with Germany’s Deutsche Börse Group dates back to the introduction of electronic trading to the Irish equity market – something that Brian considers among his biggest career achievements to date.
“Electronic trading enabled the Irish equity market to compete internationally and we also used it to create a platform of technologies and a suite of strategic partnerships that then positioned the company to thrive,” says Brian. “As well as our core exchange business, we now have a really strong business in international primary markets, supported by a proprietary technology infrastructure.” Similarly, from a clearing perspective, the ISE works with Eurex Clearing AG and, on the settlement side, Euroclear UK & Ireland for equities and Euroclear Bank for fixed income. He is also responsible for line functions such as finance, IT and the operations team.
And it doesn’t stop there. Brian has carried out significant work on behalf of Ireland’s capital markets in the development of securities law and market infrastructure throughout the EU. “That goes back to a very significant degree of involvement at the coalface on MiFID I and the Market Abuse Directive. It involved a lot of representation in Brussels, with the Commission, Parliament and the Committee of European Securities Regulators (the precursor to the European Securities and Markets Authority), where the Exchange worked very closely with a number of government departments. That was unusual in the European context at the time.”
"Given the relationship between Ireland and the UK, as well as Europe, we are in the cockpit of post-Brexit change"
Things have changed considerably since then. “Now we’re more behind the scenes, working with key domestic constituencies, the Central Bank of Ireland, and supporting the Department of Finance and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation,” he says. “The font of so much of our legislation is now European, and ensuring appropriate engagement with and responsiveness to this changing legislation is very important. Both at EU level and domestically, the Exchange is very active in trying to make sure that Irish securities law is where it needs to be.”
Change is afoot
Brian has witnessed remarkable changes in the market landscape over the past 15 years. “It’s a bit of a cliché, but genuinely no two days are the same, and the Exchange I started working in is now radically different. There’s been a huge degree of legislative, regulatory and fundamental business model transformation, and it’s now, very importantly, a symbiosis of people and technology which enable the business.”
Customer profiles, too, have altered drastically. “Investment banks and Irish broker dealers are, of course, still incredibly important, but there’s now a far greater diversity of customer types, trading strategies and market operators.”
And more change is afoot; change that, for the Irish financial services sector, will completely transform the agenda. “Brexit is going to be a tectonic shift in terms of European capital and securities markets, with implications across all constituencies, and all elements of the market and economy,” says Brian. “Given the relationship between Ireland and the UK, as well as Europe, we are in the cockpit of that change.”
Brian points out that Ireland is in a unique position post-Brexit, given that it will remain part of the EU while also being culturally attuned to the UK and the US. Brexit will, naturally, bring considerable risks, but it also represents a significant opportunity. “We’ve always seen ourselves as a gateway to Europe from an exchange and markets perspective,” says Brian.
Economic, regulatory and policy movements taking place in the US as a result of Donald Trump’s new presidency may also prove challenging for Ireland, with a question mark hanging over what ‘America first’ could mean for the Irish economy. “We have a very strong foreign direct investment (FDI) presence in terms of US companies, but geographically we also happen to sit between the UK and the US, so I think that will be a key area over the next few years.”
2014–2017: Beaumont Hospital, non-executive director, chair of the Audit Committee
2001–present: Investor Compensation Company Limited, non-executive director and chair of the Audit and Risk Committee
1998–present: Irish Stock Exchange, currently director, traded markets, development and operations; group company secretary
1991–1998: Arthur Andersen, various roles
Graduate, postgraduate and professional studies
2010: Accredited mediator
2000: CISI, Fellow
1993: Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland, 2001 Fellow
1986–1991: University College Cork, University College Dublin, University of Siena
Add to this a large MiFID project and a next generation trading platform – in July the firm will move from ISE Xetra to ISE T7 – and it’s going to be another busy year.
A commitment to excel
In the face of a challenge it is paramount that people are kept motivated, says Brian, who puts considerable effort into initiatives such as Great Place to Work®
. “We won the best place to work in Ireland for medium-sized companies in 2016,” he says. “Initiatives like this keep organisations fresh and innovative.”
Continuing professional development (CPD) is also hugely significant. Until recently the ISE was directly involved in the training of stockbrokers, which is now undertaken in association with the Institute of Bankers. Brian has also engaged with the CISI on various training and development programmes during his time at the Exchange. “With the degree of change in our industry, what you understood from a regulatory and markets point of view two years ago is probably not going to be current unless you make that positive commitment on a regular basis to educate yourself and to keep up to date.”
Brian is also involved in a variety of speaking engagements, from Master of Business (MBA) classes in Irish universities to the Industrial Liaison Programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Research and conference collaborations have also taken him far afield: “We’ve had a fruitful engagement with Professor Bob Schwartz in City University of New York.”
It’s a lot to fill a man’s plate, but none of it could be done without the commitment, the focus and the ability of Brian’s 75 strong team, he says. “If you can create and sustain a really strong, innovative, and dedicated team, that is affirming, enabling and inspirational on a daily basis.”