We caught up with Noel Maye, outgoing chief executive of the Financial Planning Standards Board (FPSB), to talk about the challenges, risks, and rewards during his career
by Sophie Mackenzie
Noel has been instrumental in establishing financial planning as a global profession, leading an organisation that sets standards for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals globally.
He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in 1990 with a degree in electronic engineering before moving into financial services. In the mid-1990s he worked for the PR firm Ogilvy, Adams & Rinehart in New York, where he began promoting financial planning and CFP™ certification with the US-based CFP Board as his client. He then moved to work for the CFP Board itself, eventually becoming the founding chief executive of the FPSB. “All told, I have more or less spent the past three decades on the same career path, and am loving every minute of it,” he says.
While his experience at the CFP Board was hugely influential in the founding ethos of the FPSB, the organisations are very different structurally and culturally, says Noel. When he joined the CFP Board it had already been in existence for ten years, with more than 30 staff. Noel launched the FPSB with the support of one other person, and for the first couple of years it comprised “never more than five or six people”. The other difference between the two organisations was that, culturally, the CFP Board, as a national non-profit organisation, was more process-based, with multiple layers of management. In contrast, while the FPSB was also a non-profit, it ran “like a lean, entrepreneurial start-up organisation with a global mandate”, says Noel.
December 2004 – present: Chief executive officer, Financial Planning Standards Board
1996–2004: Senior vice president, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards
1993–2004: Associate, Ogilvy, Adams & Rinehart
1990: Graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, with degree in electronic engineering
Work hard, work smart
It might seem counterintuitive that a childhood spent on a farm in the rural west of Ireland would be good preparation for a career in finance, but it taught Noel from an early age "that the work needed to get done regardless” of whether he felt tired or didn’t want to do it, and that effort and preparation at the start of a job yielded good results. He has always felt comfortable being a self-starter and believes that “hard work, applied smartly, can get you 90% of the way there”.
At school, Noel showed aptitude for both languages and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects, making a global financial planning organisation which represents professionals in 27 countries and territories, speaking in excess of 15 languages, the ideal fit for him.
He also learned valuable lessons at Ogilvy, Adams & Rinehart, whose clients “always expected you to deliver your best work”, with no opportunity to rest on the laurels of previous successful campaigns. “You had to deliver on each and every project, usually across multiple projects with shifting deadlines. It taught me to be comfortable with change, and to keep moving forward,” he says.
"When things stop going to plan, communicate that fast and explain what you're going to do to fix it" The experience taught him valuable lessons about the importance of open, honest communication. “Always tell the truth, don’t be afraid to over-communicate, and when things stop going to plan, communicate that fast and explain what you're going to do to fix it,” he says. The notion that his word is his bond, Noel continues, is a tenet that he has taken into his career in financial planning – one that has helped him build stakeholder relationships based on trust and mutual respect.
Challenge and change
Noel looks back at his decision to leave the ‘relative safety’ of employment at the CFB Board to launch the FPSB as the greatest challenge of his career. This is unsurprising, given that the fledgling organisation was “a brand new, international start-up with a seven-figure bank loan, relatively little funds in the bank, a tiny workforce and an established global network with high expectations for quick results”. He regards its success as his proudest achievement.
In the early days of the organisation, he recalls, there were “more than a few people” watching its launch from the sidelines, anticipating failure. But almost two decades later, the organisation represents “a strong global network of financial planning standard-setting and certification bodies that have aligned their missions, visions and efforts to those of the FPSB”. One of those, of course, is the CISI, which Noel describes as playing “an active role in best practice sharing within the FPSB network, sharing techniques and tools for how to deliver world-class certification programmes”.
Noel’s boldness in choosing to take on the challenge of building a new organisation from the ground up is testament not only to his appetite for change, but also to his patience. “One personality assessment I completed indicated that I liked change, as long as I was the one driving the change,” he says. “The biggest challenge in the work we do establishing financial planning as a global profession is the time it takes to move complex projects through a global decision-making process, and the time it takes to educate and motivate stakeholders to join the effort. As I’ve gotten older, the patience bit has gotten easier.”
Change, however, remains a constant in Noel’s career, with conversations about the future of the sector an ongoing feature of his role. The FPSB sees a ‘hybrid’ future for financial planning, he says, explaining that human financial planners are “much more capable when it comes to the psychology or ‘soft skills’, while technology can be leveraged to “empower clients to become more active participants in the financial planning process”.
Balance? What balance?
Noel’s day-to-day working life is filled with variety, but travel is one constant: in the two weeks prior to our interview, he had visited Marrakesh, Sao Paolo and Miami. The day after, he was scheduled to fly to Tokyo. “That sums up what feels like a typical month for me,” he says.
Such a globetrotting lifestyle might seem like a dream come true for many, but it comes with its challenges. “Rumour has it that I don’t have a work-life balance,” Noel jokes, going on to explain that he regularly works at odd hours of the day to account for regional time differences, is often at his desk over weekends, and spends “as much time out and about” as he does at home. While he relishes this frenetic pace of life, it’s not without its downsides. “My lifestyle is not conducive to my waistline staying the size it should be, given the amount of sitting on airplanes and participating in celebratory meals that I do,” he says, adding that a post-career challenge – he is stepping down from his role at the FPSB at the end of 2022 – could be “getting back into those 32-inch-waist trousers”.
Advice for career starters
In closing, Noel has some words of wisdom to offer those starting out in a career in finance – or indeed any other sector. “Whether it’s to young financial planners, or to people like my nephew and nieces launching into nursing, veterinary and teaching careers, my advice would be the same – figure out what you love to do and do that, even if lots of people are telling you it’s not the right thing to do. Find something you care about, work hard at it, be a force for good in the world, and you'll have an amazing career and a rewarding life. And of course, embrace the power of financial planning for yourself – your life will be all the richer for it.”