Profile: Michael Cole-Fontayn MCSI, the CISI’s new chairman

Michael Cole-Fontayn MCSI, the CISI’s new chairman, has enjoyed a successful 35-year career in banking. Now, he wants to use his chairmanship to offer the wider sector the benefit of his experience
by Eila Madden

Michael Cole-Fontayn MCSI was formally elected as the CISI’s new chairman in October 2018, succeeding Sir Alan Yarrow Chartered FCSI(Hon). However, Michael almost missed crossing paths with the CISI entirely. 

Financial services was only intended to be a stopgap for a young Michael, who graduated from the University of Westminster in 1983 with a BA in Business Management. 

“Needless to say, it didn’t work that way and I found the world of banking and finance very stimulating,” says Michael, who joined the Bank of New York (BNY) upon graduation. His time at BNY gave him a ringside seat at many more of the biggest financial events in history. He was part of the first hostile takeover of another bank when BNY acquired Irving Trust. 

In the early 1990s, Michael, then in his early 30s, was sent on assignment to Hong Kong. He saw, at first hand, China’s embrace of a market-based economy with Chinese characteristics, the rapid development of the Indian economy and the subsequent rise of the Asian economy as a whole. He was also there when the UK returned Hong Kong to China. 

His work took him all over the world during that period, enabling him to witness the global consequences of the 2008 financial crisis. “There were a lot of lessons learnt for all aspects of the market during that period, when the financial services sector generally lost the trust of society,” he says.

In 2011, he was appointed chairman of Europe, the Middle East and Africa for what had become BNY Mellon – a role he held until 2017. Retiring from the bank after a successful 35 years, he has graduated to a portfolio career.

As part of that, he is currently chairman of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), which is focused on delivering an optimal Brexit for wholesale financial services and helping to deliver the risk reduction package that regulators have been implementing since the financial crisis. Coming to the CISIThrough his work at BNY Mellon, helping companies to list on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), Michael has always been aware of the CISI’s roots as the education arm of the LSE and of its work to build professionalism within the sector through its qualifications and focus on ethical behaviour. 

Michael Cole-Fontayn's CV 

Oct 2018: Takes on the chairmanship of the CISI

Jan 2018: Appointed chairman of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe

2017: Retires from BNY Mellon after a 35-year career at the firm

2011: Promoted to chairman of EMEA at BNY Mellon

1983: Joins Bank of New York as credit and risk analyst 

1983: Graduates from the University of Westminster with a BA in Business Management
“When I was approached to be considered for the role of chairman of the CISI, it immediately appealed. This is an opportunity to apply my 35 years’ experience in financial services around the world to support the achievement of the CISI’s goal of promoting the highest level of professional competence and integrity to members, individuals and firms.”
The CISI abroadMichael believes CISI qualifications and continuing professional development (CPD) should be the bedrock for any aspiring financial services executive to ensure that they have the most up-to-date information about standards, conduct and professional behaviour and a robust understanding of the evolving requirements to practise the profession.

He welcomes the fact that practitioners in other parts of the world now have the opportunity to build this career foundation, thanks to the success of the CISI’s overseas expansion, and he is pleased to see how well-regarded the institute is in its new markets in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Future expansion, he says, should be smart and focused, with the CISI partnering with regulators, global firms and governments to spread the highly-regarded standards of the UK market farther afield. 
The financial crisisTaking pride in the profession is an important part of the recovery process for the sector as a whole as it reflects on lessons learnt in the ten years since the financial crisis. 

The impact on savers has, he says, been exceptionally high and this has informed the political and regulatory response. He believes the sector must now hold itself accountable for its actions, which should be focused on ensuring a fair outcome for those who rely on the sector for their savings, investment and planning. 

Integrity in financial services is critical and the sector is still learning lessons, particularly in the ‘grey areas’ where regulation needs to be translated, understood, implemented and embedded in the processes and behaviours of regulated institutions. 

Michael says the Senior Managers and Certification Regime has helped to clear up some of those grey areas, such as clarifying the definitions of terms, including ‘responsibility’, ‘accountability’ and ‘authority’. 

The Banking Standards Board and the Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities Markets Standards Board have also been doing some very good work on patterns and causes of misconduct, and standards of behaviour, he adds, but to help people comply, the sector needs to be based on, supported and evidenced by relevant and rigorous qualifications.Continuity through volatilityDespite such occasional glimmers of good news, with Brexit headlines changing on a daily basis, does Michael fear that the UK will leave the EU with no deal? If it does, he believes a critical mass of financial services firms will be ready to serve clients with continuity through any volatility. 

However, he says it is in the world’s interest for the UK and EU to negotiate an appropriate deal. Without one, any subsequent financial or economic instability in the UK might have effects across the global financial system. 

“What we need is political trust and confidence to build in a way that will fulfil the British side of the Brexit mandate and fulfil the expectations of 450 million European citizens that this is not a financially disruptive event,” Michael says.

His efforts to win the best outcome for the financial services sector will no doubt ramp up as we draw nearer to the leave date of March 2019. It seems that Michael has never stopped being witness to the historical events that shape the sector – an insight that CISI members will benefit from as they get to know their new chairman.

The full version of this article appears in the Q4 2018 print edition of The Review. All members, excluding student members, are eligible to receive the quarterly print edition of the magazine. Members can opt in to receive the print edition by logging in to MyCISI, clicking on My account, then clicking the Communications tab and selecting ‘Yes’.

Once you have read the print edition, keep coming back to the digital edition of The Review, which is updated regularly with news, features and comment about the Institute and the financial services sector.

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Published: 19 Dec 2018
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