Q&A with a financial services NED

Charities pension liabilities
By Hannah Downie

23 August 2018

Tom Colraine speaks to Hannah Downie about the challenges he faces in his role and his advice for CAs looking to break into financial services.

Q: What’s the draw of FS?

Financial services is an attractive area of the economy in which to work and, sometimes(!), to invest.

The FS industry generally grows over time: as people become wealthier, they want to insure their assets, their health and their lives; they want to invest their money for their retirement and their children.

It is also very complex: consider that, in order to compete cost effectively, multinational scale is often required; different countries have their own laws and regulations for licensing, tax, consumer protection etc; and many key support services are supplied by third-party service providers, often based overseas.

Because FS is generally strictly regulated in most countries, it requires a heavy overhead in terms of resources (human, financial and IT), to comply with the rules and customer expectations. That means a lot of specialist knowledge is needed for an organisation to survive and be successful.

Q: Can you describe what your current roles entail?

I work for three different companies:

  1. The Wealth Management division of Schroders plc at which I chair its Audit and Risk Committee and am a non-executive director (NED) at Schroder & Co Limited, its UK subsidiary and private bank.
  2. I am Senior Independent Director on the board of Hastings Group Holdings plc, a FTSE-250 company. Until recently, I chaired the Audit Committee, and now chair the Remuneration Committee and Nominations Committee.
  3. I am Chairman of Compre, an Insurance group backed by CBPE private equity. Compre is in the “legacy” or “run-off” business i.e. it acquires companies or books of business from other insurance companies which no longer write a particular type of business.

Q: What challenges do you face and how do you deal with them?

Generally, a non-executive director should seek to be a helpful source of support and advice for the chief executive and the rest of the management team.

A good NED should be a team player, be actively involved in discussions, listen to other points of view, but also ask difficult questions when necessary.

You don’t have to look far for recent examples of companies which have featured prominently in the newspapers. Their former directors perhaps wish they had asked more searching questions or had been more demanding of the answers they were given.

All board members can help the management team be aware of emerging challenges (such as those caused by technology) that could creep up.

Most executives are extremely busy with constant day-to-day pressures, and non-executive directors can help increase an organisation’s capacity to keep watch on what is happening in the world.

Q: What advice do you have for CAs looking to get in to FS?

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from getting into Financial Services. It tends to be well paid and there are many different career options within the sector.

It is difficult to transfer into financial services from outside the industry, unless its early on in your career.

On the other hand, the penalties for getting it wrong can be very severe. Look at the recent bad publicity encountered by TSB when they were implementing new systems.

If someone wants a career in FS, I would advise them to enter the sector relatively early in their career. Several options would be open to accountants: as well as mainstream accounting and reporting roles, there is financial planning and analysis, internal audit, compliance, risk management etc.

It is relatively easy to transfer from, say, insurance to banking or vice versa, but it is difficult to transfer into FS from outside other than early on.

I always think that internal audit is a great way to learn about an entire organisation before moving into another role. Other than that, you can maximise your options if you are flexible on your work location and are prepared to travel!

Topics

  • Development of the profession
  • Financial Services
  • CA life

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