|Careers in Finance and Financial Services: Management Consultancy
|A career in financial services consulting can provide so many very different career paths and learning opportunities, that it's a good idea not to start out in this career with too fixed an idea of what you will be doing, recommends Gillian Comerford, who works with Accenture. Consultants need to be able to listen, be flexible, and be open to exploring every opportunity that comes along, she says, as sometimes the greatest and most unexpected of outcomes can stem from what initially appear to be very mundane opportunities.
|What is your educational background? I was educated in Loreto Secondary School, Foxrock and went on to study Business, Economic and Social Studies (BESS) in Trinity College Dublin, where I specialised in Accounting and Finance. I spent a semester studying in Tokyo where I learnt Japanese and a lot about Japanese Industry and Banking structures. I have recently qualified as a Chartered Management Accountant (CIMA).
What has been your career path to date? After college, I joined Arthur Andersen's Business Consulting practice where I worked on a number of Organisational Strategy and Financial Control projects. While working on these projects in a variety of organisations, I had a lot of interaction with very senior and knowledgeable people, many of whom started their careers as accountants. This encouraged me to consider the value of an accountancy qualification, both in order to better understand the concerns of the clients I was working with, and to be better able to communicate the proposed solutions to them.
I decided to study CIMA as the breadth of the subject matter captured in the one qualification (everything from accounting to IT to business strategy) was a natural fit with my own desired career as a management consultant. In order to fulfil CIMA's training requirements, I worked for a year in Arthur Andersen's Tax and Legal Advisory department where the precision required to file corporate tax returns was a far cry from the high level consulting work I was used to!! It was, however, an invaluable training ground for me, and to this day, encourages me to consider the tax implications of proposed solutions.
Following the merger of Arthur Andersen with KPMG, I moved to Accenture to work as a consultant in the financial services practice. I have been working with Accenture for almost three years now, and have worked on a variety of projects with a number of Irish banks. I have found my CIMA qualification to be hugely beneficial to my work.
Are your peers from similar backgrounds? As Accenture has diversified and grown its offerings to clients, it has attracted people from an increasingly diverse range of backgrounds. I work with qualified actuaries, engineers, tax consultants, biochemists - the list goes on.
Have you worked abroad? If so where and what did you do? Would you do so again? During college, I did two banking internships, one in Singapore and the second in Boston which gave me a taste of working abroad. For personal reasons, I am happy to live in Ireland for the moment but one of the great things about working for such a global firm as Accenture is that I know that working abroad is always an option should I decide that I want to try it out again.
My job does involve a certain amount of travel all the same, which recently included two months working with SAP in Germany.
How would you compare career prospects internationally to those in Ireland? I believe that the Irish market is very well placed to provide career prospects to rival anywhere else in the world
I think that increasing competition and regulation is changing the face of the financial services industry in Ireland. This is creating, and will continue to create, many new and exciting career opportunities for those willing and able to drive financial services firms to maximise their performance in the market place.
There are, however, some niche areas which, if you want to gain experience in, may be better explored in London, New York or other major financial centres, but I think that these niche areas are increasingly coming to Ireland and enhancing the availability of such experience here.
Have you undertaken any additional professional training since assuming your current role? Having completed my CIMA finals, I promised myself a few years off before starting on another professional training course and have been concentrating on enjoying my lecture-free evenings instead!
One of the things that attracted me to Accenture, however, is the world-class training and learning opportunities offered at every stage of your career so, even though I'm not pursuing any particular qualification at the moment, my learning is continuing at a terrific rate.
There is a huge variety of formal training courses on offer designed to support the day to day skill requirements of your project, such as training on a specific software / programming language, in addition to more generic training courses such as project management and presentation skills.
What skills/aptitude would you identify as being key/beneficial to a career in your sector? The key to being a successful management consultant is to listen! Our job is to hear the problems that our clients are facing, to understand them and then to propose and implement solutions.
It is also essential to be adaptable and to be a fast learner because every assignment and every client is so different, and you are expected to get up to speed very quickly.
What aspects of the job do you like most? The variety - given that the work I do is project based, I get the opportunity to work with different clients, in different locations, looking at different problems and different solutions with different people every time I change role. That provides fantastic opportunities to learn and to see many different aspects of the financial services industry. Also, I get to work with amazingly impressive people all of the time which provides great motivation to continuously improve and learn!
What aspects of the job do you like least? The variety!!! The flip side of my job is that it makes it very difficult to plan your personal life. There are so many new and exciting opportunities coming along all the time, that it is really difficult to know where you are going to be, and what you will be doing in the future.
How do you define success in your sector? My job is essentially to help clients to recognise what is important for them to succeed in their industry and to support them in their quest to succeed. So, my success is really seeing my clients succeed and knowing that I contributed to that success.
Is there anyone in particular you admire in your industry?
I admire Sean Fitzpatrick, ex-CEO and current chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. Under his leadership, Anglo Irish Bank has grown from a niche player into a highly successful and profitable financial institution.
What advice would you give to others who might like a career in your sector? Financial services - consulting can provide so many very different career paths and learning opportunities, that it's a good idea not to start out in this career with too fixed an idea of what you will be doing. Be open to exploring every opportunity that comes along and try to view set backs and challenges as an opportunity to experience something new. Sometimes the greatest and most unexpected of outcomes can stem from what initially appear to be very mundane opportunities.