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Christine McGowan on the importance of education in credit and risk management

Christine McGowan, Head of Business Change & Strategy with AIB, recently won the Risk Management category at the IOB Future of Finance Awards in recognition of her outstanding leadership in creating a new credit curriculum for AIB.

Credit skills are at the heart of a bank’s function. Every day in every bank, customers are beginning, maintaining or updating credit agreements. Ensuring that customers are being offered the right products and that best practices and regulatory requirements are being met is critical for anyone working in the area.

Christine McGowan, Head of Business Change & Strategy with AIB, is an experienced credit professional and has held senior leadership positions across the AIB Group in risk, retail, capital markets and HR. Following the financial crisis, Christine moved back in to a credit risk role from customer facing and led a transformative project to enhance credit skills across the bank.

Filling skills gaps

Following the financial crisis, skills gaps were emerging as organisations evolved. Credit was highlighted as a key area where training and education offerings needed to be reviewed. “There was an opportunity in the bank to grow my experience. and a gap in skillset for through the cycle lending. That’s when I started looking at material initially for my own team to build and enhance the skillset,” Christine explains.

Many of those working within credit roles had experience of lending during one part of the credit cycle. “It’s more straightforward when you’re looking at cases in an upturn, because everything is positive,” Christine says. “The really challenging part is in a downturn. How are you going to support your customers and assess their cashflow going forward in the right way? That takes a skillset.”

Christine McGowan

A new solution

Christine began a project to review all credit training courses available across the bank, with a view to streamlining, updating and simplifying the training required. At the time, 252 courses were on offer in the area. For a recent joiner or someone new to the area, it was daunting and difficult to navigate.

“We stood up a steering group together across the group – ROI and UK. Everybody had similar situations. Our first step was to then to bring together a group of Credit SME’s/experts in their areas to look at all the material that was there,” she says.

After reviewing all the material and deciding which courses to keep, gaps were identified. “The biggest challenge was to fill the gaps in terms of the material,” Christine says. This required seeking relevant courses available with education institutes, as well as developing and delivering tailored training sessions internally.

The project took six months and a significant lift from all the team members involved in terms of the review and then almost a year to secure and develop the additional courses needed. The result is a new credit curriculum – a set of on-line and classroom modules. In total there are 42 sperate modules which include a mix of internal training and IOB programmes.

A clear path

The impact for the bank has been incredibly positive. “The biggest impact for the business is that there is a clear path,” Christine explains. “If you join either as a new joiner or you come into credit later in your career, you can see very clearly what you need to do for your development.” From a risk management perspective, the organisation also has improved consistency of credit education and training with all those in credit roles wither customer facing or in the second line having the same material and curriculum.

Last November, AIB held its first curriculum awards since 2019. The impact of the project really became visible. “We had 175 people invited. We had each of their heads of business areas…. It was fantastic to see that many people in a room people awarded. It was super,” Christine says.

When the new credit curriculum was first launched in 2017, now, over 1,700 AIB employees are taking part. “That’s where you see this is really making an impact,” she says.

Education is critical

Credit is an area where training and skills development are critical. In this volatile and unpredictable economic environment, Christine believes that education and training are more important than ever. “Over the last number of years – we’ve had Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine, and cost-of-living challenges. There is something all the time from a macro perspective so, you need to be equipped to deal with that. Whether you’re looking after a customer on the frontline or whether you’re in risk and you’re the one assessing the credit applications and taking that risk on to the balance sheet you need to be up to speed with regulation, policies, cash flow analysis and best practices.”

Working in business change, Christine is often faced with new challenges. It’s the part of her job she loves the most. “There is no routine. You absolutely can’t predict what happens next... Within my role, every year I’m still learning. Every year I have something that I probably haven’t had to deal with before. That’s great. You might be overwhelmed at the start, but at the end of a new challenge – you get that great sense of accomplishment.”

IOB Future of Finance Awards

Christine McGowan won the Risk Management category at the IOB Future of Finance Awards 2023. Learn more about the IOB Future of Finance Awards the 2023 winners here.