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Meet the President: Clive Bellows

31 May 2019

In his first interview since taking over as President of the Institute of Banking, Clive Bellows talks about his career to date, what he hopes to achieve during his presidency and why Ireland’s footprint on the global financial stage will increase over the coming years. Tell us a little about your career to date

Unlike most people entering the financial services industry today, I didn’t have the privilege of a university education and I left school at 16 and started working for Barclays Bank International in 1979. This is the main reason why I am so attracted to the work the Institute does in terms of lifelong learning because throughout my career, I supplemented my education with on-the-job training and part-time education which helped me progress. I continue to do this, I am registered to the Institute’s Certified Investment Fund Director programme in October 2019.

My first job at Barclays was taking staples out of travellers’ cheques and feeding them into a big machine. Clearly this type of job no longer exists – like many jobs of that time – because the industry has changed so much over the years. I remember when SWIFT went live and people said in five years’ time there would not be jobs in areas like payment departments, yet lots of people work in transactional banking today. With the digital revolution, we know there will be different jobs in the future, the challenge is determining what these jobs will be. After Barclays, I went to work for Chase Manhattan (now called JP Morgan) - in Bournemouth, Dorset, where my parents lived. It was a big deal at the time as Chase had announced they were moving 3,000 jobs from London to Bournemouth, a city which had absolutely no heritage whatsoever in financial services. I was one of the first employees to move there in 1985 and I am delighted to say that 34 years later, the company still employs over 3,000 staff on site.

I stayed there until the late 1990s, then relocated to London and took my first job with Northern Trust. I was there for seven years before my move to Deutsche Bank and after three years there, I decided to go back to JP Morgan for six years. Then in 2011, Northern Trust approached me to move to Ireland as the Country Head for what was going to be the merged legacy Northern Trust operation in Ireland and the business they were acquiring from Bank of Ireland Security Services - I have been here ever since.

Any regrets about moving to Ireland?

Absolutely not. My mother always says I'm a lucky person and I have enjoyed every minute of it. The interesting thing is that when I moved to Ireland, Brexit wasn't an issue. Ireland was already doing well as a fund domicile and, over the last six or seven years, it has had its foot on the accelerator and I have been very fortunate to work for an organisation that has grown and in a country that is going to be a beneficiary of Brexit in terms of firms relocating here. So, it has been an interesting nine years.

Apart from being Country Head of Northern Trust, you also have other responsibilities?

My role also incorporates responsibility for the European business, which consists of asset management, fund administration, depository and middle-office outsourcing. I have teams in London, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Guernsey and Germany reporting into me. Between them, there are about 2,000 people employed: 1,400 of whom work in Limerick and another 400 in Dublin.

I think it's great because, for me, it shows the maturity of Ireland as a location for financial services and that the European Head can be based in Ireland and not in London or Frankfurt or wherever. Previously every incumbent in my job would have been London-based.

What do you hope to achieve during your presidency of the Institute?

As an organisation, Northern Trust has been a big user of the Institute of Banking and hundreds of our staff have taken and continue to take the Institute’s education programmes, not only employees based in Ireland but also several hundred of Northern Trust’s staff in India have studied and become accredited by the Institute.

As such, becoming President is obviously an opportunity to help shape the Institute and what it provides for organisations like ours in the future. As Deputy President, I was actively involved in devising the new five-year strategy last year and I am really looking forward to seeing it being implemented.

The Institute has a really strong reputation providing education to the banking industry and we will continue to focus on our banking members and their educational and knowledge requirements. But as the financial services sector has developed in Ireland, there are lots of organisations like Northern Trust, which employ hundreds and indeed thousands of people in Ireland, so there's an opportunity for the Institute to be very relevant in this sector as well. Indeed, the Government’s IFS 2025 Plan has identified The Institute of Banking to support the financial services sector through the delivery of a range of university accredited programmes, as well as deliver a postgraduate programme in applied alternative investments and extend delivery of this and other relevant IoB international financial services programmes to industry locations throughout Ireland. The IFS 2025 Plan also suggests that a professional fund designation and a digital designation should be developed for the industry.

There is currently rapid change and transformation in the IFS sector, making it an attractive place to work. With the employment opportunities that will arise from Brexit, there is a real opportunity to support people who wish to change to their career and the Institute of Banking supports these converters through education, qualifications and upskilling. When I look back in a year’s time, I would like to think that I have helped the Institute achieve its ambition around expanding its reach in the funds industry, preparing financial services for the digital environment and setting the industry benchmark for culture education from which to build an effective organisational culture.

The Institute has some very exciting projects underway, for example, it was recently announced that the Institute is developing a new education platform based on blockchain – a collaboration between the Institute, Deloitte, Bank of Ireland, AIB and Ulster Bank. The pilot phase of the project is expected to be completed in the late summer, with the roll out of the system to Institute members expected by summer 2020.

Since starting your career back in 1985, what changes in the financial services sector stand out for you?

Certainly, the event that sticks out for me was the introduction of the euro and the disappearance of multiple currencies. That was a massive event for the financial services sector to deal with, whether they were domestic banks or indeed global banks. When people talk about the unprecedented change the financial services sector is going through now, I would argue that there will never be an event that was as significant as the move to euro and the amount of planning and execution that had to go into it.

However, clearly technology is going to continue to play a massive role in changing how we work in the financial services sector. We have seen huge technological changes in the last decade and things are going a lot faster than ever before. Everyone has to be open to education and training to make sure that our understanding and thinking remains current and open minded. The Institute of Banking has introduced a suite of new programmes to reflect the needs of the sector, from a three-hour programme on the Digital Banking Revolution to Masters’ programmes. These programmes have been developed following extensive industry consultation.

The other big changes are on the regulatory front and when I think back to things that were acceptable 20 years ago - or even 10 years ago - that are no longer acceptable now, it’s clear that regulatory change has been significant. Regulation is needed to make sure that financial organisations behave in a fair and appropriate way. I am proud to work for an organisation like Northern Trust, which has a very good track record of not falling on the wrong side of regulation. More and more the Regulator is looking at the culture of a firm and they want to see evidence that the firm operates in a customer-centric culture. The introduction of a suite of programmes on culture are evidence of the need of firms to ensure they can demonstrate they operate in a customer-centric way across their whole organisation. Education alone will not ensure this, but it is an important element of ensuring that organisations meet the required standards.

I can see why it is sometimes easy to be negative about the amount of regulation that we have but I also think that the financial services sector has brought a lot of this on itself. So, for me, I would ask regulators to be clear about what they are looking to achieve and how they are going to do it. Then everyone can plan appropriately on how we can deliver whatever is required of us. From our clients’ perspective, it is very important that there is consistency between the regulators across Europe. Despite the theory that there is a level playing field across Europe, that is not always the case and this makes it difficult to streamline compliance across different jurisdictions.

What advice would you give to somebody starting out on their career path in the financial services sector?

In a country like Ireland, I think people can plan to have a long-term career in financial services. There are enough financial services jobs on the island of Ireland to allow people have a rewarding career without leaving Ireland. Equally I think a career in financial services opens opportunities to travel if that’s what someone wants to do. Over the last five years, we have hired Irish people returning home from Canada, the USA, Australia, the UK, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands to work in our Limerick offices.

I think when someone comes into financial services they should be prepared to roll up their sleeves, continue their educational journey and be prepared to be flexible because it is likely that the job that you start in now may not even exist in ten years’ time – just like my job with the travellers’ cheques. But for people who are prepared to work hard and enjoy working in a team environment, it can be a very rewarding career. I suggest that new entrants think of themselves as lifelong learners - there is always something new to learn.

How do you like to unwind in your spare time?

I spend a lot of time travelling, so my spare time with my wife and daughter is very precious. Both are keen horse-riders and many of our friends are involved in the Wicklow Hunt, so we spend a lot of time in the countryside with our dogs. I also like to do a bit of fishing.

I am a big sports fan and, thankfully, Ireland is a great place to live if you are into sports. I particularly like rugby and soccer and I’m big fan of my hometown Bournemouth in the English Premier League and I try to get over for some of the home matches every season. Since coming to Ireland, I have taken an interest in hurling and given that Northern Trust has 1,400 staff in Limerick, winning the All-Ireland last year was something special. I was in the office on the Monday after the final and the buzz there and around the city was incredible.