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Meet a member of the Funds Advisory Board - Noel Gavin

Martina Kelly caught up with Noel Gavin to chat about his career journey, his work with Northern Trust and what he would be doing if he didn’t work in the funds industry.

Name: Noel Gavin

Job Title: Senior Vice President with Northern Trust, heading up learning and development for our asset servicing business

Lives: In Limerick and a proud Limerick City native.

Interests: Many and varied but a common theme runs through – being with people. “I love cooking for large groups of family and friends. I enjoy travel when I can and in my down time can be found on the Kerry coast.” Noel gets a huge reward from volunteering, working with a couple of different charities on the administration side and sees it as a privilege to be able to do this.

MK: Noel, tell me something about yourself we might expect:  “

I am very ordered, very structured - my siblings and colleagues often refer to my clipboard and clicky pen 😊.. …I am good on lists and planning.

MK: And something we might not expect? 

Despite my love of people, I am inherently an introvert who has worked at the art of being an extrovert

MK: Tell me about your background and career to-date:

My career goal while at school was to be a teacher and my degree is in history and geography. Around 21/2 weeks into my teacher training I realised I was not going to be a teacher but I had started so kept going and once that was complete I did a post grad in business in UL – it was a sort of 101 across finance, management, accounting etc giving a baseline across the main business subjects. It gave me enough knowledge to mention debits and credits in an interview. Leaving college I saw two options – financial services or telecoms,so I got into fund administration in IFS, working on the hedge fund administration side of things as a fund accountant. This involved moving to Dublin which was fine but at heart I wanted to move back to Limerick and did that in 2006, joining a construction company as project manager:

MK – Construction – that was a change!

I was working on planning/rezoning applications (and not on the building part as such 😊). I did that job for a couple of years before Northern Trust announced they were setting up in Limerick and I would say the announcement had barely been made before I had printed my CV and shoved in the door.

I have always loved fund accounting – it appeals to that side of me which likes order and completeness. But I did not stay in fund accounting because ultimately things went full circle and I recognise now that each job I was doing I was always the trainer among the team – the person always called upon to provide training to new people.

Northern Trust has always been a big investor in training and there is a big learning culture throughout. They see learning as a multifaceted piece with the idea that professional development and behavioural aspects being as important as training on issues like compliance and risk. In 2008, a training team was established to focus solely on asset servicing including fund accounting and a post came up for a fund accounting trainer. My work in that role included a period in India from 2009, establishing a training function for Northern on the basis of a train the trainer approach, which was fascinating. On return I took on fund accounting training globally – 80% of fund accounting will be the same with 20% of difference based on jurisdictional requirements such as tax reporting in one location or capital / income split in another. It is hugely important to get that 20% right explaining why it is different in Luxembourg and then different in Australia.

I then took on training in relation to custody/depositary operations and ultimately all asset servicing – there are 15,000 people in asset servicing across Northern Trust so it is a busy role. It is also a hugely interesting and diverse role ranging from working with clients on due diligence issues (clients want to know about our education and training approach) to succession and talent planning with different NT teams to systems upgrades across hundreds of systems. Interestingly, we are seeing more and more clients coming and asking us how we have done it so they can try and bring some of that into their own organisations.

Working in training is always interesting, always evolutionary. So while of course there is a need to focus on teaching the basics you also need to develop training on new topics – what is the new product/new service; how is it being established; what is the theory behind it; what are the systems/processes and what are the risks.

MK – Tell me a bit more about India – you were not long in the NT training function before taking on that one?

In India it took me a while to appreciate that, out of respect, nobody in the classroom would challenge what I said. And so if I framed something badly they would not actually say they did not agree with me. This was not because of a lack of confidence to ask questions. It was that publicly they would not want to contradict you. So in the first few weeks I was like “I’m nailing this training – I’m brilliant” until I was advised of the culture. It was an important lesson for me – people will be themselves culturally in the classroom, and it was down to me as the facilitator to understand the differences and adapt my style.

MK: Can we chat about your role on our Funds Advisory Board. When we established this in 2020 you were an obvious candidate in our eyes because of your role and we were delighted when you agreed to join. I am interested therefore in your thoughts on your role on the Advisory Board – it is quite an informal gathering.

There are a couple of things for me when I think about the Advisory Board – what it is about and what it is looking to achieve. I think we provide a sense check on what’s already in play – does a programme respond to actually what is happening and what is needed in the business. Then and importantly, what is needed, both what is needed in funds/asset servicing and what is needed in cross-sectoral areas such as digital and data analytics. Having different people with such diverse backgrounds sitting around the table and having that sort of forward view conversations is a really essential part.

I also love the idea of continuous learning and how that is supported by IOB – which includes supporting people moving from other sectors to the funds sector. There are many transferable skills in that context with a corresponding need for a strong technical skills training which IOB can provide. I also think that in Ireland we are ahead of the curve when it comes to the idea of life-long learning compared to other locations. For example that concept does not exist in America and the idea of micro credentials, certificates or diplomas post grad – they do not really feature there.

MK: One last question – if you were not working in funds, the funds industry, where would you be/ what would you be doing?

If I did go back and check the what ifs – if I did not do my history and geography degree and if I did not go to UL to do the post grad (that got me to know enough about debits and credits) would I have ended up in fund accounting and would I have ended up in a training role and sitting here talking to you today?

The answer is most probably no and most likely I would have taken the more traditional role into accounting and maybe doing something completely different in that context. But I am not going to go backwards and interestingly a history degree is a very useful one for many roles in financial services – you give me the facts and I will argue both sides of the argument because facts are facts but interpretation can be different. That is what history gave me – a really good ability to argue both sides using the exact same facts. It is also a great discipline when it comes to managing risks – what facts do you have in front of you; what can you extrapolate from that; what could happen. And so I am sticking with history and if I was not in fund accounting I strongly suspect I would still be in a learning role of some description.

MK: Noel Gavin – it has been an absolute pleasure and on behalf of the Funds by IOB team I am saying many thanks indeed for your time.