In this Questions and Answers piece, IOB’s President, AIB Chief Executive Colin Hunt gives us insight into his career to date, the best career advice he himself has received, along with his words of wisdom for those entering the sector. As we begin to enter into a recovery phase from the COVID-19 pandemic, Colin shares his views with us on the challenges and opportunities for the sector.
I studied Economics and Commerce in UCC and always wanted to be an Economist. In 1994, I joined NatWest in London and trained as an Economist, after which I joined Bank of Ireland Group Treasury where I spent 2.5 years. From there, I went to Goodbody where I spent six years, initially as Chief Economist before being appointed Research Director in 2000. In 2004, I then took something of a career diversion and served as special adviser in two government departments. In 2007, I joined Macquarie Capital and was responsible for setting up their operations in Ireland and spent nine very interesting years there before returning home to AIB in 2016 as Managing Director of Corporate, Institutional and Business banking. I say returning home to AIB, because in fact my banking career didn’t start with Natwest in London. I spent two very happy summers working as a teller in AIB in Waterford when I was in college. When I was standing behind that counter in a very different banking environment in 1990 and 1991, I did not for one moment think it was possible that I would ultimately end up in the office that I now occupy, so this has been a completion of the circle for me which culminated in my appointment as CEO of AIB in March 2019. I would love to say I had this forward planning approach to my career - as you will see like many things in life, it has not been a straight-line trajectory.
Unquestionably, the moment I found out about my appointment as CEO of AIB - that was an extraordinary day. And of course, it has been both an honour and a pleasure to be elected President of IOB. As the 102nd President, I am conscious of the proud history of IOB, stretching back 123 years, and the mantle that has been passed to me – I hope that my tenure is impactful and meaningful to the continued growth of IOB into the future.
So much has changed in our world and in the operating environment over the last year - we have seen something in the order of 10 years of change in the space of just 10 months as a result of COVID-19. Even after the end of the health emergency, remote working will play an important part in future operating models and will add to the agility of how we all do our jobs. Digital adoption has increased significantly and the industry will move more products online to adjust to changes in customer preferences and to meet ever-evolving service demands. And finally, the Environmental, Social and Governance agenda has become more important not only in how we run our business but also how we support our customers in making the transition to a low carbon future.
Aim high but focus on the job in hand - your performance in your current role will determine how successful you are in the future. Also, continue to invest in yourself- education and training are never burdens. Continuous improvement is built on the back of experience, education and training.
To lead is to serve. You lead through people and can best achieve sustainable results through visibility, accessibility and clarity.
While 2020 and the early months of 2021 have been extremely challenging, I am cautiously optimistic for the future and believe the economy is poised for a strong recovery in the second half of 2021, driven by the acceleration of vaccine deployment.
As we begin to enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, one of the challenges this sector will continue to face is managing through very low/negative interest rates. Irish banks, like many across Europe, have been impacted by a prolonged negative interest rate environment. However the Irish economy benefits from having an open, pro-business environment, has strong demographics, and significant rebound potential given the level of deposits in the banking system and the resilience of the housing market.
COVID-19 has also accelerated three global trends - digitalisation, ways of working and sustainability. The pandemic has fundamentally changed how our customers interact with us and has provided us with the opportunity to enhance customer relationships, reconsidering what our customers want from their banking relationship and how they want to conduct their business. Our ways of working have also been altered with the majority of employees now working remotely. The pandemic has forced businesses to reconsider their working model and what that will look like in the future, providing employees with greater flexibility as hybrid working becomes the norm.
More widely, the drive to a sustainable future is being accelerated as a result of the global pandemic and the necessary transformational change will require bold action from businesses and governments. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility and frailty of the societies in which we live and operate. It has clearly taught us that you cannot have a healthy society and economy without a healthy planet. It also highlights what can be achieved through great collaborative efforts as countries have done the previously unthinkable in the effort to crush and contain the virus. But even when we move into a post-COVID landscape, we will have an even greater challenge ahead requiring a similarly urgent, coordinated, international effort over a far longer period of time - tackling climate change is the most important challenge facing this generation.
Even as the virus recedes, its impact will continue to be felt in the acceleration of trends in digitalisation, ways of working and the priority of the sustainability agenda.
In taking over the Presidency, and as Chair of the Council, my immediate focus will be on sustaining IOB’s resilience in managing through COVID-19 and the strong momentum flowing from the achievement of key milestones in its Strategic Plan. I intend to give priority to several areas including further digitalisation of member services, deepening our relationship with UCD, providing new educational courses in the investment funds sector while continuing to recognise and promote the pivotal role of our industry and our members in driving social and economic wellbeing.
Don’t ever underestimate the importance of resilience because life is full of setbacks and knocks. It is in the nature of the human condition to experience adverse circumstances from time to time, but pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep on going.