< Go to all news articles

Studying for a Professional Qualification During a Pandemic: The Right Time for Me

By Anna Fenston, Communications Manager at Irish Funds

In February this year I started the IOB’s International Investment Fund Services Programme and completed Module 1 (Introduction to Investment Funds) and Module 2 (Custody and Transfer Agency). Still to come over the summer is Module 3 (Fund Accounting and Valuation).

The Certificate in International Investment Services – Why and Why Now?

Like many people in the funds and asset management industry, I didn’t end up here by design. I have a B.A. in psychology, worked in law firm marketing in New York for several years and through a move to London found myself working in a firm with a large funds practice. I didn’t know the first thing about investment funds. But I read a bit and asked a lot of questions and came away with a (slightly) better understanding of the industry (albeit more from a law firm perspective).

Through a subsequent position at an asset management company and while at Irish Funds, I’ve learned a lot more about the industry and some of the basics of regulation and certain key concepts and topics – mostly through reading, conversations and events. But I felt I needed to develop a more detailed and fundamental knowledge. While learning on the job and my own interest has been essential, I was at the point in my career where I needed a more structured approach.

Why professional development?

I’m a huge believer in ongoing professional development - from earlier in my career I know that once I stop learning new things, I get bored. I’m fortunate to get to work on a lot of different types of projects in my job, but continuing education has an important role to play in career development, providing different perspectives, and developing new professional interests.

My main aims in doing the course were to:

  • Continue learning in a more structured way – While I’ve done some short courses, I felt I needed a more substantial programme relevant to the industry.

  • Gain an understanding of the wider funds ecosystem – I wanted to understand the industry more, all the players involved and how they are all connected.

  • Feed my curiosity and delve into more detail – I wanted a better base of more detailed knowledge to work from – from how funds are set up and managed to different financial instruments and the impact of regulation.

  • Build my confidence and credibility – I wanted to build my confidence in my understanding of concepts and to be more self-assured in my conversations with people.

It was also important for me at Irish Funds, which partners with the IOB, to understand more about the programme. I felt that I would be able to more effectively communicate what the programme offers other funds professionals if I had done it myself.

Why now, during a pandemic?

Strangely enough, during the Covid-19 pandemic - and with all the uncertainty it has entailed - was the right time for me. I have primary school aged children and while the year has been challenging with regards to various lockdowns and ‘home schooling’, they are at an age where to get some time to myself doesn’t mean hiding in a closet (not most days, anyway). Managing my time to study has also been facilitated by my husband who has been fully supportive of me doing the course (and of all my various endeavours throughout the years). Being able to do the course online from home and to also use time I would have otherwise spent on commuting was very helpful (it also didn’t hurt that there were very few social distractions). The programme was key to:

  • Increasing my motivation – I’d love if I could assign myself homework and actually do it. But the simple fact is that I need real deadlines. I’m fairly self-motivating but there is no way I would read several chapters every week and submit assignments to myself.

  • Giving me something to focus on that wasn’t covid-related – While my family and I have been very lucky, it has been a stressful year and I am a worrier. It was great to have something like this to focus on rather than to worry about things I couldn’t control.

  • Carving out time for myself – For a long time there were limited opportunities to get a bit of space, but I really needed some time to myself and having a specific reason with set time requirements helped me set boundaries to get the time I needed.

The programme – what’s involved?

Each module comes with a study guide outlining the topics covered and a schedule for all the learning activities that will take place. The course consists of:

  • Assigned reading from the course manual – I felt a bit nerdy but I really enjoyed reading the assigned chapters. I kept up with the reading schedule for the most part so I wouldn’t get into a situation where I felt overwhelmed with multiple chapters to catch up on.

  • E-Learning modules – These are video tutorials done by lecturers which correspond to each chapter in the course manual. I found them useful for reinforcing concepts and understanding anything that didn’t quite register with me in the reading.

  • Webinars – There are two webinars per module scheduled on Saturdays (morning for those in the Ireland time zone). These are also recorded if you can’t make it, though my preference was to attend as scheduled to ensure I watched them fully, without too many distractions.

  • Continuous assessment assignments (2 per module) – These were the most challenging aspect of the course for me and the most time intensive. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist so had a hard time finally clicking ‘submit’ (and then editing and re-submitting before the deadline), though I learned so much from the assignments.

What I’ve learned so far

The main advantage of this course for me so far has been ‘connecting the dots’ and learning how all the different areas of the funds and asset management industry fit together.

For the intro to funds module we delved into detail in areas including:

  • how investment funds are set up.

  • legal forms, regulation, management and governance.

  • the service providers involved and what they all do.

  • different types of funds, how they are marketed and the various operational, legal and investment considerations.

And for the custody and transfer agency module we covered topics including:

  • custody services and the lifecycle of a trade

  • securities lending and derivatives cash management

  • transfer agency services such as dealing, settlements and registrations

  • anti-money laundering directives and controls

As I mentioned earlier, I found the assignments especially important as they forced me to take what I had learned, do my own research and explain a topic in a relevant scenario. For example, assignments included providing briefing notes on derivatives and securities lending – areas I had not known much about previously. And I also found myself researching areas such as emerging market risks in custody services and perhaps the most topical, recent sustainable finance regulatory developments.

Next up: The Accredited Funds Professional

I’m looking forward to getting my final marks for Module 1 & 2 (fingers crossed!) and progressing through Module 3 for fund accounting (I have no accounting background whatsoever but have been assured that the lecturer is fantastic and takes it step by step). After completion of the programme, I plan on applying for the Accredited Funds Professional designation. Launched in 2019, the designation, along with many other benefits, is a way to demonstrate a commitment to continuously improve skills and professional knowledge through CPD. I think I will find this motivating as a way to keep thinking, learning and developing.

Are you interested in undertaking the Certificate in International Investment Services Programme? Learn more about the programme content and how you can enrol.