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Sunday, 21st April 2024
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Wild geese Back  
Q&A with two of Ireland’s financial wild geese who now work in Hong Kong and Australia respectively
Des Murray

Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong, working in the assurance and business advisory services part of the practice.

How long have you been in your current position?
A partner for the past twelve years, I have spent the last eighteen months leading our internal audit service line while retaining external audit responsibility for a small number of clients. Having spent sixteen years in Hong Kong, I am now coming home.

What exactly does your job involve?
A typical day starts with a rush to get the kids to the school bus! My role in the firm involves significant interaction with people, both clients and the people who work with me in servicing our clients. In addition, I spent a number of years as Honorary Irish Consul in Hong Kong, which allowed me to attend the handover ceremony on the change in sovereignty in 1997 and the IMF meeting later that year. This role was very demanding in my day, sometimes a visit to the airport to meet Ministers or sometimes a visit to a prison or the law courts!

Are there substantial differences between the range and scale of your work now and before?
The way we use technology has changed the way I work. It has made me less 'office' dependent and significantly streamlined our processes.

How much of your time do you spend outside Ireland? 46 weeks a year - I have 6 weeks holidays, which are mainly spent in Ireland!

What was your initial reaction when you were offered this position abroad? How has your opinion changed since you have taken the job?
I was a reluctant economic migrant and, while I was excited about the prospect of working in an environment like Hong Kong, I always intended to return home. Work and lifestyle have been excellent for the past sixteen years but now the time has come for the children to put down roots.

How does your operation fit strategically within the overall group's business? The PwC office in Hong Kong is one of the firm's five largest offices, with about 100 partners and 2,500 staff. Strategically, it is a very important hub for us in South East Asia and Greater China. The part of the practice on which I focus on is one of the fastest growing parts of the firm, although we are starting from a very small base.

What's the best thing about being located outside Ireland?
My average personal tax rate is ten per cent!

Looking back, how close is Ireland to the cutting edge of financial services?
When I first came to Hong Kong, I worked on the audit of HSBC. The capital markets in Hong Kong were considerably more developed and sophisticated than those of Ireland sixteen years ago. I believe the development of the IFSC and the significant outward focus by Irish business in the intervening period has allowed us to catch up with Hong Kong.

What's the worst thing about being abroad? Missing rugby internationals, Cheltenham Races in March and the good Irish National Hunt racing fixtures in January and February.

Brendan Donohoe
Managing Director, Bank of Ireland Asset Management Australia Pty Limited

How long in current position? Four years

What does your job involve?
Substantial differences between range and scale of your work now and before?
As managing director, I am responsible for the management (and ultimately, profitability) of BIAM's Australian operation. By nature, this is a much broader role than I would have previously filled and the range of my work varies commensurately. The scale is also different, having ultimate responsibility for a unit of the business as opposed to a department or team. On a day-to-day basis, this means having to deal with all the general management issues connected with running an office - premises, staffing, IT systems, legal/regulatory issues - as well as the important task of servicing our existing clients (who now number twenty-two). To ensure the continued growth of our business, a lot of my time is also spent marketing BIAM to new prospects and consultants, attending and speaking at industry conferences, as well as researching new opportunities for BIAM in the Asia/Pacific region in general. As you can imagine, all of this amounts to a lot of travel - Australasia is a big area!

How much time outside Ireland?
Over ninety per cent - I only spend around four weeks in Ireland a year, and it's primarily for business reasons.

Initial reaction? How has this changed?
I was very pleased, excited and perhaps a little nervous about the prospect of establishing and developing a credible and profitable operation for Bank of Ireland Asset Management in Australia. We were attracted to the Australian market on the back of the growth of the superannuation industry here and also the increasing exposure of funds to international capital markets. Many other global fund managers also recognised the potential here, so the big challenge for us was to establish our credentials, and to procure and retain clients in an extremely competitive environment. Fortunately, we managed to do that very quickly and had our first client on board within a matter of months of opening the Melbourne office.

Has my opinion changed? I would have to say 'No'. The last four years have proved every bit as exciting (and thankfully, rewarding) as I had hoped for and I still see significant growth opportunities for us here and in the surrounding region. Of course, the environment is more competitive than when we first arrived, and the dynamics are ever-changing - but we like a challenge, we wouldn't have set up in Australia otherwise!

Strategic fit within group's business?
The opening of the Melbourne office four years ago was a natural progression in BIAM's development as a global manager. At the time, we were already experiencing significant success in the US and starting to make headway in the UK. The growing demand in Australia for fund managers with international investment expertise made it an obvious choice for our next overseas office. Of course, the growth hasn't stopped there - we have since added four more offices in Montreal, California, Frankfurt and Tokyo.

What's the best thing about being located outside Ireland?
From a business perspective, the best thing has been the challenge of setting up and running a successful business unit of BIAM in this very agreeable country. From a family viewpoint, it has given myself, my wife, Edel and our four children a wonderful opportunity to experience new cultures and explore a magnificent part of the world that we might otherwise not have seen.

Ireland at the cutting edge?
I can honestly say, based on my own personal experience in overseas markets - and that's not only in Australia, but in other markets like the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan - that we can more than comfortably hold our own.

I worked in the Irish market for many years before working in our international business and those years in the Irish business provided me with an excellent foundation for doing business anywhere in the world. You only have to look at the success of our international business to see that we can compete with the best in the world.

What's the worst thing about being abroad?
It has to be absence from family and friends - although many of them have visited us here and the 'no vacancies' sign will soon again be posted on the door of our family home! I certainly don't miss the climate - as I write this piece in 35?C!

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