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Carving a career in a risky business Back  
Graduating from UCD, while picking up two post-graduate diplomas as well as becomaing a chartered accountatnt, Keith Walsh has used his analytical, communication and people skills to become global head of risk and compliance with Bank of Ireland Asset Management.
What is your educational background? I graduated from UCD with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree (first-class honours) and also have two Post Graduate Diplomas – one in professional accounting and the other in IT. I qualified as a chartered accountant with Deloitte & Touche in 1990 and I am a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (FCA).

What has been your career path to date? My career started in 1988 as a trainee chartered accountant with Deloitte & Touche. Post-qualification I moved into their newly formed computer audit function, before joining Bank of Ireland in the early 90s as a team leader on their IT audit team. In 1996, I moved across to Bank of Ireland Asset Management where I had responsibility for compliance matters for our overseas offices and I was appointed head of compliance in 1999. These days, as well as heading up our global compliance function I am also responsible for our operational risk and unit fund control functions.

Are your peers from similar backgrounds? My peers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Traditionally, senior compliance people come from an accounting or legal background, but we have a large risk and compliance function globally and this brings quite a bit of diversity. Our people have qualifications ranging from accounting, legal and business through to investment management, IT and even languages. We have ex-regulators, ex-internal auditors and people who have moved from in-house finance and client relationship management.

Have you worked abroad? If so where and what did you do? Would you do so again? Not really; apart from a brief spell in London while in college. However, my job is quite global in nature and I do spend a good deal of time abroad – we have offices in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Japan (where I am writing from). A significant part of my working day is spent interacting with our overseas offices – either by phone, video-conference or actual on-site visits.

How would you compare career prospects internationally to those in Ireland? The market for experienced compliance and risk people in Ireland is quite tight and it’s difficult to find experienced people – particularly those with front office or asset management experience. As a result there are significant opportunities here for those with asset management experience.

There are definitely more opportunities internationally. Compliance is a growth industry, especially given the pace and breadth of regulatory changes both here in the EU and abroad. Career prospects in the large financial centres are significant for people with international compliance experience.

Have you undertaken any additional professional training since assuming your current role? Yes – I try to attend a number of conferences and seminars every year and we also run some very good management development programs in-house. Due to the technical nature of my role, it’s important to keep up-to-date with regulatory developments.

There’s a wealth of courses available – the only difficulty is picking the best ones! The FSA, the UK regulator, runs particularly good conferences as do some industry service providers such as legal firms.

What skills/aptitude would you identify as being key/beneficial to a career in your sector? Obviously, technical/regulatory knowledge is important – but this can be acquired over time. I think it’s far more important to have the right basic skill set. As well as good analytical skills, it’s critical to have good communication and people skills – to ensure that the compliance and risk functions are seen to genuinely work with both the business and the regulators. It helps to be solutions driven – it’s no use raising a problem without having real business-focused solutions.

What aspects of the job do you like most? I love the international nature of the role and the variety of work – no two days are ever the same and I’ve never been bored in the ten years I’ve been with BIAM. A typical week brings the opportunity to work with a variety of people across the business – here in Dublin and internationally. Today I’m working with our colleagues in Tokyo, but tomorrow it could be new products in Ireland, or hedge funds in New York – or maybe both! Like any job, people make a huge difference and I’m lucky to work with some very good people.

What aspects of the job do you like least? The international nature of the role does have its downside – particularly with timezones! You could have a 7.30am video conference with Melbourne and then a late conference call with the US in the same day. However, I must say that our overseas offices are ever-mindful of this and do try to keep these calls to a minimum.

How do you define success in your sector? I think it is all about successfully managing regulatory risk in a manner that minimises regulatory problems without unnecessarily burdening the business. A successful risk and compliance function is one that is embedded into the business, while retaining its independence.

Is there anyone in particular you admire in your industry? Without naming names, some of the people I admire most are our key contacts in some of the law firms we use both here in Ireland and abroad. We’ve been fortunate to work with some excellent people who have a deep understanding of our industry and provide excellent commercial advice. While we don’t use lawyers extensively, its good to know that we have experts on hand if we need them.

What advice would you give to others who might like a career in your sector? Give me a call – we are always looking for good people! More seriously, my key advice would be to research the exact nature of a role before taking up any position. The terms ‘compliance’ and ‘risk’ can cover a multitude of roles. Look for diverse roles that are heavily involved in business activities – particularly on the product development and strategic side. And remember, the early days in compliance can be difficult – the magnitude of regulations can be daunting – so be aware that it will take time to get up to speed.

In what areas are there the most opportunities in Ireland? IFSC/domestic etc. Undoubtedly, most opportunities arise in the IFSC within large organisations with significant operational functions. Niche, specialist roles are more scarce, but can present a great opportunity to develop a wide range of skills that will be useful in any future role.

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