Why and Why Now: Studying for a Funds Professional Qualification
From February through August this year I was enrolled on the IOB’s International Investment Fund Services Programme, which included Module 1 (Introduction to Investment Funds), Module 2 (Custody and Transfer Agency) and Module 3 (Fund Accounting and Valuation).
A structured approach
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.
The importance of 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.
Coping with the ups and downs of 2021
Strangely enough, during the Covid-19 pandemic - and with all the uncertainty it 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 were at an age where to get some time to myself doesn’t mean hiding in a closet (not most days, anyway). Being able to do the course online from home was also very helpful.
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 was 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.
The takeaways: What I learned from the programme
The main advantage of this course for me was ‘connecting the dots’ a bit more 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 on 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.
For the custody and transfer agency module we covered topics including:
- custody services and the lifecycle of a trade
- securities lending
- cash management
- transfer agency services such as dealing, settlements and registrations
- anti-money laundering directives and controls
For the fund accounting and valuation module we learned to:
- Record accounting journal entries of transactions undertaken by the fund and how valuation works
- Review and put together a trial balance in order to produce the NAV
- Understand key financial statements and the International Financial Reporting standards that apply to them
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, as well as producing a trial balance and NAV – areas I had not known much at all about previously. And I also needed to research areas such as emerging market risks in custody services and recent sustainable finance regulatory developments.
Next up: The Accredited Funds Professional
Upon 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 your commitment to continuously improve skills and professional knowledge through CPD. For me, I find this motivating as a way to keep learning, keep thinking, keep going.
If you have any questions or want to chat about my experiences doing the Certificate in International Investment Services Programme, please feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Anna Fenston, Communications Manager, Irish Funds