How Ireland’s Bankers are Reinventing Themselves

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There are few places where being a banker is such a social pariah as Ireland. The Irish version of the financial crisis, fuelled by irresponsible lending and a bursting property bubble thrust the country into a recession, then a sovereign debt crisis. Unsurprisingly, banking jobs disappeared. No wonder Ireland’s bankers are reinventing themselves or leaving the country.

“Bankers who were made redundant either left the industry entirely, worked in a support service aligned to financial services or, in the case of those in banks’ branches, went on to work in retail,” says Gerard O’Shea, managing director of Irish outplacement firm Sanders & O’Shea. “The key piece of advice we’ve offered is that they realise alternatives available to them and rein in their pay expectations.”

Big names such as Cormac McCarthy, former chief executive of Ulster Bank have found new positions. Until recently, McCarthy was working for Oaktree Capital Partners in Dublin. Mark Duffy, who headed Bank of Scotland (Ireland), now runs his own financial modelling company, Duffy Analytics, and Andrew Healy, who resigned as CEO of National Irish Bank last year, started his own strategy consulting firm, Exemplar Solutions, in September and has since made his views clear on the country’s banking sector.

Healy didn’t respond to our requests for comment.

Paul Cunningham, the former head of banking at Bank of Scotland (Ireland), together with the firm’s head of retail banking, Antoinette Dunne, set up Business Partners – a consultancy firm that offers advice to companies on negotiating distressed commercial debt as well as change management and property asset management.

“We saw a niche in the market that tapped into our skills and experience, and I had a stone in my shoe to do something entrepreneurial while I could, rather than becoming a career banker,” he tells us. “It’s hugely important for bankers in Ireland to be able to adapt and reinvent themselves and recognise opportunities that are aligned to their skill-sets because banks still aren’t increasing headcount. The work we do is now hugely competitive, and it’s not advertised, so you rely on companies contacting you.”

Then there are people like Andrew Curtin, the former head of credit investments at Anglo Irish Bank, who moved on to a managing director post at ANP International, a subsidiary of Afribank that offers foreign exchange, cash management and credit processing services. We understand that he left last year and is currently focusing on his non-executive directorships, which include Standard Life Investments.

Joe Gannon held a number of mid-management roles at both Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank (AIB) and now runs his own business change consultancy, B1 Consulting. He encourages bankers to stick to what they know.

“I orchestrated my career towards business change – having led the restructuring of AIB’s Polish business and Bristol & West for Bank of Ireland in the UK,” he says. “There are, however, a number of bankers who believe their skills can be applied to other areas of finance where there are skills shortages, like insurance, but it’s a difficult transition.”

Making the move overseas

There’s another option for those who want to stick with their current vocation – leave. One London-based property asset manager, who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak by his employer, says he left a corporate property lending role in Dublin in 2007 when the situation started to look shaky.

After spells in Qatar, New York and London he returned to Ireland in 2011, but found the only relevant employment opportunities were in the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) – the government ‘bad bank’ set up to acquire toxic property loans from the Irish banks in 2009. London was soon calling again.

“I’m resourceful, networked like crazy and always had a plan B in case one job didn’t work out,” he says. “Getting out of Ireland at the right time has been great for my career.”

Briain Morris worked in real estate investment acquisition at KBC Bank in Dublin until 2009 when he decided to launch his own venture, Morris Financial, focused on debt restructuring work in Ireland. In late 2011, he moved to Canada to work in acquisitions for a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) before moving to KPMG in Toronto as director of its property investment team.

Most of the people moving to Canada from Ireland are accountants or work in fund administration, he says.  Only a few make the transition into a front office position in the country.

“The market in Canada is still very buoyant, but most expats struggle with compliance issues here so institutions tend to favour local candidates, but my experience of international markets worked in my favour,” he says. “As well as the job market being more secure, the lifestyle is fantastic – skiing in the winter and golf in the summer.”

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