Cross-disciplinary upskilling and modernisation in the funds industry.

While not the path of least resistance, cross-disciplinary collaboration must be the way forward.

Cross-disciplinary upskilling and modernisation in the funds industry.
Cross-disciplinary upskilling and modernisation in the funds industry.
May 22, 2024

The modern world of work has seen the boundary lines of traditional ‘roles’ in every industry blur in recent times. However, in a regulated industry such as funds, where each service provider plays its own part in the servicing of the fund, it can be too easy for individuals to revert to an overtly specialist, niche or ‘siloed’ model. One can play it safe by staying in one’s lane and sticking to what one knows i.e. I know fund accounting inside and out, I have always been able to calculate a net asset value (“NAV”), why would I need to learn about data analytics or artificial intelligence (“AI”), can’t I just stay in my lane?

To keep up with technical and regulatory requirements, maintain a competitive position and continue to attract the best and brightest to funds and financial services, it is crucial for the industry’s firms and their people to continue to adapt their methods to keep up with the pace of change, including welcoming the implementation of new helpful technological solutions.

How can firms be forward-looking if their methods and the practice of siloing personnel and ways of working continue to be rooted in the past? Firms consistently extol the virtues of having agile and adaptable people, with contextual knowledge of the wider funds industry so they can keep up with the pace of change or adapt new ways of working – but what is in it for the staff?

Overcoming ‘FOBO’ – Fear of Being Obsolete

The funds industry will always need employees that are specialists in their field, who can do day-to-day operational work and who understand the fundamentals of their role (i.e. in the worst-case scenario and all computer systems are down, can a fund accountant strike a NAV on paper?).

However, in an age where employees fear that AI will render certain roles becoming obsolete, this can be somewhat overcome through the diversification of skills. To use the analogy of a UCITS fund not being allowed to put all its eggs in one basket, the notion of diversification as a risk-management tool can also be applied to people – have your niche technical skills, but strengthen your arsenal by upskilling to understand the broader context in which you are operating so as to protect yourself from market movements and enhance your employability, and as a bonus add major value to your current employer.

While the above applies to fund industry veterans, we have seen in recent times that the demand for diversity of thought and discipline also applies to graduate and junior staff recruitment. While it may have in the past been common for students to work their way through third level courses with the aim of “becoming a [insert profession]” or companies only recruiting from certain discipline areas, educational institutions today are consistently getting the message that organisations are seeking diversity of thought, skills and disciplinary backgrounds as well as the general capability to critically think to make sure they can adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

They need their people to be able to communicate, be technologically literate and translate the ever-evolving fund landscape into actions – in rudimentary terms it is no longer sufficient to be a bean counter – one must also be able to find the beans, manage the beans, talk about the beans and sell the beans.

Breaking down the silos

For true efficiency and innovation, we should not have the IT specialists, the finance specialists and the regulatory specialists in three different parts of the building (or virtual space), only interacting when an issue arises that crosses the Venn diagram of their disciplines – IT personnel need to enhance their understanding of the regulatory financial system and firm’s operational needs and vice versa. As technological requirements increase year on year, permeating not just IT services but all facets of business from compliance to the boardroom, it is imperative that finance professionals become adept at the implementation of new technologies and their accompanying compliance frameworks. All sides must gain an understanding of each other’s worlds like never before.

How do we foster a talent pipeline that can do all that? As courses and micro credentials in funds or financial services are being created in partnership with industry partners, it is crucial to consider the skills needs of the industry and the many discipline areas that warrant inclusion – is it sufficient that a course is created only in the fund accounting realm with accounting academics? Do we need to implement power skills such as team leadership and professional development? Should we feed in modules around data analytics and the use cases of generative AI in financial services? Should there be an element of cybersecurity education?

While not the path of least resistance, cross-disciplinary collaboration must be the way forward – courses for funds will no longer be the ambit of only finance, governance, or regulatory experts, from now on the disciplines of computer science, mathematics and professional development and management must also feed in.

Benefits to business

If those upskilling are learning about areas outside of their usual discipline, what knock-on impact might this have on innovation and digital adaptation within the funds organisations themselves? Well, suddenly the regulatory expert has a working knowledge of AI and its potential usefulness in regulatory compliance and a process might be made infinitely more efficient. Suddenly the fund accountant has a knowledge of data analytics and the usefulness of same in streamlining reporting processes during crunch periods. Suddenly a KYC team is comfortable with the implementation of helpful technologies such as valid8Me!

These are rudimentary examples of what can be achieved when a firm encourages cross-disciplinary study and training – it remains to be seen if we in the funds industry are up for the challenge – we know what we need to do, it is just a case of taking that first step on the bottom rung of our virtual silo and starting to climb…

Aisling O’Mahony is project manager ofthe Funds Academy at Munster Technological University (MTU) where she also part-time lectures in fund regulation and fund governance on a Masters in Investment Fund Administration and Certificate in Regulated Investment Funds. Aisling is also a qualified solicitor.


About the Funds Academy

The Academy was established by Munster Technological University (MTU) and South East Technological University (SETU) to promote executive education and development within the investment fund industry. It runs an executive Masters in Investment Fund Administration, Certificate in Regulated Investment Funds for new entrants to the funds industry and have recently added micro-credentials to our suite of educational offerings to facilitate a flexible approach to upskilling in the world of investment fund education.

To help those deciding on their career, the Funds Academy promotes the investment fund administration sector as a career option for undergraduates. The Funds Academy aspires to impact the national discourse on investment fund education and to develop expertise in executive education and development in the investment fund sector.

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The Funds Academy is funded by the Higher Education Authority's HCI Pillar 3, a government programme designed to meet priority skills needs, by increasing collaboration between higher education and enterprise with a focus on innovations in teaching and learning.