SII’s Simon Culhane preaches integrity

Monday 04 August 2008 by

The chief executive of the Securities and Investment Institute has a way of delivering a talk that keeps his audience's attention. He makes a fascinating interviewee, too, as Chris Morvan found as he listened to tales of integrity, government indecision and the Channel Islands' place among international finance centres.

Here's some news for anyone who has suffered through a long, tediously dry talk on a business subject: the speaker was probably as bored as you were. Sometimes they have to think hard to find a way to liven it up - because its just one of those subjects.
The point was made by Simon Culhane, chief executive of the Securities and Investment Institute (SII), when he visited both Guernsey and Jersey recently. Simon is a busy man, and trips such as this don't make his life any quieter, with a tight schedule that included signing an agreement making AP Group his organisation's exclusive global recruitment partner - to help its members with recruitment matters. The schedule was ratcheted up further by good old CI-style travel delays that resulted in a bit of island hopping, even before his first appointment at the OGH in St Peter Port, his Guernsey-bound flight having 'gone technical' and obliged him to head for Jersey and then across, only to return the next day. What lightened his mood was that he was actually looking forward to the talk he was here to give.
The theme was integrity, a subject that is important to every company in every sphere, but a hard one for an employer to broach. 'People were asking what I had that could help them, rather than having to pontificate about "Thou shalt be good," Simon points out. 'So what I've got here is a book of case studies that stretches right across the waterfront of the financial services sector. We explain a case study and ask people "What would you do in that situation?" We've sent the book to every member and it is extremely interactive. It's amazing, because it is a terribly dry subject. Tell someone that you're going to talk about ethics for an hour and they think it's going to be a lot of philosophical mumbo jumbo, but this is real stuff. Two of the case studies are particularly relevant to the recruitment market. One of them is about lying on a CV: what do you do if you employ someone and 20 years later, as you're about to offer them a board position, you discover that they haven't got a degree when they said they had? The other is about poaching people from another company: what are the rights and wrongs of doing that? And people can relate to that sort of thing.'
The idea is that people go back to their own company and discuss some of the case studies with their team, thereby building their own company culture.
Like any professional body, the SII is something of a mystery to non-members. So here is Simon's explanation of the organisation that began life in 1992 as the Securities Institute.
'The SII is a uniquely British creation which helps both customers and individuals remain up to date and professional. We do three main things: help people to attain their competence through qualifications and examinations, help them to maintain their competence through CPD (continuous professional development) events and seminars, which are usually free to members, and the third thing is to promote integrity and trust in the industry. We've got 40,000 members, of which half are students and the other half qualified, and in the last 12 months we've opened offices in Singapore, Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai.'
The reasons for choosing those locations varied. 'In some cases the regulator had asked us to come and raise the skill level, or companies said they were offshoring or expanding and wanted their staff to have the same level of skills as they are required to have in the UK.'
He is proud that the SII is in many of the top locations in a recent survey by Z/Yen Group on competitiveness. The Global Financial Centres Index rates jurisdictions according to 'people, business environment, market access, infrastructure and general competitiveness.'
London ranks first, followed by New York, with Geneva seventh and the Channel Islands 23rd
out of 50.
On behalf of all naturally competitive Channel Islanders, your correspondent chokes on his cup of tea at this information, but Simon is quick to put it into perspective, pointing out that the measurement has much to do with sheer numbers of personnel: 'Guernsey and Jersey have, what, 60,000 and 80,000 residents? You're up against Shanghai, Singapore, places with millions of people. I reckon if you can get into the teens you'll be doing really well.'
Even so, the Isle of Man, with a similar population to Jersey, is at 21, while the Cayman Islands, with fewer than 40,000 inhabitants, are just one place below us.
On the plus side, the Channel Islands are well ahead of Brussels, Madrid, Vienna and Rome.
Back to the SII. Simon talks about how essential CPD is and how much more convenient it is for companies to use the SII to provide that, rather than trying to do it themselves.
Before joining the SII, Simon worked for Lloyds Bank and then Deutsche Bank, along with three years with what he calls "the grand-sounding Prime Minister's Efficiency Unit in the Cabinet Office in London", trouble-shooting in various government departments. It has given him an appreciation of the value of positive decision-making.
'I don't know if it's true of Guernsey, but it's certainly true of central government in the UK that there isn't one person in charge - there are lots of little fiefdoms and they don't share, they don't talk and they're constantly in the glare of the media, so they daren't do anything unless they know it's particularly safe. They are risk-averse. Therefore, you get sub-optimal decision-making done slowly and late, with everybody agreeing on a consensual basis, with the result that one and one makes less than two. In business you wouldn't do that, but in government it's risk avoidance, not risk management.'
The link between the SII and AP Group is indicative of the difficulty of finding the right staff in a specialised field. 'Finding good long-term employees is what everybody's after,' Simon continued. 'Even from our own perspective we're finding that some of the people coming here from abroad have the key skills that we don't find too often in the UK. They have the attitude and flexibility, which to me are some of the most important things. You can teach people the technical stuff, but if they haven't got the attitude and flexibility... '