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In-depth Profile: Simon Culhane

by Alexandra Cain | 11 Aug 2017

Profile: Simon Culhane

Building global ethical frameworks is not just Simon Culhane’s agenda it is his reality. 
Simon Culhane
The chief executive officer (CEO) of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) is spearheading the transformation of the institute into a global organisation. CISI was formerly a UK-centric body.

“We want our qualifications to become the global benchmark in the financial services. Our goal is to have 60 regulators recognise our qualification,” he explains. About 46 regulators already recognise CISI’s designations in their markets, with more in the pipeline. 

Why now? 

A severe downturn in 2002 in the financial services sector was the catalyst for CISI’s plans to extend its offering around the world.

“We realised our UK qualification were of international quality, and many people working in large, global banks were already taking our exams. This made us aware that  what we do is special and applicable not just in the UK but everywhere,” Culhane says.

Financial services regulators, especially those in the Gulf countries, were also a driver for the internationalisation of CISI’s qualifications and continuous professional development programs.

Many of the financial markets in the Gulf nations are relatively undeveloped compared to the centuries-old UK market, and can benefit from its experience in developing financial systems with real integrity.

“They are looking at life in a post-oil world and worked out financial services was a good strategic move for them. To be a leading financial centre, you need skilled people. So, they decided to use our exams to create a cadre of skilled people to help make them a financial market,” says Culhane.

The United Arab Emirates is a good example. It’s now a thriving financial centre, where professionals working in financial markets are encouraged to complete CISI’s exams.

CISI is entering the next phase of  its globalisation journey. Aside from the Gulf states, a number of Asian markets are also working closely with CISI to develop the integrity of their financial markets, especially India, Malaysia and Singapore.

Culhane says there are also opportunities to work more closely with wholesale institutions, as the take-up of its qualifications has been stronger among retail banks and wealth managers - so far.

As a not-for-profit organisation and charity, CISI is able to take a measured approach to its work, and has the opportunity to take its time to implement its long-term strategy, “we are objective driven, rather than profit maximising” says Culhane.

This will allow it to bed down new markets it is entering in a considered way, taking a longer term view,  learning as it goes and improving its approach over time. 

Stepping into the role 

Culhane is the perfect person to roll out CISI’s internationalisation strategy, having had experience in retail and wholesale banking, and in the public sector.

He previously worked for Lloyd's retail bank market, as well as in Deutsche Bank’s wholesale business, in between  with a stint in the UK Prime Minister's Efficiency Unit and at a Hospital. So CISI is a great fit for his expertise.

“Life is a bit of opportunity and a bit of what you make of it. CISI approached me in 2003 to be its strategic adviser. I wrote their  strategy which included turning the institute into an international organisation and I was then asked to deliver it. So that's been my focus since then.”

Culhane was subsequently appointed to the CEO role in May 2004. He says his time at Lloyd’s, which had a customer-first culture, informed his views on financial markets. 

CISI’s approach 

CISI’s qualifications comprise two parts: a technical paper, as well as a local regulatory paper. The local component differs depending on the market but the technical part is the same everywhere.

“The principles behind securities, portfolio management and wealth management are identical anywhere you go. Some of the rules might be slightly different across individual markets; the time it takes for securities’ trades to settle is an example. But our aim is for the technical paper to have common currency across the globe,” says Culhane.

He also believes CISI’s qualifications have a role to play in helping to re-establish trust in certain areas within financial services.

“There have been remediation fines, scandals and adverse publicity about the financial services in every market. We’re trying to improve the professionalism in financial services and part of that is doing the right thing for the long term for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.” 

Working with FINSIA 

Culhane and his team are coming to Australia to explore the financial services’ appetite to introduce the CISI qualification in this market, working alongside FINSIA.

“Our philosophy is always to compliment not compete and so we are delighted to be working with FINSIA to  explore whether our qualifications would be useful in Australia. If so, we will work with FINSIA to bring them to you,” he adds.

The CISI team will host a series of workshops to seek market feedback on the application of its qualifications here.

The idea is to showcase CISI’s wealth management and capital markets qualifications. If the market is open to it they will be introduced in Australia.

“As a professional body, Integrity is a core element of what we do so we're also going to host integrity debates and explore professionalism’s three components: knowledge, skills and integrity,” Culhane says.

With financial market integrity such a hot topic, it’s likely there will be keen interest in CISI’s approach from local members of the financial services community. 


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