“Surround yourself with smarter people than you!” – CEO Q&A with Joanne Keane of LIA

CEO Q&A | Wed 29 Sep | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Joanne Keane, CEO,  LIA

Joanne Keane is CEO of LIA, for the education and development of Finance Professionals. Joanne took up the role of CEO in January 2020, having worked with LIA for 20 years in various roles, including Deputy CEO.  LIA recently announced details of a partnership with Rugby Players Ireland, that will see it provide a financial wellbeing programme to professional and elite rugby players across the country. In consultation with the world-leading player development team at Rugby Players Ireland and its members, LIA developed “Smart Money Habits” to help current and past elite rugby players manage the financial challenges they typically encounter, both during their careers as professional athletes and following their retirement.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My vision is to ensure that LIA is instrumental in driving forward professional standards within the Finance Profession, so that, ultimately, consumers can feel confident in the financial advice they are given by our members at key financial milestones in their lives, be that buying a house, establishing a pension or indeed losing a loved one. We are passionate about supporting our members and students throughout their whole careers, whether that means with their academic studies, with the ongoing CPD training they need post-qualification, or with their own personal development. Our ethos is ‘Member First’ and that is embedded in everything we do throughout the organisation.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

The CEO role can be a lonely place, one that can be difficult to switch off from and never more so than when the pandemic hit 10 weeks after I took on the role! I have found it vital to develop my own personal boardroom of support i.e., a group of individuals outside of the organisation that are my ‘go to’ people who provide me with a safe place to discuss concerns, issues, ideas and most importantly to challenge me, and this has proved invaluable to me.

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated?

Well communication is key, and I am very lucky to have a super Senior Leadership Team who collectively work hard to nurture the excellent culture we have. As a small team, the staff of LIA work very hard, often wearing multiple ‘hats’, and to recognise this we are very flexible with them and are supportive of investing in their long-term development and growth. LIA’s Social Committee also does great work with regular treats and social events, even in a virtual world.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

I think that certainly for LIA, as educators, there is a risk of increased competition now that geographical borders have been broken down by COVID, and the rapid shift to online learning and exams. We were lucky in that we have always operated a distance-learning model for our members and students, so it wasn’t as big an adjustment for us as it might have been. However, COVID has clearly transformed how organisations like ours do business now, particularly in relation to online exams; and this means we are potentially competing with education/ membership organisations worldwide. In terms of the finance industry in which we operate, I suppose the main concern is the volatility of the employment market, i.e., will the industry contract or grow, and if it contracts what impact would that have on our students and members, and for LIA as an organisation.  

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

On the education side of things I suppose the main one is the move to online examinations. We are also seeing a change in how the members and students wish to consume information and so we are endeavouring to provide micro-learning and learning that can be consumed ‘on the go’. It is vital that we stay ahead of such trends and ensure that our resources meet the changing needs and expectations of our members and students.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Well, our members and students traditionally come from the Life Assurance and Pensions industries, and the Credit Union Movement, and they have always been very proactive in their academic development and professional growth. We are greatly encouraged to see a strong desire for education beyond the Central Bank of Ireland’s Minimum Competency requirements, and this has been evidenced by the huge take-up of our recently launched Level 9 Post Graduate Diploma in Business in Financial Planning. With our stated vision of driving industry standards forward, this is a trend we would very much like to see continue. 

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

As our business continues to evolve and grow, the staffing needs of the organisation change and therefore it is not so much a skills gap in the market, but instead a gap in terms of the staffing model we have and the staffing model we will need to move us forward. We are currently scaling up to future-proof the needs of the organisation so we can deliver a best-in-class service to our members and students.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We were fortunate to serve those working in a regulated environment and hence the needs of our members and students did not hugely change. Clearly some of our members and students experienced great financial stress due to job losses and financial uncertainty, and we worked closely with those affected to ensure we supported them and were empathetic with them during that difficult period. We also developed a number of specialist courses during this period to allow our members and students meet the needs of consumers during that time, e.g., in Debt Management Services.

How has Brexit affected you?

We have been extremely lucky not to have been impacted by Brexit.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

Like other businesses, we had to rapidly move to a remote working environment and the staff have adapted superbly. While we operated a distance-learning model prior to COVID, our exams took place in physical venues around the country and we held many in-person CPD events, all of which had to move online at extremely short notice! However, as with any crisis there have been many opportunities, and the move to online has created enhanced efficiencies in our processes. The advent of online exams and events has also removed all geographic barriers that may have existed for our members and students in terms of accessibility to our courses and CPD content. A major positive for our students has been that we are now in a position to release provisional exam results to them within 48 hours of them sitting their exam online with us. This is a first in our industry and, to my knowledge, we are the only organisation offering such a speedy turnaround on exam results.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Personally, I define success as being able to look myself in the eye and say I did my absolute best for the members, students and staff. I am quite a (well a very!) competitive person and very driven to succeed, and hence I want the same for our members and students. I want LIA to be the catalyst to their success.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Work hard, be honest and transparent; and like others before me have said, surround yourself with smarter people than you!

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

There have been many highlights, including how the team responded to the pandemic by researching, developing and delivering our online exam solution within 6 weeks to allow 2,000 students to sit their exams online with us in May 2020. I was also extremely proud to observe how well the team responded, adapted and committed to the remote-working model during the pandemic. More recently, I have been delighted to unveil our new corporate identity and website – a 9-month project that has completely transformed our brand identity, and now more accurately reflects the LIA of 2021. 

In early September, we also launched a financial wellbeing initiative with Rugby Players Ireland, called ‘Smart Money Habits’. This has been devised to help current and past elite rugby players manage the (often unusual) financial challenges they typically encounter, both during their careers as professional athletes and following their retirement. It is an important area that has traditionally been overlooked and we are absolutely delighted to be the first organisation offering such a programme for professional sportspeople. 

What’s next for your company?

We are just about to launch a new three-year strategic plan, so it has been exciting and challenging to work on that over recent months, and I look forward now to getting stuck into delivering on our promises! 

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We have recently launched our new corporate identity, and my hope is that our brand will be more widely recognised this time next year by the public. We have a number of collaborative projects in the pipeline, and I would hope that these will help communicate our vision to the wider population, so as to ensure that consumers have confidence and trust in the finance professionals who support them in achieving financial security in their lives and, ultimately, financial freedom.