“Talent shortage is the most pressing challenge facing our industry” — CEO Q&A with Mark O’Sullivan of Provest

CEO Q&A, Interviews | Wed 30 Nov | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Mark O’Sullivan, CEO of Provest

Mark O’Sullivan is the CEO of Provest. Provest is a financial planning company based in Douglas, Cork.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priorities and goals are to ensure that this business meets its obligations in terms of client and staff expectations, and Regulatory and Board obligations. To achieve this, a greater focus is needed; by listening to clients and colleagues and taking on board their feedback to meet the challenges that lay ahead, while, at the same time, planning to navigate around these headwinds. 

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

To ensure that every aspect of the business is looked at, from a best in class and best practice perspective so that we keep up with the pace of change. Saying and doing can be two different things entirely. To achieve that, requires input from colleagues who are agile and focused on the same vision in terms of client service and retention. 

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

In managing teams, it is important to convey a very clear message from the outset as to what the team is trying to achieve. This involves identifying the strengths that each member of the team has to achieve our goals, meeting the timelines involved. Honesty is a key component for all the team, including me. Additionally, everyone’s views will be listened to, as there is a flat structure in place with no hierarchy, that there is no room for prima donnas and there is no ‘I ‘ in the word team. 

It is important to convey a very clear message from the outset as to what the team is trying to achieve

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Talent shortage is the most pressing challenge facing our industry. It’s important to remember that ability and experience prove to be less important than finding people who are genuinely kind, empathetic and positive. It’s easier to teach new skills, than it is to unteach old toxic behaviours. Additionally, an ever-increasing regulatory regime certainly creates headwinds for our business in meeting our clients’ expectations.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

The shift to hybrid working emerged during the Covid period by creating a more flexible working environment. Technology allowed colleagues to deal with the business needs whilst meeting home expectations during this challenging period. 

Separately, the implementation of the EU IORPS II Directive which deals with pension’s legislation, which has a deadline of December 31st next, coupled with auto-enrolment will strengthen consumer protection and will also have implications for how the Pension Authority supervises Occupational pension plans going forward in Ireland.  

Additionally, Responsible Investments which incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors got greater focus as a result of the implementation of legislation on 2nd August 2022, through the Insurance Distribution Directive (IDD) by forcing Investment institutions to step up to the plate by making greater choice and awareness available to clients in this area. It is important to note that not all the participants in the Irish Market have made their offerings available to date, and that not all the regulation is in place either. It will take some time to work out and guidance is awaited on a number of these areas. 

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

There has been a significant amount of change in our sector over the last two to three years, driven in the main from Europe. This will continue and as a leading advisory firm, we must continue to adapt not only internally, but also for our clients in the advice and guidance we provide to them. Suffice to say that it would be nice if the flow of change eased, to allow everyone time to pause and reflect on what has happened and changed.

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

There is a huge skill shortage across all industries. When we talk to our clients, we hear this as a constant theme. We have advertised, contacted all the local colleges, key contact points within our industry, spoken to those who have retired early with the objective of trying to fill the skill shortage gap. Thankfully, we have made progress and we have found that simple things like a personal phone or zoom call to colleagues was appreciated in relation to staff retention, in particular during the recent Covid crisis period.

There is a huge skill shortage across all industries.

How has Brexit affected you?

The impact Brexit had on our business was minimal. However, many of our clients who relied on inward and outward trading with the U.K., found that the existing relationships began to meet challenges, resulting in other avenues being sourced for goods, which in most cases has led to better outcomes. We understand that these changes came with many challenges, most of which have now, thankfully, been overcome. It highlights the additional risks businesses face when matters like Brexit occur.

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

We aspire each day to be a paperless firm. Our business model with slight adaptation survived very well, through continual dialogue and engagement with work colleagues and client contact during a difficult and challenging period. On one hand, Covid created a barrier for people being onsite, but on the other side, career changes were happening with decisions being made without the expected normal physical interactions. The better use of technology and the greater adaptation of Zoom and Teams allowed us to keep in contact with each other. The old method of keeping in contact by telephone worked very well also. Making sure that colleagues had the necessary equipment to do their jobs in a safe and secure environment and that their wellbeing was to the fore, certainly galvanised the relationships both internally and externally.

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

I am fortunate that the sector I started working in over 43 years ago has allowed me the opportunity to meet and work with so many nice people and, at the same time, provide a good standard of living for my family. It has further allowed me the opportunity to help clients, along with like minded colleagues to produce solutions for them. By doing the right things for these clients, respect is earned, honesty is appreciated, trust is gained and in turn, loyalty is returned. Success for me evolves around health and happiness with family and not by the size of a bank balance.

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

A colleague in a previous life many years ago told me to do the various exams, gain knowledge of the industry you are working in, be inquisitive and hungry to learn every day, persevere and endeavour to excel. Additionally, be yourself, be genuine, be honest, be respectful, work hard and gain knowledge. Take care of your clients like you would one of your family, never take them or your colleagues for granted or make them feel like they are just a number. By your actions and deeds, you earn trust.

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

We have been able to grow the business with the input from our colleagues in a very challenging economic environment period. At the same time, we have attracted new talent to further enhance our service offering to both existing and new clients. Our existing clients have remained loyal, and this is “in no small part’’ linked to the relationship which has been built with them by everyone in our business.

What’s next for your company?

The challenge we face is to continue with the good work we do for clients, in the knowledge that the Financial Services Industry finds itself struggling, in terms of its own service delivery. Hopefully, the Central Bank will ensure that relevant attention is given to this matter with the financial institutions, in order that better customer/consumer outcomes emerge.

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

I would like our business and brand to be better known and identified as one that delivers and cares for its personnel and clients. To achieve this, we must continue with the ethos of delivering on anything we promised to do and within the timelines agreed.

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Rachael Ingle of Aon Ireland

Pat Phelan of Sisu

Peter Hyland of Carroll’s Irish Gifts