Streets ahead

By Business & Finance
30 April 2013
State Street

Susan Dargan speaks to Funds Review Ireland about leadership, Irish financial services excellence and growth opportunities. as she takes up her new role as Head of Global Services at State Street in Ireland.

Susan Dargan

Q. What has been your experience working in financial services in Ireland?

A. I have spent all of my working life in financial services in one form or another. My first job was with Allied Irish Banks in the treasury area. From the very start, I was exposed to international financial services and I think this whetted my appetite to further explore opportunities in the sector. In early 1989, I moved to London, but really without any clear plan in terms of my next career move.

Thankfully, I landed a job with Northern Trust and from there I moved to Mitsubishi, which proved to be a great learning experience – not just in terms of the role, but the cultural nuances of working with an Asian financial institution.

In 1991, I returned to Ireland and joined Bank of Ireland. In 1996, I found myself working on Bank of Ireland’s alliance with State Street. This was State Street’s first step into the Irish market and I had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. The alliance exceeded everyone’s expectations and it became clear that this venture had tremendous potential to grow. State Street acquired the bank’s interest in the JV in 2003 and I was appointed Head of Investment Services. In 2008, I was appointed Chief Operating Officer for the business, and so in many ways, I have had a long apprenticeship for my new role as Head of Global Services in Ireland.

Q. What will your role as Head of Global Services at State Street encompass?

A. My role entails the management and development of a wide range of investment administration services for our institutional clients globally. We have a recognised capability in areas like money market funds, exchange traded funds and loan funds, and we have also developed centres of excellence in areas like derivatives processing.

The teams working on these products, and indeed in many other areas of the business, have deep specialist skills and it is my job to ensure that we harness their ability in the most effective way possible. We like to build long-term partnerships with our clients.

Our goal is to understand their business and the challenges on their horizon, so that we can be one step ahead in terms of coming up with solutions to meet their needs and the needs of their investors.

In our business, we always face challenges. Right now regulation is certainly high on the list of priorities. There is a great deal happening on the regulatory landscape and it will take some time before all of the implications are clear for investors.

As an institution we are completely in favour of prudent regulation and many of the measures being considered right now will do much to protect the interests of investors.

However, one of the by-products of the increased focus on transparency and risk reduction is that costs will increase. At a time when everyone is looking to control their costs, it is important to get the balance right.

When you ask me the question ‘what am I looking forward to working on’, a couple of areas stand out. With all the change we see on the regulatory landscape, we know that there will be opportunities for new product development.

I mentioned earlier that we have a significant capability in the area of derivatives processing.
With the move to centralise the clearing of OTC derivatives in Europe and the US, there will be opportunities for organisations like State Street to expand its service offering in this area.

Q. What attributes and experience will you bring to the role and what are the goals you are hoping to achieve?

A. I come from a technical background and this helps enormously when it comes to building new products and services. I have also spent a lot of my career in client facing roles, and this is also a great asset when we are trying to assess what might be the best solution for our clients and the underlying investors they service.

During my time in State Street, I have had plenty of experience managing large and complex teams and it is great to have this experience under my belt.

In many respects my new role is an extension of the role I have carried out since 2008. Having laid the foundations over the last five years, I can now concentrate on the steps we need to take to guide the business through the next stage of its development.

In terms of my personal goals for the business, I want to ensure we harness the skills within the business to the greatest possible extent. Our employees are our greatest asset and I intend to ensure we do everything possible to grow and develop this valuable asset.

One very positive sign is that there is growing recognition internationally that, as a location, we have adjusted our cost base and this is a key step in attracting new business to Ireland. Having learnt the hard lesson when costs get out of kilter, we need to ensure we keep a close eye on costs.

Q. What attributes do you think are important for a leadership role such as this?

A. I think there are lots of desirable attributes; the ones I try to concentrate on are as follows:
Every organisation needs a clear picture of where it is going and the role each of us needs to play to get there. For me, the number one priority is to communicate a clear vision and roadmap for the business and ensure everyone has what they need to play their part. I am a great believer in empowering people. We hire the brightest and the smartest so I think it makes sense to let them get on with the job. Finally, I place a lot of emphasis on execution. Everyone is great at starting things and it is also important that we see them through to the end.

Q. How is Ireland viewed globally with regard to the financial services industry?

A. I think a lot of people internationally see us as a nation that has taken the hard medicine and is doing its best to get on with things.

With the upcoming EU Presidency, we will have a great opportunity to move the dial in perception terms, and I am sure the government will be doing everything possible to present the country in a positive light.

Q. Why is Ireland considered a great location for international fund management?

A. We have a number of qualities that international managers’ value. They like the work ethic in Ireland. They also see us as innovative and good problem solvers and this is a tremendous attribute that we should promote to a greater extent. With 12,000 people involved directly in the funds industry, and a very specialist pool of expertise, we have created the critical mass to compete with any centre globally. Ireland is also a great location from a time zone and access perspective for global investment firms.

Q. How have Irish financial services changed and developed in recent years?

A. In a word hugely! Who would have thought that from a standing start in the 80s, the funds industry in Ireland would become the significant employer it is today. State Street is just one of a number of international financial services providers in the market and we alone employ over 2,000 people.

The overall landscape has also changed hugely, both in terms of the IFSC and the part of the city where we are based, at the mouth of the Liffey, but also all of the international financial services employment that has been generated outside Dublin in areas such as Kilkenny, Naas, Drogheda, Wexford, and more. None of this was on the cards when I started working in the industry over 20 years ago.

Q. What impact is the industry having on the domestic economy and how is our reputation perceived internationally?

A. I think our industry is a bit of an unsung hero – both in terms of the high-quality employment we provide and our contribution to the overall economy. The 500 or so firms operating in the IFSC employ some 32,000 people – they account for about 10% of all multinational employment in the country.

Q. What do you see as the outlook for the future of financial services in Ireland and how do you think Ireland will perform globally?

A. There are challenges but we are fortunate that we have established a solid foundation over the last 20 years. Today, Ireland is recognised as a global leader for domiciling UCITS and regulated alternative investment funds. Ireland is the number one centre for the administration of alternative investments globally, servicing more than 40% of the world’s alternative assets.
I think we have clearly demonstrated resilience in terms of our ability to grow our business throughout the period of the international financial crisis. If we can do this at a time of significant uncertainty, I have great confidence in what we can achieve in the future.

*This article was originally published in Funds Review Ireland 2013.