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Building for the future
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Building for the future

Bahamas Institute of Financial Services takes sector professionals to next level

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2014
July 13, 2014
Steve Cotterill

The most valuable assets in The Bahamas’ financial services toolbox are its people. It is a competitive market and for the jurisdiction to succeed, it needs creative, knowledgeable and skilled professionals at the forefront of the sector. 

Spearheading training and certification programmes is the Bahamas Institute of Financial Services (BIFS)–a dedicated, non-profit organization charged with the education and continued development of the sector’s practitioners. During its 40-year history, the institute has witnessed the evolution of financial services in The Bahamas, from a predominantly domestic and retail banking sector to a complex and sophisticated multi-disciplined international financial centre.

“In the early days we were more focused on banking operations and basic banking skills, but now we have to make sure we have professional designations and banking certifications for advanced skills in wealth management, financial planning, and risk management,” says Tanya McCartney, BIFS chairperson. “We have to have those programmes in place, so that our graduates are able to compete with people anywhere in the world.”

Global standards
With an increasingly complex and regulated global environment, it is essential that Bahamas financial services practitioners are continually upgrading their skills and remain ahead of latest developments. “They have to understand international best practice, regulations and standards–if you are doing business here, you are guided by the same regulatory system as someone in Switzerland and you have to know it and be able to apply it,” says McCartney. 

The upside to the new era of compliance is that through reform comes opportunity, according to McCartney. It forces providers to be more creative and devote energies into seeking out new clientele.

“We will have to look to new, emerging markets, as well as looking for different products with a wealth management focus. And we will have to equip our human capital to be able to meet those needs.”

To make sure the institute is up to speed with its course offering, BIFS regularly consults with private sector stakeholders, the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) and the Ministry of Financial Services. “Where they see new trends and opportunities to reposition the sector, they will ask us to develop a training course. We act on their advice, because we know that they want practical, easily applicable skills that can be applied immediately in the workplace.”

Range of courses
This has led the institute to devise a varied range of programmes that look to develop well-rounded industry professionals. Popular courses include the Banking Certificate, a diploma in Anti-Money Laundering and Compliance, and the Trustee Diploma. The Certification in Taxation is fully subscribed, as the jurisdiction looks to reforming tax structures with the introduction of value added tax (VAT) and global and US taxation changes impact the trust and estate planning business. The course, which was launched at the beginning of the year, has proved popular with accountants and attorneys and is partly taught by the Minister of Financial Services and international tax lawyer Ryan Pinder. 

The institute also recently rolled out a course in corporate finance intended to fill knowledge gaps among attorneys, realtors and financial services practitioners in areas such as analysis of financial statements, capital structure and how to value a business, its structures and transactions. 

Many courses are accredited by international organizations. Collaborations include those with the Chartered Banker Institute, which helps with curriculum and accreditation; the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments in the UK; and the Bangor Business School in Wales and the Chartered Banker Institute in Scotland, which accredit the Chartered Banker MBA offered by BIFS.

The institute has also introduced language courses in response to stakeholder efforts to tap such new and emerging markets as Brazil and China. Six-month courses at the Nassau campus offer basic communication skills in both Portuguese and Mandarin. “Traditionally, those skills have been primarily useful in tourism,” explains McCartney. “But, as the financial services sector in the jurisdiction looks to reposition itself in markets in Latin America and Asia, we will continue to identify those language needs and close any skills gaps.”

Continued learning and development
The financial services sector is extremely dynamic and as a consequence it takes a particular type of person to excel in the industry. “The key attribute would have to be a willingness and commitment to continued learning and development,” says McCartney. “Because the operating environment is subject to change, you have to be willing to adapt. You may have to take specialist courses or upskill to be able to compete, so an openness to learning is essential.”

The importance of education and continual learning is something that McCartney feels very passionately about. BIFS chairperson for around six years, she also teaches some of the courses and, through her work with the Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers (BACO), has taught part of the compliance diploma. “I absolutely love teaching. I see the potential for the sector and entirely appreciate the importance of education and training for its continued development. After all, I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it wasn’t for education and qualifications.”

Another important element is to understand the soft skills required in the industry, such as customer relationships and management. These are extremely transferable skills, which is why financial services appeal to a wide range of professionals from other industries. “Particularly since the recession, we have seen persons signing up for our courses who, for example, worked in tourism and already have good people skills, but no experience in banking. We can give them the formal training to help them transition from other sectors.”

The institute also offers career coaching, so that potential students can select the field in which they want to specialize and tailor their certification process accordingly.

Centre of excellence
McCartney says that BIFS is poised to spearhead a region-wide education initiative in conjunction with its partners throughout the Caribbean. The Minister of Financial Services in his budget communication last year expressed a desire to see some BIFS courses made available across the region. BIFS has been engaged to develop an action plan for the region’s development and talks are ongoing with the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the CARIFORUM financial services task force.

“The Bahamas has the potential to be a centre of excellence for the Caribbean region, because we are so advanced in financial services and expertise in training and education of professionals in the sector,” says McCartney. “We thought that we would be an ideal jurisdiction for the centre. We are currently exploring the technical requirements to establish an e-learning programme online for the entire region and we have already set up a pilot programme for Turks and Caicos Islands.”

The Ministry of Financial Services is exploring opportunities for funding to move this project forward to implementation stage. McCartney adds: “We think this is not only advantageous for us, but if we can, as a region, highlight the qualifications and skills that we have here, it would speak to the stability of the region as a financial centre and increase confidence.”

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