Alan Meaney: Welcome to the third episode of Dublin Funds Talk. I'm delighted to be joined today by Alan Farrell, founder of Quick Step Training.
Alan Farrell: Thanks very much for having us.
Alan Meaney: How're you Alan? Quickstep provide online training to the funds industry. So Alan, tell us a little bit about Quickstep and your own background and how everything got started.
Alan Farrell: Well, I began in funds back in the day... well, the early nineties, with Irish Life, like a lot of people of my vintage in the funds industry these days in Dublin. And, in what became Irish life Investment Managers from there, I moved to AIG Fund Management and got my ACCA qualification there. And then worked with a couple of administrators, IFS and Bank of Ireland securities. And it was while with Bank of Ireland securities that they had the alliance with State Street back at the end of the nineties. And that was State Street's first presence in Ireland, and it was just about 20 of us there.
Alan Meaney: It's grown a lot since then.
Alan Farrell: It certainly has! (We were) working on the State Street system. And it was there that I saw the need for some more formal training structures in place. Because as you might recall, the industry was developing.
Alan Farrell: It was growing at a fast rate and there were a lot of people coming in that didn't have a background in funds and even, you'd go as far as to say, didn't have a background in finance. So we identified that need and started building new hire training programs, geared for people coming straight into the funds industry.
Alan Farrell: We set up that training function with Bank of Ireland securities and State Street. So at that time, we're getting involved in training, I also began lecturing with Dublin Business School and with the National College of Ireland.
Alan Farrell: And over time with the training and the lecturing, around 2004, 2005, I saw there was still a need for a dedicated training provider in the funds industry in Ireland. There was plenty of training offerings out there from the UK and from elsewhere that provided broad-based financial services training. But I was looking for something that would target funds industry operations people, people in the front, middle, and then the back office, people in fund accounting primarily and in financial reporting. And there wasn't that industry specific training available. So what Quickstep did was meet those training needs of fund administrators and investment managers and trustees, and we delivered in-house classroom-style training for our clients.
Alan Meaney: And it's evolved from then, since I first met you anyway. You launched an online service which is hugely popular?
Alan Farrell: Just a couple of years ago, from about 2005. We were delivering to clients in Ireland, but also we delivered in Bermuda, Cayman's, New York, Hong Kong, Poland, and the UK. And that got me thinking about the nature of the markets. And of course, it's not just an Irish market. So people were willing to get us over to those locations because of our expertise. It made sense that to make our training product and their industry expertise available globally, it made sense to put it online.
Alan Meaney: Oh no, it's great. Access from anywhere on demand. And you can use it on mobile, tablet...
Alan Farrell: Exactly. The stats show that there's an increasing move towards mobile learning. And I know e-learning has been flaunted for a long, long time, but mobile learning where people can access their work training outside of work is a huge attraction. For employers and for companies in the funds industry. So, we're seeing that clients are increasingly availing of that and we're now focused on providing online training.
Alan Meaney: And I guess the only constant in funds is change. We're all very used to it.
Alan Farrell: It is. And we've managed to keep up with those changes. Over the last few years, budgets have been affected. There's no getting away from that. And the clients have been looking for more cost-effective ways of delivering training and satisfying the need for expertise within the industry. And some of the problems with traditional training have been, well... You do a training course in February and by September you need to tap into that knowledge and it's gone because you haven't been working on that idea, or whatever it might've been. It might be I, F, or S you did the course in February, and then six or twelve months later, you need to apply that knowledge. It's not there anymore. But with our online training, it's not just a training course. It's got that year round thing. So people can tap into that. And the client sees the value in that they can use that resource and they get a lot of value out of that. Or unlike, you might say, at a one day event, which comes and goes on that's that.
Alan Meaney: And I think it's great. People learn at different paces, so people can set their own pace. And like you said, they can tap back into it pretty much whenever they need it. So when a problem or an area comes up, they can actually go "I'll refresh myself on that now."
Alan Farrell: Exactly. When that comes along, they haven't seen performance feeds before. They don't need to. But this new funds they have, performance feeds are in there and they need to get to grips with that fairly quickly.
Alan Meaney: That's great.
Alan Farrell: And on the new hire side as well, the small companies or medium sized companies might have two or three people coming in the door in the first six months of the year. You're not going to get an external trainer in there to deliver a one week new hire program. But what some of our clients have availed of is our fund accounting courses, structured a new hire program out of those and used that. And combined it with some on the job training as well, of course. But use that, and having that available for the new guys, whenever they joined has been a real boost for us.
Alan Meaney: I think definitely last couple of years, we had the crisis where numbers dropped off a little bit or went static, but people are hiring very fast now. That training is really important because the knowledge gap and the upskill of people that's occurred last few years, it's hard to go from zero to being up to speed without having the support of the program.
Alan Farrell: Absolutely. And with the larger companies, the larger firms of course have sophisticated in-house new hire training programs. But smaller guys, it wouldn't be cost effective for them to develop those in-house courses. So with the pickup again in recruitment, it is great to be able to offer our clients something of value that they can use online.
Alan Meaney: That's fantastic. And the funds industry in Dublin, how do you see it evolving... the question I kind of ask everyone, over the next five years? What sort of key trends do you see happening?
Alan Farrell: We're well positioned. We can take for granted what's happened in Ireland over the last 20 years as almost the funds industry. You take it as a given that we have this expertise lying around and all of this experience. With that knowledge, and that's something that can't be replicated quickly at any another location, and we've got that knowledge here. So one of the key building blocks into the future for the next few years for the funds industry will be that knowledge base that's here, and that experience. You think about 10,000 people or so-
Alan Meaney: 13,000 was the last figure I'd seen.
Alan Farrell: Including all the ancillary service providers as well. So that's phenomenal in a country this size. So with the knowledge and experience that we have and the niche expertise in areas of regulation and in financial reporting. We partner with Compliance Ireland, the regulatory experts, to develop our AML course and Mary Kiely of OBK accountants develops our financial reporting courses. The depth of expertise there in these areas isn't easily replicated anywhere else. We recently had a US client have a look at our US gap online training, and they were very, very impressed. So in Ireland, we're developing US gap for investment funds training courses and US clients are coming and looking at them saying "We like that a lot."
Alan Meaney: Fantastic. We hear a lot about innovation, but innovation isn't necessarily just technology, it's new processes. Meaning we look at the new legal structures that are coming out of the Irish funds industries, an innovation in itself, we've a number of technology firms here in Ireland. And one we know well is FundCalcs who do performance fee calculation automation.
Alan Farrell: That's right, Alan Quigley over at FundCalcs doing great work.
Alan Meaney: I'll have to get Alan on for an episode.
Alan Farrell: You will indeed. It could be The Alan Show...
Alan Meaney: It could be The Alan Show! We're going that way.
Alan Farrell: So Alan Quigley, I believe, is doing very, very well. And he's impressing clients over in the UK with the performance fees calculations that he's coming up with. And also, as you say, innovation and Fund Recs making a new velocity platform, looks very exciting.
Alan Meaney: We're really excited about that.
Alan Farrell: What we're doing technologically wouldn't be considered innovative, but I suppose how we're using the existing technologies and how we're helping clients combine that with their traditional in-house training, their live classroom training. It's a nice blend and it can be very effective. So, right. So that knowledge and expertise and the innovation that we have here, I think it positions Ireland quite well for the future.
Alan Meaney: So what does Quickstep have planned for the next 18 months?
Alan Farrell: We're going to continue to try and broaden the subject matter experts that we have available to us. As I say, we've partnered with Mary Kiely at OBK and with Compliance Ireland for the AML course, but we're going to stretch that further and hopefully get together with two more partners in the next year or so and develop then two more courses. But they've yet to be decided upon-
Alan Meaney: I look forward to hearing the announcements.
Alan Farrell: You'll be the first to know, as soon as we decide what those courses are. Another development is when we started constructing the online learning, a key thing we were aware of was people's short attention span. We wanted to keep those online courses in pieces that were quite digestible, maybe six or seven minutes. And that's what we've tried to do. Now, the subject matter, it doesn't always lend itself to that, but even into the future, we're going to take that a step further and we're going to produce more microlearning influenced pieces of training that are going to be very, very accessible and much more compatible with mobile learning than traditional e-learning has been.
Alan Meaney: I think that's innovation itself. That, to me, sounds like a winning formula coming from an operations background myself. People are so busy. They don't have time to dedicate an hour slot.
Alan Farrell: That's it.
Alan Meaney: Just work through a video, try and get to the bit that they need. If you have that condensed into two minute bits and I can just drop in when that problem comes up or when, when I need to know that information, that'd be really powerful.
Alan Farrell: You try to clear 90 minutes to do this course and that 90 minute window doesn't come up in your week. So the way we're structuring things, it's making it more and more accessible.
Alan Meaney: Thanks a million, Alan. Thanks for coming in.
Alan Farrell: Very good.
Alan Meaney: Great chatting to you.