Challenge yourself and try things outside your comfort zone - that's Chris' advice. He works as a compliance partner in financial services. He explains the ins and outs of his role, what he loves about his job... and how he got paid to travel the world.
Name: Chris Smith
Company: Mattioli Woods plc
Industry: Financial services
What is your job? Compliance partner in asset management
How long have you been doing this job? I’ve worked for the company for 11 years now, but I have only been in this role for 2 months
University: Nottingham Trent University
Degree Subject: Bachelor of arts in English
1. What was your very first job?
My first job was working in retail at a sports shop selling things like trainers and football shirts. It was a job I got after a week of work experience arranged by my school when I was 15, and something I enjoyed enough to want to spend my Saturdays there.
My day was mainly serving customers and helping in the stock room with deliveries etc. which I enjoyed, though I hated it when they made me clean the shop windows in the morning. I once sold a pair of boots to former England striker Emile Heskey back when he was a youth player at Leicester City. I think everyone should be do a customer services job at some point so you can see what it’s like to be on the receiving end of rude customers!
2. What did you want to do when you were at school?
I have been trying to work out what I want to be when I grow up since I started school, but I’m 37 now so perhaps I just need to stop pretending I haven’t grown up. Some people are lucky enough to know what their dream job is. I just never figured it out, so I have tried a few different things and concentrated on finding a great work life balance. I work for a good company with some great people around me, and that’s really important.
3. How did you find out about the industry?
I fell into it to be honest, as is the case for a lot of people in financial services. I was made redundant by a previous job after they relocated to the Philippines, spent a year backpacking around the world with my redundancy money, and then took a temp office job when I got back. That was in 2006, and I’m still here!
Sometimes just getting a foot in the door can be enough if you make a good impression. I was lucky enough to be allowed to join the company’s graduate programme and my career has grown from there.
4. How did you get there?
Whilst I hadn’t worked in this field before, I had experience of working in offices which was really useful, allowing me to feel comfortable in my surroundings whilst I went through a training programme.
Showing you are keen and willing to learn is vital, particularly in an area like financial services where there is so much to learn. I recently moved from the client-facing side of the business over to a compliance role, so I am getting to apply my knowledge of the company but am now working in an area that is pretty new to me.
It’s great to push yourself out of your comfort zone and to challenge yourself, but also important to show you can be flexible when opportunities arise.
5. What is a typical day like?
My role is primarily to ensure our investment services comply with the applicable regulations and to look for any areas of risk, so that those who invest with us are suitably protected. This can range from checking investment documentation to ensure it is easy for the reader to understand, to reviewing trades to check we bought the correct investments for a client, or perhaps attending investment meetings discussing how products we manage are performing, and discussing new ideas.
A lot of my role is detective work and problem-solving which I really enjoy. Historically the view of compliance officers has been a function to catch people out for getting something wrong, but I’m not here to police anyone. The idea of my role is to be a partner for our investment management team, helping them prevent any issues before they happen, so a lot of it is just being nosy and seeing what is going on across the teams.
6. What’s the best thing about your job?
Whilst I may spend a lot of time burying my head in documents and spreadsheets, I also spend plenty of time in and around the investment management teams around our business, both here in Leicester, but also in other locations around the UK. I work with a laptop, so I generally hot-desk; I just need Wi-Fi to be able to work, so can move around as I need to.
Part of my role is ensuring there is a good communication between the compliance and investment management teams so that we have a good level of trust, meaning the social aspect of my position is important, and I really enjoy that. Next week for example I will be flying up to Glasgow to spend some time with our investment researchers there, whilst last week I was down in London sitting in on a board meeting for one of our funds. I don’t travel so much it becomes exhausting, but I get regular changes of scenery which is great.
Having variety in your role is really important to me, and with the various roles I have performed at the company over the years, I have never really been in a position where I am doing the same thing day in day out.
7. What is the most challenging thing about your job?
It can be difficult when you are in the early stages of a role with a lot to learn, and can’t then answer all of the questions that are thrown at you. I have a need to be really good at what I do and take pride in my work. However, no matter how experienced you get, you won’t always know all of the answers. The key is not to pretend you know something when you don’t. It’s better to be honest and offer to go find out something than have people work out you’re blagging it!
8. What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?
I can’t imagine there are a huge amount of people out there who grew up thinking they want to be in compliance. It’s not the sexiest of jobs! But in general for those looking for a career in the financial world, whilst a degree in something related won’t hurt, it is not essential. Look for things like training programmes to get you in the door so you can start to get experience, and then try different things and work out what you enjoy doing. For those who don’t intend to go to university, there are some really good apprenticeship programmes out there (we have one!) that can get you on the career ladder and let you show what you can do.
In general, don’t be afraid to push in directions that you think you will be good at and will enjoy. As long as you can demonstrate to your employer the value in that for both you and them, they will be happy to help you develop where they can. But if you don’t know what you want to do in the long run, just get out there and try something. Give it your best whilst you figure out if that is the right thing for you, as all experience is useful.
9. What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?
At least one set of lottery numbers, preferably in advance of the draw they were for.
But seriously, I wish I’d made more of an effort to find out about what career options were available to me, so going to graduate fairs, talking to careers advisers etc. That first job decision isn’t necessarily a lifelong decision, but it may have helped me avoid a few ‘what do I do now’ moments. Be organised and take time to think about what you want. But if you don’t work it out, you can still be really successful if you apply yourself correctly and do your best at whatever you fall into!
10. Where would you like to be in 5 years?
Working remotely from an office somewhere warm and close to the sea. And if that office has a friendly puppy, I’ll be OK with that… Did I mention I just spent a year working via my laptop while travelling the world?