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International assignments in financial services: Why sending staff overseas is a strategic requirement

01 March, 2017Phil Renshaw

This blog is the first in a five-part series on the importance of international assignments in the finance and banking industries.

The financial services sector is nothing if not global. Whilst some marketplaces may be restricted due to legal, religious or similar factors such as in Iran or Russia, nonetheless they all seek to increase their levels of international business which, of course, requires financial services.

Walk into the offices of any global bank in London or other financial centres around the world and you will be faced with a multitude of languages, cultures and diversity. Historically this was not the case. Rather one would see people from the relevant organisation’s HQ-country travelling and living overseas to manage their foreign businesses. This may have been due to lack of trust of the local population. but the world of financial services (and beyond) has globalised dramatically since then.

Financial services regulatory systems are global in nature - consider Basel III as a perfect example. Payment systems are global – consider SWIFT. Client supply-chains and customers are increasingly global. To trade with businesses in other countries requires knowledge of rules and regulations that cross borders, knowledge of cultures & perspectives, and knowledge of languages & customs. For most businesses involved in financial services today, this is pretty much unavoidable.

Man walking through skyscraperWhilst you may work in a predominantly UK-based environment such as a UK retail bank, your clients both individuals and organisations will have increasingly internationalised operations. Hence your ability to work with them and advise them on financial products and services is enhanced simply because you can empathise with, recognise and even forewarn them of some of the general strategic and business issues that they face. Of course, some of this can be achieved by reading books or researching the Internet. However, for most people learning by doing, in this case working overseas, is likely to be much more effective.

In some sectors, and you should already know if this is true in your own, the global nature of clients is such that an ability to talk in their business language is crucial and often there are very clear global centres of excellence for your services. Obvious examples, in addition to London, would be New York, Tokyo and Singapore for investment banking clients who anticipate accessing all of these different markets. Hence your ability to talk from experience about how these markets operate and the different advantages and disadvantages of them all significantly enhances your credibility and your career.

And for all these reasons, a growing number of international financial services organisations have programmes encouraging international assignments to generate the skills in-house. These are designed both to grow technical skills, leadership skills and grow a highly connected network of professionals. This also means that if your employer has such a programme, being part of it will enhance your career.

About the author:

Phil Renshaw is an expert in the value of international assignments, and is pursuing research in this area within financial services for a PhD at Cranfield University and as a Henry Grunfeld Research Fellow. He also leads the Leadership in Banking module in our MSc in Banking Management and Practice. You can contact him directly at phil.renshaw@edu.libf.ac.uk