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Meeting the challenge

20 April 2015

Meeting the challenge - read more

Offshore training providers fill the skills shortage with ICSA’s new IFA qualification

The IMF defines an offshore financial centre as ‘a country or jurisdiction that provides financial services to non-residents on a scale that is incommensurate with the size and the financing of its domestic economy’.

This describes a problem facing all companies operating in these jurisdictions – although the legal and financial structure is in place, there is a finite pool of suitably qualified potential employees. Increasingly complex international financial and legal environments have also contributed to this lack of suitable talent. It has resulted in companies that offer offshore services demanding more in terms of multiple skills and qualifications from their employees.

This issue is amplified by the operational licensing demands of offshore regulators, which require certain percentages of employees in businesses to be qualified. The result is pressure for potential candidates to obtain their qualifications in a relatively short period. The awarding bodies therefore face the double challenge of providing relevant qualifications, achievable in a shorter time frame.

Traditional qualifications tend to build towards a final certificated exam. This results in a significant duration when the student is working towards that final qualified status. The many steps along the way seem unrecognised as there is no mark of achievement until the end. The rungs on the progression ladder are widely spaced which means there is a chance of ‘falling off’ just before the final stage. Potential entrants perceive this qualification structure as a barrier to establishing themselves as qualified and gaining recognition for their efforts.

The new International Finance and Administration (IFA) suite of qualifications is ICSA’s response to these issues. IFA encompasses a faster, flexible modular approach with certificated recognition of achievement at each stage. The benefits to candidates include the opportunity to step off the ladder, have a break, obtain some experience and then step back on at a later date.

IFA will appeal to new entrants to the offshore financial services industry or those who have taken a few years out from the industry and want to return to work. It will also be suitable for those who have been in the industry for some time without a recognised qualification. The IFA core modules allow graduates, who may have a business or related degree but lack offshore focus, to gain the core knowledge required by employers. There are no formal entry requirements and degree level qualifications are not necessary.

The IFA qualification ranges from the core Award to the full Certificate. It consists of eight central core modules and eight additional modules and these can be attempted in a variety of combinations, outlined below:

  1. The Award in International Finance and Administration contains eight core modules and provides an introduction to the international financial and legal environment, including products and services available; how the sector is monitored and regulated; and how trusts and companies are created and managed, together with other structures. Depending on what study method the student chooses the Award can be achieved within six to nine months.
  2. The Subsidiary Certificate in International Finance, Accounting and Administration covers the same content as the Award and introduces the fundamentals of accounting i.e. how financial information is created and used. Students can study for the core modules and the Accounting modules at the same time, which will allow them to achieve the qualification within six to nine months. If they prefer however, they can study the modules over two seasons in which case it will take less than a year.
  3. The Subsidiary Certificate in International Finance, Investment and Administration covers the core modules and provides an overview of the international financial market and introduces types of investment products and how they function. This qualification is ideal for staff requiring investment knowledge and can be achieved within six to 12 months of study.
  4. The Certificate in International Finance and Administration covers the core modules plus the fundamentals of Accounting and Investment, as covered in the Subsidiary Certificates. The successful completion of the Certificate qualifies students for further advanced study in the Diploma in Offshore Finance and Administration (DOFA) and students can use the post-nominals Cert ICSA, which can facilitate career progression into junior and middle management roles.

Each is a Level 4 qualification on the UK higher education framework and a Table 5 qualification within the Jersey Financial Services Commission Codes of Practice.

BPP Professional Education in Jersey and Guernsey has offered ICSA qualifications in the Channel Islands for many years, gaining CSQS Accredited Training Provider status. Students studying through BPP for their ICSA qualification have a choice of study methods. They can either attend face-to-face classes or can opt for its online classroom product. This option is ideal for students who live outside of the Channel Islands or those who are unable to attend regular classes.


Case studies


Student 1:

As a trainee trust administrator my tasks vary from day to day and include various administrative matters. I regularly need to meet urgent deadlines and help out other team members with smaller jobs if they are busy with more important matters.

I chose to study for the IFA qualification after hearing about it through colleagues and friends. I researched the course and found that it was the right road to go down. It would improve my knowledge in my everyday job, as well as open up a range of opportunities should I choose to change role in the future. Being in my first full time position, I acknowledge the importance of getting qualified and improving my expertise in order to progress.

Being qualified with ICSA will bring huge benefits to my career. Firstly, it is a well-known qualification so I could potentially move to the other side of the world and it would still be recognised by employers, this could open up many doors for me.

Another benefit is that it will improve my understanding and knowledge of my job, which could ultimately lead to a promotion and increase my earning potential. Another advantage is that employment in the finance industry is becoming more competitive and having an ICSA qualification on my CV will make me a lot more attractive to businesses.

Student 2:

I currently work at the Virtus Trust Group where I have several core responsibilities. My main role is producing in-house investment reports for clients. Virtus Trust outsources bookkeeping and accounts preparation and I am the first point of reference between the bookkeepers and the client executives. I am learning to produce accounts for external use and have recently taken on responsibility for software applications support and training, in addition to management of the company’s relationship with its external IT suppliers. I chose to study for the ICSA IFA Certificate as I believe it is well suited to the diversity of my role. It covers both accounting and investments within its curriculum.

Although I have worked in finance for many years, I took a sabbatical and spent time in South East Asia. On returning to Guernsey I found the jobs market had become more competitive and although I had experience, most employers were keen for applicants to hold qualifications. I was however lucky to be offered my present full-time job – which is an owner managed business – after previously temping at the company.

I hope that this qualification will ensure I have a diverse but definite career path and help to secure my financial future. I also believe it will give me more confidence in my own abilities.

Richard Hardy-Bishop is Technical and Course Development Manager at BPP Professional Education in Jersey

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