‘I had an interest in corporate governance, and indeed an understanding of corporate governance is required in my role as a compliance professional'
Compliance and risk professional Kathy Jacobs decided to upgrade and flesh out her knowledge by completing the UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance. “I was at a crossroads in my career, and I’m a believer in lifelong learning and one of those odd people who actually enjoys studying,” she explains. “I was considering my options and I was thinking about doing something technical in my own field of financial services regulation before I decided on the UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance.”
That career saw her start out as a chartered accountant in London before moving back to Ireland in 2000 for an almost complete change of direction. “I decided to try something different – so I entered the new, as it was then, area of compliance. I have worked in it ever since as a subject matter expert in anti-money laundering, data protection and conduct of business in what is called the second line of defence or risk management functions, mostly in retail banking but also in fintech and insurance.”
She has also been a member of the Board of the Compliance Institute, the professional body for compliance professionals in Ireland and the largest body of its kind globally, since 2012. “I served as president and board chairperson of the Compliance Institute from 2020 to earlier this year. I am also on the board of management of a school.”
As well as the Diploma in Corporate Governance, Jacobs now holds professional qualifications as an accountant, a licentiate of the Compliance Institute, and as a certified data protection officer.
I had heard about the UCD Smurfit diploma by reputation, and I knew other people who had done it. They were very complimentary about the course and supportive of me doing it
“I had an interest in corporate governance, and indeed an understanding of corporate governance is required in my role as a compliance professional,” she says. “It was something I bumped up against constantly and corporate governance knowledge is required in my field. As a board member it makes sense to have some qualification in it. I had heard about the UCD Smurfit diploma by reputation, and I knew other people who had done it. They were very complimentary about the course and supportive of me doing it.”
Jacobs says that there was no single standout moment on the programme, which she found to be consistently excellent.
“There wasn’t a single moment, but a dawning realisation of the breadth and depth of the subject matter, and just how much I did not know, which did stun me when the penny dropped. It’s a complex, technical but also a behavioural field, and this can be underestimated. No matter how expert you think you are, you can always benefit from having your knowledge refreshed and having our own biases and established opinions challenged.”
She believes that is particularly important in light of the challenges boards and board members face in today’s highly complex and rapidly evolving business and regulatory environment.
“People come on to boards and don’t realise what they are taking on,” she says. “They join boards without having their eyes open. The Diploma in Corporate Governance helps you understand the regulations that apply and breadth of them. It also helps you understand the importance of asking the right questions. Ultimately, in-depth knowledge of corporate governance increases your ability to ask those questions.”
There are growing expectations from investors in terms of the environmental, social and governance agenda
And those challenges have never been greater. “It has truly never been more challenging for boards and for individual board directors, both executive and non-executive,” Jacobs says. “As well as the competitive challenges to grow the business in difficult and changing environments, there are growing expectations from investors in terms of the environmental, social and governance [ESG] agenda. There is digital transformation and disruption to get to grips with, as well as the management of huge risks such as cyber threats and IT resilience.
“They also have to contend with new and evolving business models, changes to operational models as a result of outsourcing and other trends, and the need to reshape supply chains in light of global disruptions, to name a few.”
Indeed, board members have probably never had more on their plates. “Probably the biggest challenge is managing that diverse and demanding agenda,” she adds. “Having good corporate governance practices and processes makes it possible to manage that agenda. Ultimately we want good decisions, and good processes lead to good decisions. The UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance gives you an appreciation for the good processes that support good decision making.”
The has already had an impact on Jacob’s own work and professional life. “Firstly, it has really fleshed out my knowledge,” she says. “It is surprising what a large body of knowledge there is to absorb. It has given me more confidence in dealing with governance matters. It has confirmed where I was getting things right in my role as a board chair, while also pointing up where I could do better and up my game.”
That in turn resulted in improvements at board level. “For example, I looked at some of our own board processes in my role as chair. We evaluated our processes and introduced some important changes as a result.
“As a professional, you should always be committed to continuous improvement and that goes for the board and its operations too. No matter what the organisation, boards need to be committed to constant self-evaluation. No matter how good existing processes may be, there is always room for improvement.”
Of course, the lecturers are all leaders in their fields
That experience means Jacobs would definitely recommend the UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance to others. “With personal liabilities increasing in certain roles, and to manage the broad agenda facing boards, the first and best tactic is to upskill yourself,” she says. “There is a huge body of knowledge and core skills such as company law, regulation, risk management, strategy setting, to name just a few, which are covered in the diploma in a setting that allows you to take a break from day-to-day work and study with like-minded and equally motivated and committed professionals.
“The networking aspect cannot be underestimated. I found the environment stimulating, the topics covered interesting and the debate and discussions energising, thought-provoking and challenging. And of course, the lecturers are all leaders in their fields. The only downside was the exams – but that’s an occupational hazard for a student!”