James discusses his previous career and his move into finance
James Christie features in this week’s edition of our “Get to Know the Team” interview series. Read on to find out about his work as senior client relationship manager at Oak Fund Services, an interesting switch in careers from engineering to finance and his love of skiing.
Tell us about your role:
My role is varied and I am still on a learning curve having only joined the business in mid-February. I have a range of private equity and venture capital clients operating in a variety of industries and my job is to understand their businesses and be their first point of contact for Oak as their third party administrative service provider. In some cases this is a light-touch approach, overseeing payments and statutory requirements, and for other clients we provide the full suite of administrative services where I sit on the board of their general partner company with responsibility for decision making processes that affect fund investments. When the Coronavirus travel restrictions are lifted, another aspect of my job will be to travel and meet existing and prospective clients. As a member of Oak Fund Services’ Senior Management Team, I also have responsibilities within the company, including business development, regulatory and operational matters.
Walk us through a typical day in the office:
It is a well-worn phrase but genuinely no two days are the same and so there isn’t really a typical day. Some of my regular activities include frequent dialogue with the administration team to understand what is on their “to do” lists for the day and how I can help. There are very often payments of invoices, investments or investor distributions to be made and these payments, often significant in size, need to be reviewed and authorised. Social media has played a greater role in the industry over recent years and I have been involved in Oak’s thought leadership initiatives with the aim of promoting the company and ensuring that the industry at home and overseas is aware of the services that we offer here in Guernsey. In addition, I have daily contact with a number of clients and my job is to ensure that they receive the attention and quality of service that they deserve, either through my own involvement, or by acting as a conduit and facilitating contact with a member of one of our specialist teams. I also attend regular management meetings to ensure good communication and smooth processes in all areas of our business, which has been more important than ever during the recent lockdown.
Tell us about a recent interesting client instruction:
I joined the Oak team relatively recently and expect to receive a new client instruction soon however, I have been closely involved in new business pitches. One of our existing clients is a special situations fund, which focuses on companies that may have great product or service but have reached a barrier in their growth plans. This may be for financial reasons, for not having the right people to build the business, or succession planning for founders wishing to exit. This fund has experience in overcoming these barriers to build and take businesses to the next level. With the Coronavirus very much still in the picture, some of this fund’s own investee companies have suffered and it has been a very interesting time to become involved and be part of the process for providing solutions to ensure the continued success and growth of the investee companies.
What is the most challenging issue your clients are facing currently, and how are you helping them overcome it?
There are a raft of issues affecting our clients currently, the most obvious being the Coronavirus related restrictions placed on travel and face-to-face meetings with clients and other service providers. The process of acquiring a meaningful stake in a company is very much relationship driven and whilst services such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have enabled business representatives to meet virtually, there is no substitute for meeting in person and building a strong personal relationship. Throughout the lockdown, our Systems Team has been instrumental in ensuring that the business could continue with staff working from home, and using new technology to stay in touch with colleagues and clients alike. All credit to our team, who ensured this was a seamless transition enabling me to continue my role with very little disruption and, importantly, I was able to stay in regular touch with clients as well as coordinating meetings between those clients and other service providers.
What is your proudest professional achievement to date?
Probably being recognised by representatives from associated service providers such as the law and audit firms, non-executive directors etc., as being a reliable and safe pair of hands in the industry. Receiving referrals and recognition from these parties gives me the confidence and the incentive to keep learning and developing my professional skills.
What do you consider to be the most important attributes of a good leader?
Treating people with respect is paramount for me. My position means that I am responsible for other members of the team which includes coaching, support and giving each of them the opportunities that I have had. Having a leadership role requires making important decisions, standing up for your principles and having the strength and courage to do so when needed.
When and how did you begin your career in financial services?
I moved to Guernsey in 1997 having previously trained and worked as an engineer... Whilst there were engineering firms on the island, the major industry for many decades has been financial services and so I found myself working in the sector. I have remained in the financial services industry ever since, either managing and administering funds or taking responsibility for client relationships and business development within the funds environment.
What interests you most about your work?
I enjoy the balance of working with and building relationships with a diverse and interesting range of clients around the globe, coupled with the involvement in managing and continuing to grow a successful local business.
In your opinion, how has the industry/profession changed from when you first started?
I believe the biggest changes have been centred on regulation and technology. When I first joined the industry, it was very much self-regulating, systems were relatively unsophisticated and the barriers to entry for building a fund business were small. The disproportionate and costly waves of regulation together with ever more sophisticated and expensive technology means that businesses now need a substantial balance sheet just to be in the industry. This is borne out by the substantial consolidation and M&A activity currently taking place in the sector.
If you weren’t working within financial services, what else might you be doing?
I would probably still be an engineer, perhaps involved in one of my passions - the historic motorsport industry.
Outside of the financial services industry, who do you admire most and why?
In keeping with my background in engineering, it would have to be Isambard Kingdom Brunel who, to me, was the greatest and most versatile British engineer of the 19th Century. His contribution to the industrial revolution is second to none and he designed bridges, viaducts, tunnels and railways which are still in use today.
Where was the last place you travelled for work or pleasure?
My last trip away for pleasure was a ski trip to France with my family. We go every year and watching my 12 year old daughter become a very competent and capable skier over the last eight years has been a joy to watch.
How do you relax after a long day and what do you do in your spare time?
Living in Guernsey, I am spoilt by what is available on my doorstep. In the summer I am happiest walking in the lanes or on the coastal path followed by a swim at a local beach. I spend time at the gym and run a couple of times a week, and when fine weather coincides with a weekend, my family and I have a boat and we spend a lot of time in the neighbouring island of Herm.
Inspirational quote/words to live by:
Treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself.
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