Worth the Risk: Becoming an Asset to Fund Managers
Want to do something a little more disruptive in the funds space? With so many large global firms dominating the industry, how does one compete as a newcomer? What are the ingredients for success in this highly cut-throat environment with constant regulatory changes?
In this exclusive interview, we glean insights from Martin O’Regan on how he took the plunge and decided to venture out on his own when starting Solas Fiduciary Services.
- Share with us your career trajectory in a nutshell.
I began my career as an accountant in audit and tax in Ireland. Since then, I have held a number of senior positions in the financial services industry across multiple global offices – such as UBS Fund Services in the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong, Apex Fund Services in Dubai, and Citi Fund Services in Bermuda.
In addition, I also headed Deutsche Bank’s Alternative Funds Services business and expanded Intertrust Singapore’s directorship services in Asia collectively. Through this, I have built extensive experience providing audit, fiduciary, fund administration and banking services to alternative investment vehicles.
During my time as a service provider to the fund business, I realised the need for truly independent directorship services, and as a result, Solas Fiduciary Services was set up with that very purpose. I have been working as a full-time independent non-executive director for over six years now.
Today we have a team of four Directors in Singapore and one Director in Hong Kong, with Mandarin-speaking coverage and a global network.
In addition, I’m especially passionate about giving back to the fund industry ecosystem and also serve as Chairman in the Singapore Fund Administrators Association (SFAA), where we share knowledge and best practices with our members and the larger funds community. One needs to give back to the industry that has provided them with so many opportunities.
- Share with us how have your experiences throughout your career encouraged you to set up Solas Fiduciary Services?
Since my banking days, I have been dealing with clients and have had countless conversations with global business leaders and how they are looking for new innovative ways to structure their vehicles or expand to new markets.
I remembered a few years back where most fund services firms were outsourcing certain functions, cost-cutting was becoming the new norm, our product was diminishing and clients were suffering, so that got me thinking – “How do I continue to be part of this industry with the experience I have already got, still be relevant and add value for clients?”
My professional motto has always been to stay client-focused and to constantly keep developing relationships and delivering good products to my clients. When you prioritise client relationship management, clients will always remember you for being that resourceful individual and in turn, you become their go-to person for their concerns and solutions. My passion for client relationship-building, coupled with my consulting skillset in addressing their present-day and future issues gave me the motivation to set-up Solas Fiduciary Services.
- What were some of the difficulties you have encountered when taking the leap to start your own business?
You will be surrounded by questions such as: “Can I really do this? Is this plan feasible? Can my clients benefit from what I am about to do?” Am I solving tomorrow’s problems and how can I make sure we are set up for the next five years as the industry evolves?”. These concerns would easily intimidate anyone before plunging into a new business!
Nonetheless, through continual market research and a strong community of supporters, I somehow found the encouragement to plough through. Making it through the first five years of any business is never easy, but what fuels me along is the ability to be a resource to my clients, to make a tangible difference, one-day-at-a-time, especially in the alternative funds industry.
- Can you share with us some of your biggest supporters?
I was very blessed to have so much support when I launched Solas Fiduciary in May 2016. Family definitely topped the list. Beyond that, friends, ex-colleagues and contacts in the industry – and even my ex-employers – have also really encouraged me to take that step forward bravely. I think it’s so important to have a community of like-minded people who have that shared vision to constantly remind you why you are in this in the first place!
- What were some of the trade-offs between starting your own firm versus being part of a mature, global firm?
Oh, if I can be honest – the first major one is not seeing the dollar figures in your bank account just miraculously appear each month! However, there are plenty of perks of starting your own business, which far outweighs being part of a mature, global firm. Here are two of the main ones:
1. Creating your own infrastructure within the organisation
There is the challenging but rewarding process of re-moulding structures from big, institutionalised firm into one’s own professional infrastructure. As someone who likes to invest in people, it is very satisfying to continuously build rapport with my team, take care of their welfare and career path, steer everyone according to the business’ directions.
Our industry is extremely fast-paced, and this autonomy gives me the ability to act quickly and make decisions more efficiently that attend to my clients’ needs. Having the luxury of non-bureaucracy keeps me as a business owner to set very clear goals, instead of having to accommodate conflicting internal concerns when delivering to our clients. One cannot always give an independent view to a client once you are representing a big firm.
- Finally, any advice you would give to professionals whom are looking to make the move from employee to entrepreneur?
Vision. Commitment. 110% Effort.
Stay focused on your vision when starting out. Remember the reason why you even decided to embark on this adventure – it is going to be the fuel that keeps you going even when the going gets tough.
Commitment is ploughing through the tough days of the first 3-5 financial years of the firm and it also means always being there for your clients, in the ups and downs. It means the resilience to be a resource for the client’s management team, to collectively come up with creative and forward-looking solutions to solve tomorrow’s problems. Many tend to forget that clients are running businesses too, and it is precisely because we are all in the same boat that we need to constantly adapt ourselves and our business models to suit the evolving and complex needs.
Starting your business is no easy feat and that also means that putting in 100% of your effort sometimes may simply not be enough. There will be days when you hit roadblocks, encounter difficult situations and other days where you will question why everything seems to be going wrong. Those are the days where you need to put in that extra 10% of your all to get through that day’s finishing line.
A final tip on starting the journey on the right foot: be resourceful in all you do. Be honest, work hard and don’t look at the negatives, but the possibilities.