The US arm of Swiss data vendor SIX Financial Information has begun mandating that its client-facing staff achieve industry association FISD's Financial Information Associate (FIA) professional certification, to demonstrate the expertise of its employees.
In the US, 45 staff at the vendor are scheduled to take the FIA exam this year, says Barry Raskin, president of SIX Financial Information USA. The vendor organized a training session with an external trainer in April, and will hold another in June for those scheduled to take the exam.
"We have a group of people who are dealing with the industry every day, and we thought our client-facing people could easily sit down and take this... because it says that we're not just salespeople, and that we understand the industry and its issues," Raskin says. "So I made it a requirement: I said to everybody we have that if they are in client-facing roles, they must do it, and if they are not client-facing, but want to take the exam anyway, we encourage that and will pay for it.... There's really no one who would not benefit from it."
In addition to demonstrating that they understand the industry as much as data professionals at the sell-side and buy-side firms that they are selling to, salespeople can use the knowledge gained from studying for the certification to help them figure out how to solve client issues.
"It's a tool─at the end of the day, the more you know the business, the better salesperson you will be," Raskin says. "I want to demonstrate to clients that─when I say my product does x and competes with y, or if you tell me you're a certain type of firm─I understand what you're talking about, and I won't talk about things that aren't relevant to you."
Raskin─along with Deirdre Sullivan, vice president of marketing and product director for exchange-traded funds at SIX Financial─was among the first individuals to take the original version of the certification exam when it was introduced in 2011 before training courses for the exam were available, and says the industry needs professional certifications to enhance and demonstrate participants' expertise.
As well as Raskin's efforts in the US, SIX Financial's teams in the UK─led head of HR Elizabeth Coleman─and Singapore have also independently begun driving staff to take steps towards gaining certification.
In the UK, Coleman began running a program last year, fully funded by the vendor, to encourage all staff "regardless of function" to participate in in-house training and take the FIA exam. "In the last 12 months, 45 percent of our staff have completed the program to achieve accreditation. It's a significant investment for the organization in terms of financial funding, and has been core to our local learning and development strategy. The popularity of the initiative among our analysts and experts was very high, giving us confidence in a return on our investment both from a financial and reputational perspective as the vendor of choice," Coleman says.
"While this has not been a true ‘corporate' initiative, SIX has been a very strong proponent of training its employees," Raskin says.
In addition, Raskin says he may insist on greater use of the certification within the company in future─for example, making it compulsory for all new hires to take the exam within their first six months of employment, or making it a requirement that anyone seeking a promotion should first pass the exam.
"Nobody goes to college to into the financial information industry; it's a path that we find. And there should be some kind of professional certification associated with it─every other industry has an equivalent," Raskin says. "You wouldn't hire an accountant who isn't a CPA, or a lawyer who hasn't passed the bar... [so] it's important to stand behind an industry certification program."
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