GC legends interview: Societe Generale's Andrew Duffin

Societe Generale’s Andrew Duffin celebrates 30 years in the industry this year and has seen sweeping changes across many sectors.
By Paul Walsh
Paul Walsh: How much of your working life have you spent in securities services?

Andrew Duffin: I’m actually celebrating two work anniversaries this year as I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and I’ve spent 10 of those at Societe Generale.

I was also involved in network management for many years before moves into the sales and relationship side of the business at Clearstream Banking before joining Societe Generale.

My first day in the industry was working for the Royal Bank of Scotland plc (RBS) in London on Monday 17 August 1987. This date is particularly relevant as the City of London was booming as it was post-big bang and then on Monday 19 October 1987 we had ‘Black Monday’ where markets across the world crashed.

Two months into a new job and I suddenly found myself dealing with a boom to crash situation.

PW: How did you initially get into this industry?

AD: It was really a chance remark at an interview at RBS in London, I was under the impression that I was being interviewed for a retail banking position and the interviewer described three or four divisions of RBS.

The last area he described was the stock department that went on to become the global custody department.

As it was the last division of RBS mentioned and the freshest in my mind, I expressed an interest in the stock department. Four weeks after this point, I found myself working in the securities services industry.

Had I expressed an interest in another division, we might not be having this conversation here today.

My first job at RBS was handwriting cheques to the brokers who came and physically delivered their stock to us every two weeks. Settlement in the UK then was every other Monday unless it was a bank holiday in which case it was a three-week cycle.

PW: Have you brought any particular lessons from other experiences to your current role?

AD: I would say that through my career I have been fortunate enough to visit over 50 different countries which has enabled me to have a strong appreciation of different working practices and cultures around the world.

I genuinely believe this has developed me as a person and helped me to bring success to my current role as I can appreciate different working ethics and values.

PW: What kind of major industry changes have you seen during your career?

AD: The industry has seen numerous changes during my career such as T2S and the impact of various regulations but the main change for me has been the dematerialisation of physical certificates that took place in the 1990s across a global scale.

Previously the industry used physical papers and then they were converted to digital registrars used by the CSDs.

At the time I was a network manager with responsibility for a number of emerging markets and this process could be incredibly complex and even the most developed markets had some spectacular failures.

This change meant the industry moved away from mountains of paper being kept inside warehouses and on the whole the move to a paperless environment was a huge success and, in my view, perfectly demonstrates the quality of the people in our industry and the service providers.

Look at the results of this process in today’s industry, you can now settle immediately and you are not waiting for couriers to deliver physical stock.

PW: In your own career, what kinds of things have made a great day at the office?

AD: Being in charge of client coverage, what makes a great day for me is receiving a phone call from a perspective client saying you have been successful in the RFP selection process.

What is more gratifying though is undertaking the first service review with the new client or meeting them for the first time and they tell you that they have made the right decision.

The people in our industry are undoubtedly one of the things I appreciate most as I’ve met some fantastic individuals, made some great friends and I count myself fortunate I can visit a whole host of countries around the world and arrange to meet someone I know. PW: Looking at the securities services industry as a whole, what developments have, in your view, made the biggest improvement to the customer experience?

AD: This industry is similar to society in general as the number of channels that people can be contacted through is endless.

At the start of my career we managed client relationships through phone calls, faxes and the occasional letter that was dictated to a typist.

Whereas now, its e-mail, social media, webcasts and text messaging. This mobile technology has given us 24-hour coverage and basically copied wider society due to the number of channels of communication being open to us.

PW: In contrast, where, in your view, has the industry taken a wrong turning?

AD: I would say the industry hasn’t made too many wrong turns and the industry has had to adapt to a number of challenges such as markets crashes, the financial crisis, increased regulation and geopolitical situations.

In response to this the industry has always demonstrated its resilience and ability to perform to a high standard. I think when we look at the progress that has been made, we do not give ourselves sufficient credit for what we have achieved.

PW: What do you regard as your greatest success/failure?

AD: Around four or five years ago, I was sitting at my desk in London and the phone rang with an Asian number.

It turned out to be three people who used to work for me as network managers and they were all sitting on the Boat Quay in Singapore enjoying a drink together.

They were managing their own network teams out there and they wanted to share this good news with me.

I found this very satisfying knowing I had helped them get to this point where they were working and managing teams in Singapore, it was very gratifying, even if I only played a small part in helping them.

On a more broad scale, I would definitely look at the growth of Societe Generale as a sub-custody provider in the EMEA region with now a significant market share.

Sub-custody is an extremely difficult market to penetrate so when I consider what has been achieved against this backdrop this is also something I’m particularly proud of.

PW: What are your interests outside of work?

AD: I still play competitive 11 a side football in a veterans league and I also coach my son’s under 12 side at the same club I play for.

For the last five or six years, I have also taken up running and have since ran both the London and Brighton marathons, running the former for a charity called Care International.

In the last few years I’ve taken an interest in charity work most notably by trekking Machu Picchu for the Alzheimer’s Society.

PW: What sort of career would you have chosen had you not entered financial markets?

AD: I was always planning to become a chartered surveyor and what changed my mind was that all of my friends left school before going into further education and they were all making good money working in the city.

I decided that I would prefer to join them in my working career as opposed to gaining the qualifications needed to become a chartered surveyor, so I left school and entered the industry at the age of 16 which wasn’t uncommon at the time in the UK.

I was fortunate and in the current industry though, I would highly recommend further education before beginning a career.