Burke, Cian

HSBC's Cian Burke talks about the changes he has seen in his 23-year career in securities services.
Inducted: 2017
How much of your working life have you spent in securities services?

I started my career at HSBC 23 years ago when I joined the Global Markets internal audit team. It was an exciting time, HSBC were relatively unknown in the UK, but having just acquired Midland Bank they were quickly gaining a reputation here as a major global financial services provider.

For me the role provided a fantastic opportunity to travel the world and gave me an incredible insight into the workings of the HSBC Group. I left the UK in 1997 and spent a couple of years working in Australia before coming back to London in 1999. Over the next 12 years, I worked in roles within audit (again), Global Markets and in 2009 set up the Prime Services business at HSBC – which ultimately led to me co-heading HSS (HSBC Securities Services) in 2010. So in short, it’s only the last seven years of my career that I’ve spent in the securities services world, but it’s seven years that I’ve really enjoyed the most.

How did you initially get into this industry?

In 2009 I got the opportunity to launch our Prime Services business, which was a joint venture between Global Markets and HSS.

In early 2010 the head of HSS left the bank and I made a number of suggestions that I thought would benefit the business, one of which was to move the Securities Services business into Global Banking & Markets.

The bank was very supportive and I was given the opportunity to drive this change from the front as the co-head of Securities Services, with another Global Custodian Legend Drew Douglas, before taking on my current role as the global head of Securities Services in 2014.

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

From my time in audit I had an incredible opportunity to travel to over 40 countries in the HSBC Group and meet many of the Bank’s senior leadership team.

For me the biggest lesson I learned from that experience was the importance of developing and leveraging a personal network. People who you can learn from, who support you and who offer guidance, are key in any role, at any level of any organisation. You never know when you will have a challenge or opportunity that someone can help you with, so it’s really important to stay connected.

I also think that my experience of working for over 15 years in Global Markets gave me very different perspective and a clearer sense of what could be achieved by bringing the securities services business much closer to the Global Banking and Markets world. And that lesson of remaining connected is equally important across our industry as well as within our individual organisations.

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

The biggest change has undoubtedly been how the industry has adapted in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

For me personally, 2008 and the Lehman crisis was not only an extremely challenging time, it was also a very interesting time. I got first-hand experience of the strength and resilience of the leaders around me, and it fundamentally changed the way the world views our industry today.

The financial crisis was also a catalyst for HSBC to launch its Prime Services business which gave me with a unique opportunity to build a new and successful business from scratch.

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

I would have to say it has always been about people. It’s important to surround yourself with talented, passionate people who have a positive approach to work.

This passion, positivity and quite frankly the fun can be contagious and has always helped me through the difficult times and made the great days even better!Looking at the securities services industry as a whole, what developments have, in your view, made the biggest improvement to the customer experience?

We are in essence a client service business founded primarily on information and technology and have always looked at how we transform our business for the ultimate benefit of our clients.

We are focussed on truly putting clients at the centre of everything we do and this is more than ever underpinned by the digital trend, which allows us to give our clients what they really need in a way that they really want.

I think we also have to remember the importance of having people on the ground where our clients need us, allowing us to really understand their business and the markets in which they operate.

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

Wrong turns? Maybe not. Challenging times? Yes definitely.

The financial services industry as a whole is in the midst of transformative change, and has been for a number of years. We have all had to learn from the past and look to the future to seek out opportunities.

New technologies and market infrastructure changes, like T2S, facilitate the development of better data and digital services for clients while achieving efficiencies at the same time. It also supports the ongoing need for increased transparency and asset safety.

What do you regard as your greatest success?

I often get asked this question, and for me it always comes back to the success of our business. I love what I do and am proud to have nurtured and grown this business, with the help of the phenomenal team of people I have around me.

I consider myself fortunate to have led this business, both as co-head and now as global head, and when the day comes for me to hand over the reins, I’m confident that I will be leaving it in a better place, well positioned for an exciting future ahead and hopefully in a much better position than when I took it over.

What are your interests outside of work?

I have a fantastic family; a wonderful wife and three amazing and very talented kids so most of my time outside of work is spent with them.

I try to keep reasonably active and fit, so to that end I’ve recently joined the trend for many middle-aged professional people and I’ve bought a lovely set of Lycra and a shiny new bike. The key now is to actually take it out of the garage and cycle it.

I’m a true believer that taking care of yourself physically, as well as mentally, helps you balance the pressures of work in the increasingly hectic world in which we live.

One of my other great passions is rugby, but despite having played the game many years ago these days I’m more than happy to just sit and watch.

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

As a young lad I had my heart set on being a marine biologist. Growing up, my focus shifted from sea to land, as I headed to university to study Exploration and Mining Geology in Cardiff.

I worked for a while on a Gold project in Western Australia but quickly decided that wasn’t for me and I retrained as an accountant. So I guess if I hadn’t succeeded in the world of financial markets, I’d probably be working in the mining industry somewhere in the world.