Cyprus is already one of top-three jurisdictions worldwide when it comes to specific financial markets, but what the country needs is specific skills relevant to sectors it wants to attract, says EIMF chief Marios Siathas.
Could you give a brief overview of the EIMF, its key objectives and strategy?
The European Institute of Management and Finance (EIMF) is a provider of premium public courses, executive education, e-Learning and tailored learning solutions. It specialises in professional qualifications, training courses and seminars for the Financial and Professional Services Sector in Cyprus and the MENA region through a large number of specialised programmes. Our key objective is to become the leading provider of specialised courses for the sectors we serve. We work closely with the business community and we provide relevant content to them. We also want to be a one-stop shop to all of our clients training and development needs. We offer the financial technical training needed to perform in a certain job, the regulatory and CPD training needed by regulators, and also offer management and other soft skills training that reflect the unique issues faced by these sectors. The EIMF’s comparative advantage is being in the forefront of European and national changes in the economic and business environment through the employment and partnership with specialised professionals, covering all aspects of training from investment management to regulatory, and from Capital Adequacy Experts to Lawyers.
The key focus of EIMF is on management and finance, how would you assess the current level of expertise in these two areas in Cyprus and how does it compare to the rest of the EU?
The Cyprus workforce is well equipped with professionals working in the Financial Services market. What the market needs at this point are specific skills that are relevant to the sectors we want to attract, for example the funds and fund management sector, which we have lagged behind compared to our traditional ‘competitors’ like Malta and Luxemburg. There is an increase in foreign interest in Cyprus funds recently, so the market needs to be prepared with well qualified specialists. We also have many professionals that, even though they are well equipped to do the job due to their professional experiences, they do not hold the relevant professional qualifications. One such example is the area of Anti-Money Laundering, where with our recent collaboration with ACAMS we will be able to provide training for people to get an internationally acclaimed qualification.
As far as management is concerned I feel that this is an area that needs constant training as people traditionally move to management positions without proper management skills training, which is true for both Cyprus and abroad. Most of these people are usually promoted to management positions due to their great performance in a more technical position. We will always need to make sure that these people are given the opportunity to get the proper training so they can rise to the occasion and excel at their new job and increased responsibilities. We offer customised programmes to the service provision sectors, and even though management concepts are similar across all markets we feel that our programmes are built with cases and examples relating to the sectors we serve and thus are more relevant to the real working environment of our targeted audience.
How would you describe the broader training and education landscape of Cyprus and how would you like to see it developed further?
In Cyprus we have a large number of education providers, the majority of which are of a great quality who can easily compete with other providers abroad. In terms of Universities, Cyprus has a good number of Universities located in all major cities. There are also specialised tertiary education schools that have excelled in their field of expertise and are well known outside Cyprus a well. More can be done to attract increasing numbers of international students to Cyprus. It takes a lot of effort to become a well-known educational centre, but I think Cyprus could easily become one. Having a larger number of quality international students in Cyprus can also provide a much needed boost to the local economy. Besides the sunk costs that a student will face in Cyprus like tuition and accommodation, the real economy will also benefit by the increase in sales of products and services for the daily needs of these students, and it will also raise awareness of the island, attracting tourists and visitors. I think that if our education providers would specialise in certain fields rather than offer generic courses covering all education areas, could help in making Cyprus know for certain education areas.
In terms of foreign investment, what sectors or niche areas do you see providing the most opportunity in Cyprus?
There are still many challenges to overcome when it comes to foreign investment, but recent events, like the successful €1bn sovereign bond issue and the increase of the island’s long term credit ratings and revised positive outlook by the main financial ratings agencies, means that we are expecting an increase in Foreign Direct Investment from EU and non-EU investors. Furthermore, the reasons why foreign investors have historically favoured Cyprus are still valid, such as our favourable tax regime, highly skilled and educated workforce earning relatively low wages, approachable regulators that know the sectors, and ever increasing political stability compared to other countries in the region. We are expecting the financial services sector and its satellite markets (consulting, advisory, accounting, legal services) to continue their upwards trend as there seems to be an increased interest from foreign investors in setting up businesses or acquiring firms within this sector, specifically investment firms, funds, fund managing firms and payment institutions.
In terms of job opportunities, the financial services sector in Cyprus has faced virtually any negative impact from the current financial crisis, as employment in this sector is rising. Bankers that left their positions due to the crisis were quickly absorbed by other facets of the market and youth unemployment in this sector is limited. What we are seeing however, due to the ever increasing level of service provision that the market is offering, is the increased need for the Cyprus workforce to obtain relevant training in specific issues and subjects within this market. We are seeing companies that are hiring from abroad because there are a limited number of local specialists in certain subjects in Cyprus. This is one of the roles that the EIMF is playing in the local sector, as we offer specialised qualifications that cater towards specific needs of companies in Cyprus and abroad.
How important are accreditations and strategic partnerships for EIMF, and how is your institute considered internationally?
EIMF was founded by partners in Cyprus and the UK. For us, partnerships are paramount in staying the best in our field as they provide us with a greater pool of experts from these diverse and always changing sectors of the economy. Accreditations from internationally renowned bodies and associations are as important since the process of accreditation gives us the chance to benchmark our offerings to international standards. Being an accredited training partner also allows us to offer to the local market specialised training programmes that can lead to global and transferable international qualifications. The EIMF is an accredited training provider by the Cyprus Human Resources Development Authority (HRDA) – responsible agency for accreditation of training provider in Cyprus, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment UK (CISI), and the Association of Certified Anti Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS). We are also in the process of completing our accreditation with the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and the CPD Standards office (UK).
Internationally, the EIMF is considered a well-rounded and top-quality education provider with access to some of the utmost expert trainers and consultants in their fields. We are currently working with several partners in Europe and the US including the Basel iii Compliance Professionals Association (BiiiCPA), the International Capital Markets Association (ICMA) and the Henley Business School of the University of Reading, and with Learning Transfer Solutions and Regulatory Intellect to provide solutions in tandem in Cyprus and internationally.
Who are your courses mainly targeted at and what key demographics are you hoping to attract in the future?
Our courses target professionals working in the financial and professional services sectors. We are constantly developing new and updated courses to make sure that we can offer the best solutions for these sectors. Furthermore, we also attract younger graduates to our programmes since we have created, in collaboration with our partners, courses such as the Finance Foundation Certificate, The Fund Administration and Custodian Certificate, the International Securities certificate, and other specialised courses such as the Financial Cyber Crime Information Security Certificate and the Risk in Financial Services certificate, which can give a strong comparative advantage to young entrants to this sector. We also offer exam preparation courses for the CySEC regulatory examination that is needed by the majority of employees of Cypriot Investment Firms. In 2016 we will also offer the Accounting Technician qualifications (three levels) offered by AAT. These will provide an alternate to people intersected in working as assistants in accounting firms or as accounting officers, or for people wanting a cheaper and quicker route towards an ACA qualification.
What are your expectations for 2016, both for the EIMF and for the economy of Cyprus?
2016 is a big year for both Cyprus and the EIMF. For Cyprus, we are finally getting into the positive numbers, both in terms of growth and in terms of inflation. Unemployment levels are also falling, further boosting local consumption. There is generally a positive aura in Cyprus, which comes from the renewed interest in solving the political issues of the island, from the very promising results that our neighbours in the South are announcing when it comes to oil reserves in the region, and from investment interest coming from non-traditional jurisdictions from the East. As for the EIMF, 2016 will be a very busy year for us. The first full classes for the CAMS certification of ACAMS are commencing in February, creating the first batch of certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists on the island. Furthermore, we shall be welcoming our first full-time students enrolling in our AAT courses. This is however just the tip of the iceberg of what we have in store and is what I can disclose for now. We will be announcing our news through press releases in international and local media and our newsletter.
What personal message would you like to convey to the international business community?
Cyprus is the up-and-coming hub in the Financial and Professional Services Sector in the region and globally. It is already one of the top-three jurisdictions worldwide when it comes to specific financial markets, like the retail Forex and Binary Options Market, where a large majority of the largest firms in the world are located in Cyprus. We are however seeing an increase in demand for setting up funds and fund managing companies, and payment and electronic money institutions. All that is needed is here, and we, as the EIMF, will ensure that the local workforce receives specialised and updated training in all the niche subjects that are relevant to the sector.
Marios Siathas has extensive experience in executive education, learning and development and consulting. For the past 14 years he worked as the Director of Executive Education at the Cyprus International Institute of Management (CIIM). His prior experience includes the position of Manager of Corporate Training Programmes at the University of Guelph in Canada in Business Development for the Houlihans group in the US. During his long career in Higher and Executive Education, he has gained extensive experience in working with organisations and individuals and in building specialised and unique learning and development solutions. He has managed several development projects for large and small companies in Cyprus, Egypt, Austria, Bahrain, Greece, Canada, China, Dubai, and South Africa. He holds a BSc in Marketing and Management from Western Kentucky University in the USA, and an MBA from the University of Guelph in Canada and currently completing his Phd in Adult Education and Training Colorado State University. He is a member of the board of the Institute of Directors (UK) Cyprus Branch, a member of the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment, the Cyprus Human Resource Managers Association, Cyprus International Business Association, and several other professional bodies.