Claire joined the IRB as a lay member in May this year as one of four new recruits. Her background is in HR in the financial services sector, and she was most recently Interim Head of Employee Relations UK for HSBC.
“I’ve always been interested in psychology and, in particular, what drives employee conduct and behaviour,” she explains. “So, I’ve specialised in the conduct side of employee relations.”
“The IRB’s work differs slightly in that it covers the conduct of members of a profession, but I think this is where my knowledge and experience fits in well.”
“Sitting previously at the executive level within HR at HSBC, I’m also familiar with the governance and more complex strategic aspects of the organisation,” she adds. “Joining the IRB seemed like a nice overlap – an opportunity for me to learn, but also for me to bring some insight from a slightly different perspective.”
Alongside her employee relations roles, Claire has also spent the last eight years volunteering with the Teaching Regulation Agency, sitting on its misconduct panels. “That work is very similar to the work that's done in the IRB’s committees, so while the sectors are different, lots of the challenges we face are very similar,” she notes.
What drives behaviour?
Part of the attraction of serving on the IRB relates directly back to why she first became involved in HR early in her career.
“I'm always looking at what makes people behave the way that they do at work,” she says. “And how the wider social environment, the economy and the regulatory approach drive behaviour. Most crucially, what can we do to try and spot problems early on, or prevent them?”
“One of the areas I think the board needs to focus on is looking at the current financial climate, the inflationary pressures that people are feeling, and what this might mean for professional conduct down the line.”
“I’m interested in the pressures the current climate puts our accountants or auditors under,” she explains. “does it mean, for example, that we're going to see an increase in fraud cases or an increase in breaches because people are cutting corners?”
“A key challenge we always face is how to raise the education of our members and firms, and highlight the pitfalls, so we're preventing poor conduct to begin with. That's the bit I'm fascinated by – can we influence behaviour earlier on, rather than just impose sanctions at the end.”
She is also keen to learn more about the ‘Fitness to practise’ aspect of ICAEW’s regulatory and conduct work. This involves deciding whether a member’s physical or mental health is impairing their professional competence or their fitness to take part in disciplinary proceedings.
“My interest here stems again from my HR, occupational health and conduct background,” she explains. “But I also think it’s an emerging area where we're going to see a lot more activity.”
“As we find the cost of living and other economic pressures make things increasingly difficult for people, there is going to be fallout for mental health, and support around mental health for our members will continue to be important.”
“I suspect we’re going to see more people come through our Fitness Committee, not just those with underlying medical conditions, but also stress or environment-induced challenges that make it difficult for them to practise effectively.”
Another key challenge is keeping pace with the wider regulatory environment. “Our relationship with our oversight regulators makes our work interesting, but also quite challenging because we're dealing with different requirements from the different regulators,” Claire explains.
“I think one of the biggest challenges we face is maintaining good relations with these oversight regulators, keeping pace with their expectations of change and being able to amalgamate that change into the work that we do.”
More broadly, she points to the UK government’s drive for regulators to have greater powers and for much more focus on consumer issues. “All of this is clearly playing a part in making it quite a complex regulatory landscape for the UK. So, trying to keep pace with that is a challenge.”
She is confident, however, that the IRB is well-placed to deal with these challenges. “I've been really impressed by the very thoughtful way the committees are structured, and by the way the IRB operates,” she says. “And I'm already seeing the professionalism and technical competency of ICAEW’s Professional Standards Department and all staff.”
ICAEW’s regulatory and conduct strategy is guided by the 3Es: Enable, Evaluate and Enforce. The Enable part of this strategy encompasses ICAEW’s role as an improvement regulator: enabling firms to raise standards through education and strong internal processes.
“This is a really good way of thinking about it,” says Claire. “It relates back to my point about preventing poor conduct early on, because if we're able to educate and support people, we’ll reduce the need to enforce further down the line.”
Weird and wonderful
Although Claire is new to the board, she is already appreciating the diversity of views and experience of its members.
“Because of the mix of lay and accountant members, I’m hearing all of those different perspectives and experiences around the room and there have been some really good discussions,” she says.
“I think I'm part of that mix too. Being a lay member – almost an outside observer – allows me to say: ‘I've seen some similar issues, or we faced something similar a couple of years ago and ask: ‘Have you thought about this solution, or have you looked into this or that possibility?’”
The IRB’s chair, Philip Nichol-Gent, introduced a ‘left field’ standing item on the agenda for each board meeting.
“Here we can raise any weird or wonderful questions or issues,” says Claire, “and that's a really good thing to have because it means you feel free, especially as a lay member, to bring any kind of outside view into the meeting and raise it for discussion.”
“You can present it as a problem or question or just point to an interesting article or idea, and then it gets discussed.”
“This approach shows the board is quite progressive,” she says, “and in a way that I'm not sure a lot of boards are. I think it’s open to new views and having a wide-ranging discussion. That signals a good culture, which is an open one with open dialogue.”
“I’m definitely going to be contributing to these ‘left field’ discussions in future, and I was pleased to see we have this on the agenda.”