Q&A : Joanne Keane Chief Executive, LIA.

Guaranteed Irish member Life Assurance Association known as LIA is a professional education and development association for those who work in all areas of the Financial Services industry.

Joanne Keane, Chief Executive of LIA talks about how they have adapted during Covid 19 to provide remote seminars and exams, plans for the future and why they decided to join Guaranteed Irish. 

Can you give us a brief history of LIA?

Our mission statement is to enhance the knowledge, competence and skills of our members and students who work in all areas of the Financial Services Industry. We celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2018 and took time during that year to reflect on what has been achieved, primarily on a voluntary basis, and to focus our minds on what we need to do to build on that success. LIA’s original purpose was the sharing of ideas through networking and conferences which evolved to include the provision of education and CPD when Minimum Competency was introduced by the Central Bank.

When I joined LIA in 2000, we had just under 2,000 members and 4 staff. Today that number stands at 11,000+ members with an additional 3,500 students taking exams with us each year. We have 18 staff in LIA House in Dublin 12 and another 100+ external contractors who provide a variety of services such as authoring course material, examiners, correctors, lecturers and speakers.

What are the challenges that you face in your business and how do you work to overcome them particularly in the current climate?

When the lockdown was introduced at the end of March, we had over 2,000 students preparing to sit exams and tickets sold for eight regional seminars, all due to take place in the following two months. This forced us to accelerate our plans to transform how we deliver our services. Following extensive research we found a solution which allowed our students to sit their exams from home using an online platform while being invigilated remotely. As all our courses are administered using a blended learning approach which is predominantly online, it thankfully wasn’t too much of a jump for our exams to move online too. Still, it was critical that we communicated this plan with the students as early as possible to allow them ensure they had the required elements in place, i.e. laptop, camera etc.

As for our seminars, we have our own recording studio in LIA House which would have been perfect for delivering these presentations online, but unfortunately given the travel restrictions we were unable to access the studio! However, we were able to deliver our scheduled seminars via webcast, with the speakers presenting from their own homes which gave the added bonus of allowing our members access to speakers who had not been due to visit their region – overall we had over 1,400 virtual attendees across these seminars in April and May.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for LIA over the next five years?

For some time now we have put resources into developing new courses for those who wish to surpass Minimum Competency and specialise in a specific area, such as our Retirement Planning Adviser and Pension Trustee Practitioner courses. While we continue to do so, we are also turning our focus back to those who are looking to gain a foothold in the industry – be that as a new entrant or someone returning to work after extended leave. Our aim is to assist them in finding the right path to becoming qualified, or indeed regaining lost qualifications depending on their circumstances.

What’s one thing that is often misunderstood about the nature of the business you are in?

For the industry as a whole, in my view, the role of the financial adviser is often undervalued. We have such an array of talented and knowledgeable individuals available to us and yet often we hear people making financial decisions about which they have no expertise and without asking for advice. I see the financial advisers as educators, i.e. educating their clients in ensuring that their financial needs are met, and that they have security when they need it. The value that the financial adviser brings is immeasurable.

For LIA specifically, there is a misconception that we are solely an educational body, which of course is not how LIA set out. I am conscious that we need to address that imbalance and distribute our focus more evenly between education and membership in order to enhance the benefits and services we provide, and stand by our roots as a networking association.

What made you decide to become a member of Guaranteed Irish?

For generations, the Guaranteed Irish symbol has signified quality and trust, and as LIA enters its fifth decade in Ireland, these are values that also resonate with our own ‘Member First’ ethos. Guaranteed Irish is also very much about community, and LIA’s main purpose is to serve its thriving community of over 11,000 Financial Professionals all over Ireland. We felt, therefore, that Guaranteed Irish and LIA were a natural fit for each other.

What can we expect for LIA in the future and do you have plans to expand to other services?

In the immediate future, and following the success of the online May exam sittings, we are offering a hybrid solution for our September exams i.e. a mix of socially distanced exam halls and the online offering. We are also now tasked with giving consideration to our September and October events and making decisions in terms of what that offering will look like, in addition to our 2021 schedule for which the planning traditionally commences during the summer months. As for longer-term plans, our Board of Directors together with our Leadership Team have begun working on our three-year strategic plan from 2021 as our current strategy comes to a close. This will inform the future direction of the organisation and outline clear deliverables over the period.

Has being a member of Guaranteed Irish helped during Covid-19?

Absolutely, they have been hugely supportive of their members throughout this crisis. Their regular communications, and in particular the webinar series, have been extremely helpful.


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