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Jun 14, 2019

Advancing IR through certification

In the third and final part of a series of articles exploring IR certification, IR Magazine looks at the work of four IR associations

CIRI: Advancing IR

‘CIRI’s Certification Program and Certified Professional in Investor Relations (CPIR) designation establishes a standard of skills and knowledge for IROs, thereby advancing the stature of the IR profession overall,’ says Yvette Lokker, CIRI president and CEO.

CIRI ensures the Certification Program and CPIR exam cover all of the relevant areas of this multi-disciplinary role, including accounting, finance, capital markets, securities law, corporate governance, communications and strategy.

‘While all these areas are crucial to the IR role, greater emphasis is placed on accounting and finance so that IROs have a deep understanding of financial statements in order to credibly interact with capital market stakeholders and establish a standard of practice across the IR profession,’ says Lokker.

When developing the curriculum for the Certification Program, CIRI worked with a team of IROs to identify their key areas of responsibility for IR professionals. Since launching the Certification Program in 2011, CIRI has had more than 120 people participate. 

Case study: Laurie Thomas

Laurie Thomas, vice president of corporate relations at UEX Corporation, has been in investor relations for 12 years. Having trained as an accountant, she knows the benefits of specialized financial learning so she saw the CPIR as an opportunity to equip herself with more knowledge and insight into the field of IR.

‘The program provided me with the competitive tools to be a successful IRO and enhance my skills to do my job,’ says Thomas. ‘Many folks started the program and underestimated the time, commitment and dedication needed to complete the assignments and pass the final exam.’

The CPIR is a 10-month program, which Thomas undertook while working full time. ‘Going through the intense program with other IROs allowed me to develop lasting relationships with individuals I trust,’ she says. ‘To this day, I still call upon many when of them I need advice on IR issues.’ 

CLIFF: High standards 

French IR body CLIFF’s IR Fundamentals certification course has three main attractions. One, CLIFF is associated with one of the best universities in France, the Université Paris-Dauphine. Two, the certification process is based on practical teaching conducted by experienced professionals from listed firms of different sizes and sectors. And three, CLIFF has developed an efficient framework that involves academic and professional mentors during the whole process.

Olivier Psaume, chair of CLIFF, says the certification has real practical benefits for the IR professional. ‘It allows IROs to become rapidly operational because of the concrete approach of the training,’ he explains. ‘Teachers come from a range of disciplines: IR, auditing, legal, academia. The certification also helps candidates to efficiently address international investors, thanks to specific communication skills.’

Since 2014, 90 people have taken the IR Fundamentals certification course and 80 have passed. Only two failed; others stopped for personal or professional reasons.

‘Each year we review the content of the certification as a result of regulatory change such as Mifid II and the Market Abuse Regulation,’ says Psaume. ‘We are giving more emphasis to social responsibility matters as they are increasingly scrutinized by investors, but also focusing on governance, compliance issues and ethics.’ 

Case study: Stephanie Laval

After having spent three years as head of financial Communication within Bouygues Telecom, the telecom subsidiary of Bouygues Group in 2008, Stephanie Laval decided to undertake the IR certification.

‘What I gained was a good body of knowledge of all the main aspects related to the IR position: relations with investors, global regulatory framework, how to deal with a profit warning and how to interact with individual shareholders.’

Overall, the certification helped Laval to materialize and validate her skills and knowledge of the IR position, and her employability as an IR. This is borne out by the fact she is now head of IR and financial communications at French media company TF1 Group.

‘What I have particularly appreciated during the certification was the fact that the courses were taught by professionals so they shared their actual own experience with tangible examples. Moreover, as all the attendees were coming from different companies, the interactions both within the group and with the professionals were very enriching,’ she says.

Laval says that if you start a job as an IR, the certification enables you to have a good overview of the position, since you don’t have any lessons on financial communication in universities or business schools. ‘A major part of the IR job consists in dealing with sensitive data – you need to be aware of the rules related to your position. Moreover, it is a real plus that can make the difference when you apply for an IR position.’ 

Case study: Arthur Carli

‘I was lucky enough to be offered the IR Fundamentals training in 2015 when I was an IR analyst at Sopra Steria,’ says Arthur Carli, head of investor relations at Axway, the fifth-largest software publisher in France. ‘After three years in the IR industry it was a perfect opportunity to challenge and con rm my skills.

‘I remember [it offered] particularly concrete training and high-quality courses covering international IR best practices with interventions by some of the most experienced heads of IR in the country.’ He also cites the partnership between CLIFF and the Université Paris-Dauphine as a major asset, in terms of both prestige and convenience.

MEIRA: Measuring the IR impact

John Gollifer, general manager of the Middle East Investor Relations Association (MEIRA), highlights why IR certification is so important.

‘In any industry, we seek a benchmark against which to measure our progress – and IR is no different,’ he explains. ‘It is important for emerging markets to be in a position to measure themselves against other markets, including developed markets. In this way, notwithstanding similar international market principles, we can develop best practice in the context of our own operating and regulatory environment.’

A key element of the MEIRA offering is professional development and the Certified IR Officer (CIRO) qualification, which provides the industry benchmark in the region. For some years, MEIRA has worked closely with the UK’s IR Society to deliver the CIRO in the Middle East. The program offers a broad sweep of IR, from important principles to the practice of IR. Its contents were developed by IR professionals and continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

‘Importantly, the CIRO covers what we consider to be the essential technical components to operate safely as an IR practitioner, from company law and market rules and regulations to finance, accounting and investment valuation,’ says Gollifer.

‘Given its breadth, the CIRO components serve as a useful reference manual for IR, and the examination that CIRO candidates take is a good test of their knowledge and application of IR. It is no coincidence that many other international markets, from Asia to Latin America, also use the same components. IROs generally consider the certification program a useful benchmark that provides a comparison with their international peers.’

More than 100 candidates have taken the CIRO exam since MEIRA started offering it in 2013. On the future, Gollifer notes: ‘We are happy to continue rolling out the CIRO to all MEIRA chapters in the region – we’re already up to 10 markets today – and this will keep us busy.’ 

IRPAS: Professional recognition 

The Investor Relations Professionals Association Singapore (IRPAS) believes capturing best practices and offering a certification program are natural ways to enhance the professionalism of investor relations in the region. The IRPAS offering is the International Certificate in Investor Relations (ICIR).

‘The ICIR is based on the new international syllabus provided by the UK’s IR Society,’ says Harold Woo, IRPAS president. ‘It is an internationally recognized qualification in investor relations and regarded as an essential prerequisite for people keen to enter the industry due to its comprehensiveness. It also allows the senior practitioners to benchmark their own knowledge against industry standards.’

The association’s main focus is the fundamental principles and practice of investor relations as well as factual knowledge of both the regulatory requirements and the financial and market environments within which the IRO is able to operate effectively.

‘We continue to see new candidates signing up for the examinations, which we have conducted twice a year since we introduced the ICIR in 2014,’ says Woo. ‘We have had senior IR practitioners including CFOs taking part in the certification program.’

IRPAS is looking to introduce an IR Professional Development Program to promote professionalism, improvement and skill development for experienced IR practitioners to advance to a higher level of skill in IR.

‘The program would cover the strategic value of IR, finance essentials and corporate governance and ethics,’ says Woo. ‘The curriculum will be interlaced with case studies to enhance the learning of effective communication with all the company’s stakeholders. It will be designed to help IROs engage in investor relations activities to create a path to successful outcomes on an ongoing basis.’ 

Case study: Lawrence Ang

‘I wanted to get myself certified and have a better understanding and appreciation of the role of a investor relations professional,’ says Lawrence Ang, senior executive of IR at construction group Soilbuild. ‘I have a better understanding of what Investor Relations entails and have greater appreciation for the role in a company.’

In his learning, Ang cites specifically the chapter on ‘The Principles of Investor Relations’ was especially useful and productive for a investor relations executive like him, as it covered essential tips on the role and responsibilities of a IR as well as good practices in the IR industry.

‘It presents a good guide on why companies require IR and how IR can play an important role in managing stakeholders in a company.’ He adds: ‘The certification has been a good guide for a professional like me just starting out a career in IR.’

An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of IR Magazine.