Continuing our series of Just A Minute profiles of housing association finance directors, run in partnership with our sister publication Scottish Financial News, is Nick Pollard, director of corporate support services at Kingdom Housing Association.
Why did you chose to work in the finance sector and how and did you get started in the sector?
I started in the finance sector as a bank clerk in the Trustee Savings Bank in a small branch in Leicester in 1986. I chose banking at that time because it was a strong match with my economics background, it was also relatively safe and secure in the mid 80’s! I then moved through the branch structure and eventually in to international banking and foreign currency treasury operations in Edinburgh. I joined the Housing Sector in 2000 having taken voluntary severance from LloydsTSB having relocated to Birmingham. A family member who was involved in social housing suggested I look at the sector and it happened that the Housing Corporation were recruiting commercially minded finance staff with a treasury background. I was successful and joined the English regulator in the midlands for 4 years. I later moved back to Scotland with my young family and remained in social housing.
Why Housing and how does it compare with other sectors?
Housing is an interesting, and in some cases contradictory world, trying to balance commercialism and entrepreneurialism with strong risk management, ethics and governance is an interesting challenge. In my view the housing world is fraught with bureaucratic red tape in comparison to the commercial world. In many cases this is for good reason, e.g. procurement, governance and regulation. Getting used to the bureaucracy is a challenge for many people coming from the commercial world. Profit motivation and freedom of decision making, particularly if you are an owner manager in an SME company, is far removed from housing however I sense that as each year passes the strictures and expectations that exist now and have existed for some years in housing are becoming ever more prevalent in the commercial world thus making the transition less of an issue.
The best advice you received?
There are several pieces of advice that have been given to me over the years that I have carried through my career, such as;
- The 5 P’s – Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
- No one likes surprises unless they are good ones, least of all bankers and regulators!
The most important advice given to me was from a Head Chef, when I was working in the kitchens as a young man, “You will work with many people during your career” he said, “Some you will like, some you will dislike professionally, but you can learn from them all in one way or another, including me. My objective is to ensure you take the best part of my managerial style and approach and leave the rest behind, that is evolution.”
What has been your best professional experience?
My best professional experience was taking part in an EEC exchange scheme for 6 months, working in Copenhagen, Denmark. It opened my eyes to there being so much more in finance than just branch banking, overdrafts and the selling of home and other insurance policies. I spent time in the personal and corporate lending operations, the IT centre, international banking, insurance, equity, bond and foreign currency trading rooms, marketing departments and more besides. By far and away the best experience was living with a Danish family and socialising together with other exchange colleagues from Germany, Belgium and Ireland and only being spoken to in Danish which was liberating. It changed my outlook and shaped my future when I was 25 years old.
And your worst?
My worst professional experience was being redundant for a period of 6 months after taking voluntary severance and finding that as a banker with treasury experience but no actual treasury qualification that I had no real skills in a location outside of the City of London. The inability to secure gainful employment was debilitating and an experience I vowed never to repeat. I also decided that I would try and ensure my children never experienced what I experienced. I have therefore tried to ensure that they at least have a trade to fall back on before they take an academic or office career path, but time will only tell. For me, I am perhaps beyond the point of new studies but never say never!
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in finance?
Consider your options, don’t “fall” in to finance because its “safe and secure” like I did, make a conscious decision. It’s actually a really rewarding and interesting career, especially in housing. It is so much more than just numbers and is not full of auditors and accountants, although they have their place! A finance department is responsible for processing peoples pay and deductions, paying invoices and certificates for small local firms and big building projects, credit checking, providing business advice, taxation and VAT advice, insurance, procurement, internal audit, external audit, treasury management, cash flow forecasting, producing statutory accounts, management accounts, debt collection, loans and borrowing, consumer credit compliance, business planning, budgeting, insurance and risk management, people and stakeholder management to name but a few activities. Pick your choice or take them all!?
What do you like most about your job?
I love the sense of achievement in many areas. The year end process is frenetic for 3-4 months but completing all the papers necessary to support the production of the report and accounts and taking all the schedules from ledgers and producing a completed document for the AGM is very satisfying indeed. Procurement and tender completion is another area where success is identifiable once you get through the process.
The least part of my job is the travel which is 1 hour and 15 minutes each way daily but having said that its far better than my last role where I had to work away from home and my family for 3 or 4 days a week each week. At least now I get to come home each evening to the family.
Do you read a daily newspaper?
Which social media sites do you use?
Facebook and twitter
Hobbies and interests:
I loved playing rugby when I was younger but now enjoy supporting Leicester Tigers and England. This last year I have followed the fortunes of the super foxes, Leicester City Football Club from early on in the season, that has been a super experience. I am passionate about fly fishing for brown trout during the season and rainbow trout as well. Whiling away the hours in a boat on a hill loch with no other soul around of an evening in the warm sun is idyllic. I also enjoy going to the gym, running and badminton on a weekly basis. I have an allotment which takes up a bit of my time during the growing season, and I am Chair of the allotment association. I am also on the Board of an East Lothian housing association’s subsidiary company.
Favourite holiday destination:
Greece, the islands are my ideal holiday location such as Agistri and Crete but mainland Greece, Halkidiki, is equally somewhere I have enjoyed in the past. I love the sun, the food, the history, the beaches even if they are mostly volcanic and the people.
Dream job outwith your career in finance:
I always wanted to be a Policeman, I think it goes well with my “black and white”, right or wrong view of the world which also fits with working with “numbers”. Unfortunately I am colour blind and therefore in the 1980’s it was an impossibility to get in the force, although I did try! My dream job however would be a chef, I am competent having learned the basics from my youth when I was working in restaurant kitchens and front of house but I would love to learn to cook to a Michelin standard.