REACHING THE PEAK OF TREASURY QUALIFICATIONS
Catherine Porter, Head of Treasury at Cancer Research UK, is one of our MCT Advanced Diploma graduates. After a career break to have children, Catherine came back with a fresh focus and detrmination to consolidate her existing skills and expeirence with the top-level treasury qualification. Here she explains how it's helped her push on even further in her career.
What does your current role entail?
I’m Head of Treasury at Cancer Research UK and responsible for the charity’s cash and investment portfolio, cash management, external bank and investment manager relationships and foreign exchange. Reporting to the charity’s CFO, the Head of Treasury works closely with the finance department and across the charity on a range of issues, including policy and governance matters which are agreed by the charity’s trustees. I’m also a sponsor (charity) appointed pension scheme director-trustee. Cancer Research UK is the UK’s largest fundraising charity.
How did you find your way into a treasury function?
Following undergraduate studies in chemical engineering, I decided to join a big firm of chartered accountants. On qualification, I immediately wanted to gain experience working outside the UK and I had the opportunity to work in Germany, first in practice and then in shipping in my first line manager role. Over a number of years, and working in several industry sectors, I had a lot of experience of finance processes, accounting projects, integration etc. with much of this straddling national boundaries. Latterly I was back in London working as a financial controller. Although the original training as an accountant had made its mark, I’m pretty sure I’d loosely intended on more exposure to corporate finance and treasury and a more external, forward looking focus than perhaps I’d had, possibly underpinned by an additional qualification.
What motivated you to take on the MCT?
With a career break following the birth of my first child, I had time to consider if I could adjust my professional profile before going back to work. I was aware of the ACT, and initially thought the idea of taking exams again was terrifying, but I enrolled for the AMCT and got on with it. The AMCT didn’t just provide me with new knowledge - I realised I wished I’d known much earlier about treasury as a profession and skill set in its own right – it would also have benefited my previous roles.
In 2011, I decided that I’d enrol for the MCT. The MCT is a big step up from the AMCT, but the MBA style of the course is a fantastic way to round off your formal professional education. My biggest motivation? I wanted to become a full member of the ACT and thus set the scene for the second half of my career. I could say ‘I wish I’d done this years before’, but in many ways, coming to the MCT with all my prior work experience was possibly better.
What did you find most useful about the course?
The structure of the MCT is really well thought out. The study units each require tenacity in terms of reading and digesting the core material and working through numerous examples. Many different companies and financial and business scenarios are explored throughout the course and you are constantly adding to your knowledge by carrying out additional research.
The marked assignments test not just the course content, but a range of professional skills. Anyone who has passed the MCT has been tested for months on many technical topics, their ability to present solutions to issues raised and also on their own organisation and timetabling. The interaction in the student forum means that you have constant dialogue with your study cohort; you submit many pieces of work and benefit from the critique process. Together with the insight of the tutors, you work within an environment where a range of solutions is possible. There are no foolish questions.
Can you give examples of how studying for your ACT qualification has brought practical benefits to your role/employer?
Head of Treasury at Cancer Research UK is quite a broad role with both internal and external stakeholders, so I believe commitment to my own professional education has been positive for the charity. Notwithstanding that, the MCT is concerned with the strategy, financial situation and choices within corporate structures, the technical knowledge and skills focused upon during the MCT have been directly useful and relevant to me. Examples would include: the various case study examples regarding defined benefit pension schemes – very useful as a scheme trustee; the emphasis on treasury and enterprise environment – gave focus to thinking about treasury best practice and support across the charity; the risk and policy sections of the course were really helpful. Also, for my project I wrote on corporate cash, which is not just a topical issue but relevant to my current responsibilities.
What importance do you think ACT qualifications have on your career?
The role of the corporate treasurer continues to be regarded as essential to the financial health and wealth of the enterprise, even more so in recent times. Having just taken this qualification in corporate finance, risk and treasury, it seems even more relevant than I might have understood a few years ago. I see the acquired skill set both as a specialism, which will call upon specific course content and technical knowledge but I also see the MCT as part of a much broader skill set for today’s CFO in commerce and industry and beyond. I believe the MCT positions me well for my future career.
What would you say to a potential student to encourage them to take an ACT qualification?
Completing the MCT on top of a full time job and with family commitments is not for the fainthearted. At the induction day, one of the tutors suggested that the best approach is to be really dedicated and to try and avoid deferral at any stage. Although this isn’t possible for everyone, I agree with keeping going once started. The ACT’s standalone certificates can be planned a bit more easily, but sticking to the task in hand once you’ve signed up is really important.
For MCT you need to commit 100% to the study timetable and make sure your employer knows that you are doing the course. This will also include learning to juggle, completing assignments when there are other draws on your time and frankly a number of late nights, so you really do need the backing of those around you.
I was pleased when I passed the AMCT several years ago, but passing the MCT now is, well, fantastic, so future students, do stick at it! With the ACT having just gained its royal charter, I’m especially proud to be admitted to the membership at this time.
If Catherine's story has inspired you to take on the MCT Advanced Diploma, click here for more information about the course.