Our Managing Director, Abigail Stevens, assisted Barry to find a role in Guernsey eighteen years ago. Now Barry is COO of Ipes and still living happily on the island. Recently we caught up with him to find out how he has found his career has been since.
Why did you originally decide to move to Guernsey?
“In 1999, I was a newly qualified accountant in Northern Ireland who wanted something different. Abigail had an advert in one of the papers and a friend and I went up to Belfast to meet her. We were both bored with our lives and post university, wanted to do something different. The Channel Islands seemed appealing, they weren’t that far away from Belfast but far enough. Other locations I was considering included the Isle of Man and Bermuda. The Isle of Man didn’t appeal being an island in the Irish Sea and Bermuda seemed too far away. The Channel Islands were British but seemed slightly different and it was not London. The big city of London was slightly frightening and I was thinking ‘Did I really want to go and have a three-hour commute every day?’ The Channel Islands seemed to offer a better quality of life and that was really the main attraction
If you want to play a sport and have a social life, you can do it during the week. You can leave the office at 7 pm and still be playing indoor football with your friends at 8 pm, whereas you wouldn’t get that sort of opportunity in London or Dublin or other big cities. You can have a good work life balance. Most organisations have a large Expat community and that helps. Expat community – whether they’re Irish, Scottish, South African, Australian and everyone shares the same work ethos – they are quite happy to work hard but not necessarily on a Friday or Saturday night. They are quite social and people are happy to go out- ‘work hard play hard’.”
Did you have any concerns with moving overseas?
“I suppose my biggest concern would have been about what I was going to be doing in Financial Services. It was so different to what I had been doing in Ireland and I knew nothing about Financial Services. I trained in a small accountancy firm, so I wondered if I would have the required skill set for the work I was going to be doing. In my interview I was reassured by another Irish guy, ‘Look, a set of accounts is a set of accounts’ and I think that is a good bit of advice because you might come here and think you don’t know what we do but actually you pick it up very quickly. It’s still accounting, the basics are still the same.”
Did your move meet your original expectations and how?
“My experience in settling in was easier than I was expected. The general perception is that everyone in the Channel Islands is a multi-millionaire but that’s not the case. A 21-year-old in the Channel Islands is just like a 21-year-old anywhere. I also thought it would be quite French in the Channel Islands as their names are quite French (Jersey & Guernsey) but they are actually very English. If France were playing England in the football they’d be supporting England. It’s like an extension of Devon or Cornwall.”
What was the biggest benefit of moving?
“Opportunities, you get better opportunities more quickly than you would in other countries. I would not be doing the role that I am in now in London. If you are prepared to put in the effort then it will be recognised and rewarded more quickly than anywhere else. People would be made Partner or other senior positions more quickly than they would in UK or Ireland.”
Do you think the move enhanced your career more than if you had stayed where you were?
“My previous firm Barings (now Northern Trust) in Guernsey put me through an MBA which again I probably wouldn’t have got anywhere else. That helped open more opportunities and then I joined Ipes. The Channel Islands are small but there are a lot of opportunities. Most of the large finance organisations are here, and the opportunities are comparable to London. You often find that a lot of the people in senior positions are not local. If you come ready to work you will be rewarded.”
You have now been in Guernsey for 18 years, what is it that has kept you there?
“The opportunities, I came expecting to stay for two years and I’m still here (18 years later). The quality of life and career I’ve here, I wouldn’t have had anywhere else.
Everyone fits in very well in the Expat community and if you like sport, the facilities are fantastic. People are very friendly and very keen to get new members. Guernsey is a unique place – very safe, secure.
The size of the island is something that some people who come to Guernsey can struggle with. Guernsey has one nightclub. On a Saturday you will see half the office there, but if you lived in a bigger city you might not ever see people you work outside of work. You could sit the whole population (62,000) into Old Trafford (70,000) and still have empty seats”
What, in your opinion, are the advantages of working overseas in terms of gaining future employment?
“Working overseas broaden your horizons, challenges you to try something different and gets you out of your comfort zone – remember to just enjoy it. Go with the flow and throw yourself into it. Embrace the local culture and the mix of nationalities there. If you don’t like it, you can always go back, the world’s quite small. But you’ll never know unless you go and try it. In particular, if you’ve got a qualification it makes it so much easier.”
Do you have any tips for accountants thinking of moving to Guernsey?
“Give it a go, but be prepared for the restrictions of living on a small island. In Jersey and Guernsey, it is quite sociable, everyone goes to the pub after work on Friday, which helps you settle in. Then you get talking about things you like to do and build a network of friends. So actually it is quite easy to get settled in. In big cities, everyone’s jumping on trains and going home whilst in Guernsey everyone’s going to the nightclub.
You can walk to the office, you can walk to the pub, you can walk to the supermarket – you don’t need a car. It’s a friendly place but you need to embrace what island life has to offer. However, if your hobby is going shopping every weekend then maybe not, as the selection of shops is limited.
It is definitely a place that will help your career and If you’re not sure what you want to do, you’ll get great exposure to something that’s probably different to anything you’ve done before – but don’t be frightened by it! Firms in Guernsey are used to hiring accountants with no relevant experience and train them accordingly. There will be a lot of like-minded people, so don’t be frightened to come on your own, you will settle in.”
Our Managing Director, Abigail, assisted you with your original move to Guernsey. Can you remember anything that she did at the time that was particularly useful?
“She helped me consider where I wanted to go and listened to where I didn’t want to go (Dublin, London). She helped reassure me of what I was doing and told me about the experiences of other people she had placed in the past. She was definitely quite instrumental in helping me with the decision.”
We would like to thank Jonathan for sharing his story and wish him all the best for the future.
Please get in touch with us here if you would like to discuss moving overseas with one of our advisors.