Understanding CertBALM®: The benchmark qualification for bank treasury professionals
Last month, a new batch of 26 students began the Asset and Liability Management Association's (ALMA) CertBALM® course. They are part of a growing cohort of bank treasury professionals keen to broaden their skills and earn an accredited qualification.
ALMA currently runs the course twice a year after completing a successful pilot in September 2016. Over the past two years, CertBALM® has already become a benchmark qualification for the industry.
So, what does the course entail? Which skills can students expect to learn? And how has the qualification helped professionals further their career? To learn the answers to these questions, we took a closer look at CertBALM® and spoke to some of the people who know the most about the course, including key figures at ALMA and previous course graduates.
What is CertBALM®?
The Certificate of Banking Asset and Liability Management - or CertBALM® for short - is a six-month course that is benchmarked to a Level 6 qualification. This means it is the equivalent of a final year honours degree, with 200 hours of collective learning.
The course is split into five units:
- Overview: Banking, treasury and ALM;
- Capital risk management;
- Liquidity and funding risk;
- Market risk in the banking book; and
- Integrated asset and liability management.
CertBALM® is primarily an online learning course, allowing people to fit their studies around work and other responsibilities. However, students also participate in a four-day Residential School that enables them to interact with their peers and learn directly from practitioners within the industry.
ALMA limits each iteration of the course to approximately 26 students, and people come from across the globe to earn the qualification. Previous participants have hailed from the UK, Spain, France, Egypt, Switzerland, Turkey and Bermuda, to name just a few.
By graduation, students should have a comprehensive understanding of how to manage a bank or building society's balance sheet, as well as the ability to recognise and resolve ALM-related risks. This knowledge is underpinned by the regulatory context of bank balance sheet management and how this affects governance processes.
The current course started on September 3rd 2018 and participants will receive their final results on April 25th next year.
Why choose CertBALM®?
The qualification, which is accredited by the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT), is designed for bank treasury professionals and those working in similar or related fields.
Chris Blake, Education Director at ALMA, confirmed there was a distinct lack of courses available that were tailored for bank treasurers prior to CertBALM®.
"There were qualifications for corporate treasurers, but nothing for professionals working specifically in banks and building societies," Chris explained. "Without a benchmark qualification, how do you differentiate yourself when you want to progress in this area of work?"
His comments echo what graduates of the course told us when we asked what spurred them to choose CertBALM®. Caroline Clark graduated from the pilot course in 2017. At the time, she was working for a small bank and wanted to earn a treasury-based qualification, but she quickly found there were limited choices.
"There was an ACT qualification, but that's corporate treasury, so it wasn't directly related to my role, despite having a lot of transferable skills. The CFA Program was another option, but that takes three years and also isn't directly relevant to bank treasury," Caroline said.
"I had heard that ALMA was developing a bank treasury qualification and it was exactly what I wanted."
Paul Moreno Blosseville, Treasury Senior Manager at HSBC, felt he had developed a strong understanding of liquidity and capital management (LCM) risk throughout his career.
However, he wanted to strengthen his interest rate risk management skills to ensure everything he was telling the business had a good theoretical and practical foundation. He subsequently sought out the best LCM courses to find the most comprehensive qualification.
"Frankly, nothing appeared to exist. So, I tried to train myself. I read a lot of research papers and met with various people, but it was all learning by myself and without any kind of support," Paul stated.
"Fortunately, CertBALM® provided the whole framework that I had been looking for."
Who can take the course?
CertBALM® has no entry qualification requirements, so anyone can join. The course has also been developed to support people who come from a variety of backgrounds. For example, the first unit provides a useful overview of the industry to ensure the learning curve isn't too steep.
"The first module is intended to get everyone up to speed, which ends with a fairly simple progress test. It's not designed to catch anyone out and makes sure people are all on the same page," Caroline said.
Students shouldn't expect an easy ride, however; most professionals who pursue the qualification already have at least two or three years' experience within the finance industry. Chris confirmed around one-third of people don't complete the course in its entirety, and while retakes are available, not everyone chooses to try again.
"CertBALM® is designed to identify professionals who are at a practitioner level. The course isn't just about theory, it's a practical course that teaches people the tools they need to complete tasks in the real world," he added.
"The qualification acts as a badge to show someone has reached a certain standard, which - in turn - counts towards that individual's overall employability."
Students need motivation to get the most out of the course, particularly if they are fitting their studies around their day job. This is where the flexibility of online learning helps.
Paul, who is married with four children, said he squeezed in studying on the Tube and in the evenings once his kids had gone to bed. Weekends, on the other hand, were forbidden.
"It was a lot of work," he admitted. "But it was exactly what I was looking for, so I was highly motivated to put in the hours."
What are the highlights of the course?
The Residential School is a key element of earning the CertBALM® qualification. The four-day stay is geared towards helping students revise units 2 and 3, while learning about units 4 and 5 from specialist tutors and practitioners.
"Around eight to ten industry experts give their time and insight into bank treasury. Some may have been heads of banks or regulators, with decades of experience on their particular topic," Chris explained.
Caroline and Paul both pointed towards the Residential School as one of their favourite parts of the course. Not only did they benefit from engaging face-to-face tuition, but they were also able to meet other CertBALM® students. According to Caroline, the opportunity to network with professionals from across the financial services sector was invaluable.
"The residential stay was definitely my favourite part of the course. It made a massive difference. I'm still in touch with so many of the people I met," she said.
Paul claimed the community atmosphere meant students could discuss key topics, collaborate on solutions and share advice with like-minded individuals. He also valued the opportunity to ask practitioners questions in person.
"The people we were learning from were very impressive. They can give you 10 years of knowledge, which is a massive head start. It's immensely useful," he added.
Substantial support is also provided outside of the residential course. Students have access to an ACT Learning Management System, where they can view CertBALM® learning materials and communicate with peers in forums. The system has an Ask the Mentor function that enables students to post questions to tutors, who will typically respond within 24 hours. Caroline submitted a question and received a phone call later the same day to discuss the issue.
"I was only expecting an email back, but the mentor called me and walked me through my question step by step, which was brilliant," she stated.
Can the course help me?
Including the pilot, four sets of students have now completed the course, meaning only 48 professionals worldwide currently have the qualification.
Since finishing the CertBALM® course, Caroline has moved roles to Standard Chartered Bank and received a promotion in the process. Earlier this year, she also accepted a position on ALMA's board and is now the organisation's Membership Director.
"I felt that my interview at Standard Chartered went well because I could talk more broadly about bank treasury issues. Although I was talking mainly about my subject matter, which I was familiar with, I could also branch out and discuss other related disciplines confidently, which really helped," she said.
Paul, who finished top of his class, said the qualification has given him confidence that his advice is always based on a sound approach and a sophisticated understanding of the metrics involved.
"My role means that I need to speak with very senior people in the business, who will challenge me on various aspects of my job. CertBALM® has given me the certainty to stand my ground, while understanding their requests and focusing on the best areas of value for the business," he said.
CertBALM® appears to be going from strength to strength and has already established itself as the gold standard qualification for bank treasury professionals. Anyone looking to take the next step in their career may find CertBALM® is the key differentiator that sets them apart from the crowd.
While many bank treasury professionals are experts in one narrow area, they may not have a solid grasp of wider risks. One of the key focuses of the course is emphasising the fundamental concepts of ALM across all major categories and understanding how they interconnect.