McSweeney might even be involved in one or two himself. After 27 years (including eight as CFO), he left AIB in 2005 to become CFO of Home Credit, a Czech consumer lender with businesses in Slovakia, Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as interests in Asia. McSweeney says Home Credit and its Czech parent, PPF, “could well be acquirers in the current environment.”
If they are, McSweeney can take some of the credit. During the past year, he’s helped Home Credit raise finance from western capital markets. He says having access to this new line of funding has become a “critical competitive advantage” for the company. Ratings agency Moody’s concurs. In a report published last November, it noted the Czech business’s “broad mix of funding sources,” ranging from a syndicated loan to securitisation.
Opening the Czech firm’s access to new sources of capital is now McSweeney’s raison d’etre. The finance chief says he spent some 15 years helping AIB raise funds, and it wasn’t just Home Credit that wanted to benefit from those talents. Since leaving AIB, he’s also become a non-executive director at Genesis Lease, an Irish aircraft-leasing business that recently listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Though McSweeney is laid-back in conversation, he admits that life as a CFO has become even more pressured than it used to be. One reason is always-on technology, which he sees both as a gift and a curse: a gift in that it enables finance chiefs to work anywhere, allowing McSweeney himself to work as efficiently at home with his family in Dublin as at Home Credit’s head offices; but a curse in that “it creates a lot more pressure because there’s no time-lag anymore. Everything has to be up to date, people respond immediately and the market moves very quickly.” That’s a particular pressure for McSweeney given Home Credit’s new focus on global capital markets.
As for advice for CFOs in 2008, he says, “credibility is critical with the capital markets. If a CFO hasn’t got credibility, he’s dead.”
Credibility in the markets has been a running theme for McSweeney throughout his career, having set up AIB’s investor relations department in the early 1990s. He learned just how valuable good investor communications can be in 2002, when AIB was hit with a $750m trader scandal at a US subsidiary. Press reports highlighted fears over another Nick Leeson, the rogue trader who brought down Barings Bank in 1995. But McSweeney says that a focus on investor relations helped the bank survive relatively unscathed — when the news broke in February 2002, AIB’s share price on the Irish Stock Exchange fell about 16%, but recovered in little more than a month as AIB updated investors regularly with news on its internal investigation.
“When you’re in a crisis, it’s important that people believe you,” McSweeney says. “We were telling people that this was a rogue trader, an isolated incident, it wasn’t a systemic failure of AIB’s systems. The investors accepted that and the ratings agencies accepted it, because we had put such a huge emphasis on relationships with [them] over the previous ten years.”