‘Per­son­ally, once you say you’re from Ire­land, I think there’s a huge level of ac­cept­abil­ity right around the world’

Irish Independent - Business Week - - BUSINESSWEEK -

Brian McEn­ery is a man with a lot of irons in the fire, from over­see­ing Nama to evan­ge­lis­ing for ac­coun­tancy in Pak­istan and nurs­ing home in­vest­ment in Lim­er­ick, writes Donal O’Dono­van

“I wouldn’t even try to say that there weren’t days that were bad be­cause there were ... but on bal­ance, I think they’re, you know, if they’re there in terms of size, they’re im­por­tant, and process and pro­ce­dures are im­por­tant, par­tic­u­larly where you’re deal­ing with sen­si­tive fi­nan­cial mat­ters of par­ties, but I have to say in terms of the big­ger pic­ture, has Nama been do­ing a good job? I ab­so­lutely be­lieve it has.”

Some of Nama’s crit­ics are those whose loans ended up with the agency, he points out.

The agency, he says, didn’t sell to the “bot­tom feed­ers” who came in early, but needed to bal­ance that by meet­ing Troika tar­gets for debt re­pay­ment.

“These funds were com­ing in in 2010 and 2011 and go­ing into gov­ern­ment and say­ing isn’t it ter­ri­ble Nama won’t deal with us. But we wouldn’t deal with them, we were right not to deal with.”

Later, Nama started to ac­cel­er­ate sales par­tially out of fear that Spain and Italy would hoover up the cap­i­tal if Ir­ish deals weren’t avail­able.

If it hadn’t, and opted to hold loans long term as some crit­ics now say it should, Ire­land and the banks here, would be in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion to­day, he says.

“I think they’d be in real trou­ble. Be­cause I think there’ll be a re­quire­ment for more cap­i­tal into banks gen­er­ally around the world, in the com­ing 12 months. And many reg­u­la­tors and gov­ern­ments re­alise. If we had that al­lied to a big huge prop­erty over­hang, if Nama hadn’t delever­aged ... so there’s a lot of com­plex fac­tors to be con­sid­ered when you’re say­ing should Nama have held on.”

Nama has been a big, con­tentious, com­mit­ment, but the board isn’t in­volved in day-to-day op­er­a­tions, which has saved him from get­ting en­snared in the minu­tia of deals – or from be­ing lob­bied by debtors or buy­ers, he says.

“Part of my role was around strat­egy around the gov­er­nance, around the over­sight of Nama and I gen­uinely, if there was a field down the road from me, my home, that was in Nama, I wouldn’t know it. That’s the truth. On one or two oc­ca­sions, I was ap­proached by com­mu­nity groups, or not com­mu­nity but maybe public bod­ies, and in those in­stances, I would have said to them there’s a process around which Nama deals with public bod­ies, but again I wouldn’t have got in­volved in it my­self but I would have put them in the di­rec­tion of some­body within Nama maybe.”

Didn’t he ever have any­one si­dle up to him at an event, I ask?

“No, I didn’t, be­cause in ac­tual fact there was a huge amount of cov­er­age in the early days about the act and there was an aw­ful lot of cov­er­age where it was not just an of­fence to lobby but it was an of­fence for the per­son who was lob­bied not to re­port it.”

Nama has never been McEn­ery’s day job. He’s a char­tered ac­coun­tant, and a part­ner at ac­coun­tancy firm BDO Ire­land.

As well as deal­ing with bad debt cases, McEn­ery built much of his ca­reer ad­vis­ing in­vestors in the health sec­tor. If he talks about Nama in broad strokes, on health pol­icy and fund­ing of care, his gears shift to some­thing much more in­tense and de­tailed, even joy­ful – the pen and pa­per come out when he talks me through the old cap­i­tal model for nurs­ing homes. Tax breaks in place be­fore the crash be­came po­lit­i­cally in­de­fen­si­ble af­ter­wards, but they built badly needed nurs­ing homes and too few are be­ing built now, he says.

He ap­pears to know ev­ery trick in the book, and a few be­sides, when it comes to get­ting the best tax deal for in­vestors buy­ing into Ir­ish health­care. He’s in­tensely in­ter­ested in pol­icy, fund­ing and the in­vest­ment side.

Right now, de­clin­ing mar­gins are putting in­ter­na­tional in­vestors off Ire­land de­spite the grow­ing need for nurs­ing homes beds, while many Ir­ish op­er­a­tors must wait for old tax schemes to ex­pire be­fore they can go out an raise fresh cap­i­tal.

Sur­pris­ingly, for a man I as­sume has a di­rect line to Gov­ern­ment, McEn­ery says his ideas to un­lock health in­vest­ment, in­clud­ing un­lock­ing tax-based in­vestors early from old schemes, are fall­ing on deaf ears.

“As a firm, we’ve made a num­ber of sub­mis­sions to Gov­ern­ment. I’ve put in, BDO have put in I’d say two on my be­half, not on be­half of any­body (client) but just say­ing this is a prob­lem. And, you know, gov­ern­ment have de­cided not to do it. That’s their pre­rog­a­tive of course but I see this as a fund­ing con­straint now.”

Try­ing to jug­gle a role in the loom­ing health cri­sis with Nama and BDO doesn’t seem to phase McEn­ery, who comes across as a ball of en­ergy.

Much of his en­ergy at the mo­ment is in fact fo­cused out­side Ire­land, in his ca­pac­ity as ACCA pres­i­dent.

He’s been in­volved in the or­gan­i­sa­tion at all lev­els since he joined the lo­cal chap­ter in Lim­er­ick two decades ago. He was elected Ir­ish pres­i­dent in 2009 and is now com­ing to the end of a stint as global pres­i­dent, an elected, un­paid role that makes him es­sen­tially an am­bas­sador for pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion – es­pe­cially in emerg­ing mar­kets.

The ACCA, he says, was founded in 1904 by ac­coun­tants, who like him­self didn’t nec­es­sar­ily have a univer­sity de­gree or have served a (then) ex­pen­sive ar­ti­cled ap­pren­tice­ship.

ACCA’s exam-based struc­tures opened up the pro­fes­sion. The ex­ams are rig­or­ous, but any­one can sit them, he ex­plains.

“The real growth is in China, In­dia, Malaysia, Pak­istan, I’ve been to Pak­istan a few times. Huge growth, huge need in their economies. I used this fig­ure when I was out in Pak­istan re­cently. There’s 200 mil­lion peo­ple in Pak­istan and they have about 15,000 qual­i­fied ac­coun­tants. We have six mil­lion peo­ple in Ire­land and about 50,000 ac­coun­tants.”

Train­ing young ac­coun­tants for work in those de­vel­op­ing economies is a huge op­por­tu­nity and fail­ing to do so will have dire con­se­quences, he reck­ons.

“When I go there I can see that, you know. Peo­ple with very high lev­els of youth un­em­ploy­ment, what are they go­ing to do? You know we al­ways used to say the devil makes work for idle hands. Well, they’re idle, you know.” As he trav­els around be­ing Ir­ish helps, he says. “Once you say you’re from Ire­land, I think there’s a huge level of ac­cept­abil­ity right around the world. The Ir­ish per­sonal res­onates much more broadly than we think. I gen­uinely think we have great cur­rency around the world, it’s fan­tas­tic.”

‘It was orig­i­nally sug­gested this (Nama) would be a f***-up of all pro­por­tions,’ he re­calls

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