Agent of Exchange

With vast experience in the finance industry, Jacqueline O’Flanagan brings her forward-thinking ideas to stock indices organization FTSE

O’Flanagan and her family are firm believers in contributing to the community. Along with her daughter, she volunteers whenever possible. In fact, her daughter is taking part in a mission trip this year to South America. In addition, O’Flanagan gives back to women in her profession as a part of Women in Capital Markets as well as Women in ETFs. She also served as a board member for the Frontier College 2015 Scrabble Corporate Challenge. Photo by Biren Bhalla
Photo by Biren Bhalla

Founded in 1995, FTSE Group, the provider of stock market indices and investor benchmark data, has long been a global leader—now calculating hundreds of thousands of unique indices as well as providing analytic solutions. FTSE is a subsidiary of London Stock Exchange Group, which has more than 2,800 employees. Jacqueline O’Flanagan is the Canadian leader of FTSE, acting not only as its managing director but also its brand ambassador. Here, we look to O’Flanagan’s past experiences and how they have allowed her to markedly contribute to the company’s rapid growth in North America.

A 2-year conversation

O’Flanagan was never looking to leave her former company. So when FTSE reached out to her four years ago, she didn’t jump at the opportunity. In fact, for almost two years, discussions went back and forth. But finally, after FTSE completed a Canadian joint venture acquisition with the Toronto Stock Exchange that would necessitate someone of her caliber to provide a unifying voice, O’Flanagan’s interest in the strategic role shifted.

“A unique opportunity presented itself,” O’Flanagan says, “and it was exciting to be someone who could serve FTSE in a demanding role.” The position called for someone who could represent FTSE as its Canadian brand ambassador—spending time gaining customers’ trust and improving the company’s service model. O’Flanagan fit the bill.

1 index leader, 1 country

Initially, O’Flanagan was brought in to run sales and operations for the new joint venture business. Her day-to-day responsibilities focused on improving customer service and client interaction processes. Over time, however, her roles expanded to oversee all of the organization’s main lines of indices, including equities and fixed income. Today O’Flanagan looks after FTSE’s entire Canadian business and works directly with all the market participants, ranging from asset owners and managers to institutional investors, ETP issuers, and distribution suppliers.

“It’s really an all-encompassing operational, finance, marketing, and sales role,” she says. “I’ve become the go-to on almost everything Canada.”

O’Flanagan and her family are firm believers in contributing to the community. Along with her daughter, she volunteers whenever possible. In fact, her daughter is taking part in a mission trip this year to South America. In addition, O’Flanagan gives back to women in her profession as a part of Women in Capital Markets as well as Women in ETFs. She also served as a board member for the Frontier College 2015 Scrabble Corporate Challenge.

From 2 days to 10 minutes

About 10 years ago, when O’Flanagan was at Morningstar, she was part of a pivotal moment in the mutual fund industry. She worked with a variety of large financial institutions, as Canadian banks were looking for ways to consolidate assets through their branch channels. One project in particular saw her help replace a manual paper-based fund process with an all-encompassing, automated one.

At the time, if  a client wanted to do a holistic review, or if an advisor wanted to assess a client’s portfolio, the advisor would have to gather all the statements, write them up, and then send them to a regional manager who would research all of the funds online—a process that could take up to two days.

In order to improve that process, O’Flanagan and her team looked at the financial institution’s risk-tolerance questionnaire, walked through the process, identified what it was striving for, and, after six months, ended up structuring a software application that leveraged the depth and breadth of the research that Morningstar offered. The solution was a series of processes that—depending on whether you were a basic or advanced advisor—could create a portfolio diagnostic in less than 10 minutes. Within the first year of that project, the organization’s funds skyrocketed, and financial institutions across Canada took note.

Aiding 10 million clients

“At Morningstar, we really revolutionized the way online discount brokers work in Canada,” says O’Flanagan, citing one of the unique things she worked on that concentrated on theme-based investing. For this project, the financial institution, which serviced more than 10 million clients, wanted to set itself apart from other online brokers, so O’Flanagan and her team worked with the institution to create theme-based investment portfolios, which would be able to appeal to a client’s various interests. The process let O’Flanagan and her team dive deep into equity research and methodology in order to create this offering. A side effect of that research was an overall strengthening of the financial institution’s core offerings.

More than 80 countries

“From FTSE’s perspective,” O’Flanagan says, “we’ve gone through a tremendous amount of change in two years.” In the United Kingdom and Asia, the organization has always had a strong brand presence, but in the few years since O’Flanagan has joined, the company has undertaken an aggressive growth plan in North America. This comes as no surprise, as FTSE is dedicated to being a global organization, even being the first index organization to develop a transparent, predictable, and codified classification system.

For O’Flanagan, though, it’s not just the breadth of services that FTSE provides as a global organization but also its commitment to transparency and customer service that sets it apart. Fortunately, those attributes are ones she has strived to deliver throughout her career. “The most successful people believe in an organization’s mission,” O’Flanagan says, “so it’s easy when those values, such as the ones we have at FTSE, align with your own.”