• Bio: Atula Abeysekera started his career as a civil engineer and then went on to qualify as a chartered accountant. He explains his journey to become a specialist in risk management in financial services over the last 25 years.
  • Role: Group Risk Manager

Atula Abeysekera

Why qualify in accountancy?

When I graduated as a civil engineer from Imperial College my natural preference was to work in civil engineering. Having worked as a civil engineer for four years, I felt that I was becoming a specialist too early in my career and I wanted to broaden my experience to a career in business. I applied to do an MBA course as well as for trainee chartered accountant positions. I was fortunate that I was offered a position as a trainee chartered accountant at KPMG in its financial services practice. I found that I really enjoyed the dynamic and fast changing financial services sector.

How did my career develop?

Having qualified as a chartered accountant, I joined Morgan Stanley as an internal audit manager and then moved on to become its Head of European Internal Audit. This was a period of significant growth in Morgan Stanley’s European franchise and I enjoyed being part of this business growth and helping to instil a strong risk culture to grow in a controlled way.

My first full-time risk management assignment was when I volunteered to take an internal role at Morgan Stanley to be its Head of Risk at the fast-growing international prime broking business. Risk management was new at that time, and I had the first taste of enterprise-wide risk management at Morgan Stanley. My role was to introduce a governance structure and a limit risk framework for controlling market, credit, liquidity and operational risks.

I then moved to a business role as Director of Administration at Lehman Brothers’ fixed income business as I felt that first-hand business experience would give me a more rounded risk experience.

Following a two-year stint at Lehman, I moved to senior risk positions at buy-side firms (Fidelity Worldwide Investments, Lazard and Cazenove) to broaden my experience in investment management businesses.

I am now a senior risk manager in the City with 25 years’ experience having worked in senior risk positions at buy-side (investment management) and sell-side financial institutions (investment banking).

A good risk manager needs to have a good breadth of business, controls and regulatory knowledge and should also have good numerical skills. The exams conducted by CISI, the Professional Risk Managers’ Association (PRMIA) or Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP) could be a useful entry point to a career in risk, but these qualifications should be supplemented by first-hand experience in risk management in financial institutions.

What does my role look like now?

I now cover enterprise risk management encompassing all facets of risks impacting the business. The reputation of the organisation is the most important risk and a good risk function can help the board of directors to improve governance and risk management in a proactive way, thereby improving risk culture.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The breadth and variety of experience makes the role quite challenging and demanding, but it is fun. Most of all, I enjoy working with senior management and line management to help shape the risk culture of the organisation to meet today’s business and regulatory challenges.

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