Cathryn Lyall, Co-Founder of the Seismic Foundry and Matt Elliott, People Director at Virgin Money, discuss the contrasting worlds of capital markets and banking. They share insights on how to ensure diversity flows through to the most senior levels, discussing maternity/paternity pay and offering practical recommendations to address the digital skills gap, improve gender and ethnic diversity and support the next generation of talent.
Cathy Lyall is the Co-Founder of the Seismic Foundry. She is a business growth and risk management executive with a 29 year background across all major products and services in the derivatives industry. She has direct experience in managing Trading and Clearing businesses for Banks and Brokerage groups in Australasia, as well as 16 years working at Management level for exchanges in Asia Pacific, the US and Europe.
Cathy is a Non-Executive Director with regulated UK Board experience by both the PRA and FCA. She founded her own Strategic Advisory and Consultancy business in 2009 and has built a number of new markets infrastructure businesses in Europe. She is an excellent networker who is results and P&L driven and excels in getting the best from a team. Cathy is an experienced mentor and enjoy helping her mentees move forward in their careers.
She specialises in Strategic Advice and Planning, Start-up Business acumen, Risk Management, Sales, Marketing, Team Building, Budgeting, Product Development, Technology and DMA, Start-up business acumen, Government and Industry liaison, and anything that will lead to growth of revenues, volumes, products, and services.
You can follow Cathy on Twitter @Lyally.
Matt Elliott joined Virgin Money in 2011 as people director, leading the HR work required to acquire and integrate Northern Rock. He is a member of the executive team who have successfully built the company, leading to a successful FTSE listing in 2014.
Matt has regularly received recognition for his commitment to creating a fair and inclusive workplace – he was named in the OUTstanding/Financial Times Top business ally’s list in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and was ranked 20th in the FT HERoes List which celebrates company leaders who support women in business.
Both Matt and Virgin Money are becoming widely recognised for championing the diversity agenda across Financial Services. Virgin Money worked in partnership with HM Treasury to produce the report ‘Empowering Productivity, Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services’ which provided a set of recommendations to increase the representation of women in senior roles in Financial Services. Matt has become a regular public speaker on diversity, helping companies looking to progress their diversity or business change agenda’s.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattEllHR
Series Two Episode One Transcript
Julia: Hello. My name is Julia Streets, and welcome to DiverCity™ Podcast, talking about diversity and inclusion in financial services. This episode was recorded in December, 2017, published in January 2018.
In each episode, we seek to shine a light on successful progress, call out areas requiring further focus and offer practical ideas to help drive change. And one of the joys of financial services is that it is a wide-ranging industry: institutional versus retail, capital markets to wealth management, B2B, B2C, B2B2C. In the series we believe there is great merit in opening out some discussion and exploring some of these contrasting worlds to tease out some of the best ideas from right across the industry.
And today I’m delighted to be joined by two guests: Cathy Lyall from the world of capital markets and Matt Elliott from the world of banking.
Cathy Lyall has enjoyed a prestigious career as a senior executive in some of the world’s largest capital markets firms. Today she’s a non-executive director, advisor and, more recently, investor in early stage capital markets FinTech firms as a co-founder of Seismic Foundry. Cathy, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
Matt Elliott is the people director of Virgin Money, and as a member of the executive team, has played a key role in building the business leading to its listing in 2014. In 2016, Matt and Virgin worked with the Treasury to produce the report ‘Empowering Productivity: Harnessing the Talent of Women in Financial Services’ and like Cathy, Matt has received many industry accolades and is a regular commentator on diversity and inclusion. Matt, thank you for joining us.
As always on DiverCity™ Podcast, we invite each guest to take a one minute to talk about what they’re up to. Cathy, let me start with you. What are you up to at the moment?
Cathy: Thanks, Julia. After a 30-year career in capital markets and financial services, about a year ago myself and four partners decided to really look at what the future of our world looks like in capital markets, and obviously FinTech is a massive part of that. There’s disruption taking place, there are a lot of challenges – we have regulatory challenges, we have business challenges, and certainly outside financial services, there are a lot of areas where disruption is absolutely going to undermine what we’re doing. You’re already seeing that in payments.
So Seismic Foundry is a pure capital markets FinTech discretionary fund. We’re very, very early stage, right at the seed investment stage (SEIS and EIS). Our goal, one of the reasons we did that, is we’ve all come out of large financial institutions, we all care about how culture has evolved over the last 10 or 20 years, particularly in financial services. We think values and ethics have been undermined significantly and there’s a lot of people coming out who haven’t necessarily had very good management training. When I started in the markets in 1987, your word truly was your bond and it was customer first, company second, me third, and that got flipped on its head, and I think Lehman’s et cetera was the result of that.
So we want to invest in a very, very early stage. We want to sit on the board. We want to make a true partnership with these early companies. We care about their culture, we care about their structure, we care about governance. Our goal is to nurture these businesses so that by the time they get to the VC/PE end of the scale, we’ve ironed out founder issues, we’ve got a really good governance structure in place, we’ve got a really good culture. We think that will make a very big difference to how financial services evolve going forward. It’s the little bit that we can do.
Julia: And, presumably in the world of diversity and inclusion, where we come back to the importance of culture and leadership time and time again. There’s much that we’ll be exploring in that, so thank you very much.
Matt, let me turn to you now. So you have one minute to talk about the big things in your life at the moment.
Matt: Thank you. So, as a bit of context, Virgin Money where I’m the People Director, we’ve got 3.3 million customers in the UK, we’re a UK-only bank, very proud of our customer advocacy (+40), so over the past few years, post the Northern Rock acquisition, we’ve been busy. We’re very fortunate to be looking ahead and are very excited as well. We’re opening up into business lending, we’re building our plans to do that, and we’re well along the way in terms of building a digital bank. It’s really exciting for us, and one of the key things that really excites me about the organisation is exactly our culture. Our ethos is expressed as making everyone better off. I’ve been with the company nearly seven years now, but that ethos has been there for 10 years, so we’ve really stayed the course on it. As the people director, it makes my life easier, really, because of course, ‘everyone’ in ‘everyone’s better off’ talks to, by definition, inclusion.
So we’ve been particularly active over the last few years, predominantly so around gender equality as a result of our CEO being asked to work with the government around the productivity gap and how gender equality could help close that productivity gap, and so I’ll talk a little bit more about that. We’ve also been very transparent around our pay gap approach we disclosed a year early. I’m very proud around our approach that. All this fits with our making everyone better off approach, being really transparent in what we do.
The things that really excited me as well are around our partnerships at the moment, so when it comes to better ethnic inclusion in the UK, which I believe we need to do a lot more around, we’ve got a really exciting partnership with the Black British Business Awards, which we’re launching in 2018, which is to accelerate the progression of middle managers in organisations. So I’m excited because it’s a cross-industry approach with the Black British Business Awards. We’ve also launched a credit card with Stonewall, which we’ve called the Rainbow Card. I think it’s great from a customer point of view, but I’m really excited as a company that we’re making a connection with an organisation like Stonewall. Proceeds for the use of the card go to Stonewall as well, so for me it’s exactly one of those examples of making everyone better off.
Julia: And the strategic partnerships is very interesting in terms of how we’re seeing a lot around, not only internal allegiances and allies, but also how organisations are coming together around key causes. In the appetite to recruit from better places, or more diverse places, thinking about the Black British Awards as well, it is really interesting to explore where do you find young ethnic talent for those middle management jobs? So, again, we’ll most definitely, certainly come back to that. Thank you, Matt.
So, Cathy, …. in the world of capital markets, has there been a growing appreciation of the value of diversity and inclusion? Because D&I can just be a tick in the box, it can just be a piece of marketing rhetoric. From your perspective, at the leadership levels, can people see the opportunity to compete and differentiate, and really drive business performance?
Cathy: I think the short answer is yes, but there are many nuanced answers below that, and it depends a lot on the organisation, which sector it’s in in financial services, even where it’s located globally. As you said earlier, I’ve had the privilege to sit on some bank boards. I’ve also been involved right at the grassroots level of doing startups. And I would say at that very, very senior level, there is a great awareness of it, and I think there’s absolutely a buy-in, it’s not just a box ticking exercise. I think it’s been proven over and over again, the businesses where they have allowed that diversity to flourish are absolutely the most successful.
Also, in financial services, we’ve had some pretty big crises over the last 20 years, and it’s a scientific fact, there was a really interesting thing I put out on my Twitter feed recently, it was a study out of a university in the US, and they looked at traditional male behavior in the context of where you have to compete in an environment like financial services. They looked at law, financial services and medicine. They looked at it going right back to, I guess, what we were as primal beings, and they discovered this there are some embedded ways that men will react versus the way women react. There weren’t many men, there were a lot more women, the women had to be very choosy who they mated with because it was nine months out of the clan, I guess, so there was a selection process and men would compete for the female that was perceived to be doing the best job with keeping the clan going on if you like. Those primal urges flow through to the way people can react in stressful situations where they have to make quick decisions about things.
So, it was over 10 years, they had thousands and thousands of people through it, but basically it showed that if you put two alpha men up against each other in negotiation, inevitably, something will happen. It can be cataclysmic, it can go sour, or in fact, deals will be done that perhaps take it over the grey line, if you like. Whereas if you put a female and a male against each other that doesn’t happen as much. So you tend to get less aggressive behaviors as far as deal doing, you’ll get less compromises being made around deals, so you get better business deals being done, which means the business is more successful. It’s just one interesting thing-
Julia: Yeah, and there’s a very good book written by Barbara Annis who we’ve interviewed on another podcast. It was Barbara and a guy called Richard Nesbitt, who I think was the ex CEO of TMX group (Toronto Montreal Stock Exchange). What they said, which is very interesting, if you look at deal making and how businesses are successful, is that, actually, there are very male behaviours around, go for a deal, and if it doesn’t work then abandon it, move on.
It was women, and again, I don’t want to make sweeping generalisations, who would take their time and say, “Actually, let’s analyse this and pull it apart a bit more, and let’s go back to some deals that didn’t work, perhaps a year ago, and bring those to light again.” When you get the nurturing personalities, and when you get that to work really well as a board, you could be exploring potential you hadn’t perhaps seen before.
Cathy: Absolutely. And on that more geographical theme, I’m Australian, I came through financial services in Australia. My first job was on the trading floor. I started on Monday the 19th of October 1987, so the crash, my first day-
Julia: What a day to start!
Cathy: I know, right? Everyone was saying last in first out, so I thought it would be the shortest career in history. As it turns out it was quite busy. So, there were about 800 people on the floor, three or five females at the time. I think at that peak we had about 1200 on the floor in the early ’90s, about 35 women, so not a very high percentage, and certainly not very many on the phones or in the pit doing the trading, a lot more doing the administration roles.
But even back then, I had access to great mentors, male and female, I had access to a mentor on the board of our bank. There were plenty of places to meet other women that were in senior roles and there was a lot of push behind doing that in Australia. When I moved to the UK in 2002, I didn’t find any of that in financial services. And I, in fact, started a women’s networking lunch when I was at the Chicago Board of Trade with the London Capital Club, just to get women together. The first one was such a success; we managed to get lots of really interesting speakers, Gillian Tett and others. Because we would talk about interesting topics, obviously, but also just as a way to share what was going on and that was very much lacking in the UK and I found that very interesting, because I’d come from a much smaller financial services area, if you like, quite sophisticated but very small and much more remote. Here in the UK it was much further behind.
So, I’ve always felt like we were catching up a bit here with things that were going on, maybe in Southeast Asia, but I think we’re there now.
Julia: Has that acceleration paid off? Maybe this is a good time to turn to you, Matt, because your paper with the Treasury that’s looking at productivity and performance through harnessing the gender perspective, has that accelerated the pace of change?
Matt: Just a little bit of context of the work, it started two years ago. The British government were investigating productivity and the relative lack of performance for the country when you look at that measure globally. They identified, of all the industries, that financial services had the best starting representation for women but one of the worst senior representations for women. So, obviously, something was happening in the start to towards the end of career that needed to be understood, and, hopefully, action taken to change. If that could be achieved, the UK economy, actually, would be in that much of a better position.
So that was the backdrop. With a female CEO at Virgin Money, Jayne-Anne Gadhia was asked by the government to investigate this and come up with proposals. Extensive research was done, and we identified that 14% of executive committees were made up of women in 2015, so not a representative picture of women, I think, acceptable by any kind of standard. As a result, the Women in Finance review made recommendations, which became a charter. It’s based on the old adage of what gets measured gets done, really. They’re pretty straightforward, but I think, really impactful.
The ‘asks’ are: to measure what needs to be done, to recommend and commit to targets, make those public and report on them, report on progress or explain lack of, to have a executive sponsor in place – if this is a key issue then it should have a key sponsor, and to connect senior remuneration to the outcomes. This is based on the same principle that this is truly an important issue, of course senior people should be rewarded on the basis of it – to a degree.
I think on the measure of how much progress has been made, we’ve got now 162 companies signed up to the charter. And I think that’s great progress. That’s a lot of organisations that are making a commitment, a very public commitment to what they intend to do and promising to report against the progress. For me, by definition that means they will take action, which is a really positive point.
Julia: Because isn’t there a risk that, because we hear a lot of people are signing up to the charter, and whether that just becomes another tick in the box. Are you seeing a bit of that, or are you seeing that people are serious in their commitment?
Matt: Well, admittedly, it is early days. The fact that they have signed up means they are committed year-on-year to talking to the progress they’re making. So I think that’s the essential point here, as straightforward as that is, it means this can’t be a flash in the pan. There’s a public commitment year-on-year. That’s the important thing. Now the very first cycle of reporting for the companies who have signed up, is early in 2018, so we’ll all be able to see what the progress is by then.
I’d be realistic about the amount of change we’ll have seen in that time. So organisations haven’t necessarily been from a standing start here, but there is a lot of work to do. So I very much think that we’ll start to see really material changes as a result of this initiative around 2020. But I certainly know a lot of action is being taken that wouldn’t have been otherwise. There was an update recently by the new financial organisation, which talked to the signatories, the degree of action they’ve gone into and the type of actions they’ve been taking. So I think it’s been particularly informative and there’s now a heck of a lot of best practice out there. So companies are in action if they’ve pledged, it’s encourage them to do that.
Julia: And can you share some examples of where the best practice seems to sit, to you?
Matt: Well, if I talk about another organisation and come back to Virgin Money, just recently Aviva have publicised a new approach to parental pay and leave. They’ve taken, I think, a really brave step there that shows their commitment to family life, actually, as well as work life. So six months’ of full pay for a parent, and that doesn’t need to be swapped out in any way. And I think that’s a bold step to take, that does lead the way.
And, obviously, as a financial services industry, I think if we weren’t seeing the commitment then we wouldn’t be seeing actions like that taking place. From our perspective, being very public about what we intend to do and to achieve, which is to be balanced at every level in the organisation, so it does mean entry level for us, as much as it does the senior executive end of the company, it’s encouraged us to get a lot more creative and focused about the action that we’re taking.
And so, to give you an example, our own approach to parental leave, we’ve matched parental pay with maternity pay, so we’ve effectively taken pay out of the equation in a couple, whatever the couple makeup is, who takes the time off, to a large degree we’ve taken pay out of that equation. We had to get a lot more creative about how we attract talent to the organisation, so we commit to matching flexible working practices that somebody might be experiencing elsewhere, and I say somebody on purpose because it’s men and women that we’re appealing to who may have flexible working practices that really work for them, where they are today. It might be time for their career to change and to move on, and I think a barrier today has been a fear of leaving that flexible working practice behind. We wanted to take that out of the equation so the career move could just be that.
Julia: And it’s interesting you say that, because on one of our previous podcasts, we had Asif Sadiq, who was honoured with an MBE in 2017 for his work on diversity and inclusion. He’s ex-City of London Police and now head of D&I at EY. Asif was talking about that very topic, of once you remove the money equation and the balance equation about impact on career prospects, if you like. So one of the things that they’re really focused on is encouraging real modelling, particularly saying to men, “Well, take it. It’s there for you.”
Do you see that more men are taking advantage of what’s available there and taking it as seriously and so it doesn’t again just become a policy that’s available but actually is ignored?
Matt: We do. We are, which is fantastic to see. In Virgin Money we have about 80 women take maternity leave in a given year. On average it’s around that kind of number. This year we’ll have seen around 40 men effectively take part of that paternity leave in place of their partner if you like. So men are taking time at home in a way that they didn’t do before in the organisation. I couldn’t be prouder of that. I think that changes the whole dynamic around having children and building a family and being able to balance that with work. And so it’s building up, we’ve been doing that for two-and-a-half years now and we saw a slow take up. I think there is a psychological barrier in there for men to actually get comfortable with stepping into the role that’s traditionally obviously being seen as, and frankly, companies have encouraged policies around, being a female role entirely.
Cathy: And I would say on the other side, certainly from my experience in financial services inside investment banks, men are equally challenged with the concept of stepping out and taking that paternity leave even if it’s offered, because if they take a break, just like the women who have to do it when you have the children, I faced that myself, I’ve got four year old twins, they fear that their part on that career ladder – everyone wants to get to MD inside the investment bank – there’ll be a change in how they’re viewed. That’s part of that whole cultural change. I really applaud what you’re doing and what Aviva’s doing, these are exactly the kind of steps that we need to take, but we’ve still got embedded at that exco and below level, a whole generation of mostly men that have been brought up a certain way through markets. And consciously or unconsciously, the bias is still there.
I mean, I consciously went about and set up my own consultancy business when I knew that we were going to try and have kids so I could give myself flexibility. I deliberately told everyone I want to go and do NED work so I could give myself some flexibility. Because I knew when the time came, I was going to have to take time out and that would impact my career. It inevitably does. It’s very rare that it doesn’t, and it’s usually on a case by case basis, not because an organisation is supporting everybody all the way through. So I think what you’re doing is fantastic.
I think inside the large investment banks, while there’s a lot of will and desire in certain areas, if you’re sitting in a trading desk environment or anything like that, I don’t want to name areas in case anybody I know says, “You’re talking about me.” But across all the asset classes, and commodities are even further behind in some ways, I would say it’s challenging for the men to even ask for something like that. I can see exactly what people would say – it’s not kind – it’s exactly the kind of stuff they used to say to me on the floor in the old days.
Julia: In a future podcast, we’re actually very keen to explore across the asset classes, because the world of equities is generally seen to be a little bit more progressive because there have been implications of regulation around MiFiD I that’s got everybody thinking very differently. But then, as you say, take commodities or even energy and rates, it’s a completely different world for sure.
Matt: On the commitment of organisations now, I am seeing, notwithstanding, we’ve got a long way to go of course, but I am seeing, I think, CEOs whether it be around gender or any diversity strand having an opinion and actually standing up and being counted more. Not all, but significantly more than we’ve seen before, and I think that’s happening for good reason.
If I come back a little bit about your question around how much change are we seeing as a result of initiatives like Women in Finance, to a degree we are going to need to give that some time, but I think what’s different is there’s a bit of a competitive element there as to the targets that companies have set. So out of the number of companies that have actually signed up to the charter, about a quarter have set a fifty-fifty, so rather than stepping towards true equality, they’ve really gone straight to, “If we mean equality, it does mean fifty-fifty balance, so that’s what our aim should be.” They might have put different timeframe around getting there to be realistic with it, but they’re making the right kind of commitments publicly now.
And I think there’s a combination effect of that that was initiated by the government, but then led by business, operated by business, but I should note regulatory support and involvement as well. Because both the Bank of England and the FCA are both signatories of the charter in themselves. I think both buy into the business case around diversity broadly. That feels like quite a unique dynamic for me as well. There are a number of, obviously, key influences coming together here. Crucially, as a result, I just see more savvy from employees now. I think that’s helped by social media, so there is just a greater awareness and as a result of other initiatives that have caught a lot of attention like pay gap reporting, I think colleagues of organisations now are starting to form their own views and starting to come up with a sense as to who is committed here and who is doing well. I think in turn, and in time, that will lead to the making decisions potentially about where they go and work.
Cathy: And it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? Like you I’ll be really interested to see the results of this in early 2018. I was surprised how many large financial institutions didn’t have women’s internal networks even three years ago, four years ago. Most of the ones I know were set up in the last three to four years. So, it’s all very new for people, and mostly it was set up by senior women and it was being driven by HR. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of CEOs coming out and speaking inside some of the organisations I’ve been in. I would say that they are committed. But it’s not a massive focus for them, and I still see favorites and things happening inside organisations. It’s not being managed as well as it could be, but at least the conversation started, and the women that are involved with that and starting to feel less fear about having a voice and what the repercussions will be for their careers.
So I think step one, let’s see these results. Getting into the detail, you’ve got a women’s internal network now, you’ve done XYZ, what’s really happening below that? Not just with HR involvement but actually the broader corporate environment. I think that’s where that measurement needs to be made.
Julia: Let’s take a pause there and turn to Cynthia Akinsanya and Robert Pinto-Fernandes, who have been scouring the industry for supporting research.
Cynthia: In 2017, Aviva, the UK’s biggest insurer, announced a new policy offering men and women equal parental leave. Parents employed by Aviva would be eligible to the same amount of paid and unpaid time off regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent: by birth, adoption or surrogacy. The new policy is part of Aviva’s strategy to create a diverse and inclusive working culture in which barriers to career progression are removed. In the UK, Aviva is offering up one year of leave, of which 26 weeks is at full basic pay.
Robert: A recent article in Financial News mentioned hedge funds run by women have outperformed the industry average by 20% over the last decade. The hedge fund research index for women, which pulls in the performance of hedge funds run by female managers, showed these funds returned 9.4% on average in 2017, pushing 10-year returns to over 70%. This comes despite women representing just 14% of partner-level positions in global hedge funds, according to the recruitment firm DHR International. This is hopefully sending out a message and piling more pressure onto a sector frequently accused of poor female representation at senior levels.
Julia: Thank you, Cynthia and Robert, and links to the references and research can be found on our website, DiverCityPodcast.com. You can also sign up for early notifications of future episodes and please do follow us on Twitter, @divercitypod, and you can find us on all good podcast channels. If you’ve enjoyed the show, we’d really appreciate your rating. It all helps promote the episodes.
So one thing that I’ve really been thinking about is financial services has a reputational challenge at the moment. No matter whether you’re at the capital markets end or the B2C end, all product innovation is driven by the ability to get on top of your data, your customer data, plus also we’ve got GDPR coming in. So firms need to hire data scientists, and they also need to hire cybersecurity experts. The young talent coming through doesn’t look and feel or behave or come from backgrounds that match the organisations that want to hire them. So I’m really keen to explore that in two areas – One is around working with millennials, and then the other is around the ethnic diversity mix of employees coming through.
Cathy, from working with these FinTech firms, do you think that the execs at these firms are thinking about this?
Cathy: It’s a very good question, Julia, and unfortunately the answer is ‘it depends’. In capital markets, specific FinTech, it tends not to be people in their early 20s with these new ideas. Mostly it’s people who have come out of the larger organisations, they’ve got frustrated because they can’t get their ideas heard or can’t get their ideas worked on. They can see how to fix a challenge, even if they get buy-in from the people around them … the large financial institutions are being challenged on all fronts, especially from a regulatory perspective – MiFiD II, GDPR, PSD2 amongst others, and that’s happening on a global basis.
So, traditionally, most financial institutions’ engagement with the pipeline coming through has been very much at university level and the all-star university level. So you tend to find certain types of kids coming through those organisations. If you look at the A-level stats that have just come out for this last year, only 10% of girls graduated from a computing course. So the pipeline is not getting bigger at this stage. And in fact, the stats from the UK tech sector show that only 23% of employees are female right now, so we do have a lot to do around there. If we’re going to really address the digital skills gap in the future, which is getting bigger and bigger, it’s estimated to be over two million jobs required to be filled by 2020, we’re not very far away from that. What are we doing about it?
So a diverse environment really addresses this. Widening out the base and the skill sets makes a big difference. So, inside the large financial institutions, once they get through MiFiD II, we’re starting to see a little bit of light at the end of tunnel for them as far as focusing on real growth, but they’re a long way behind the eight ball and they risk some of those areas getting disrupted.
So at that pure FinTech level, what are we seeing? I think with some of the younger entrepreneurs, and when I say that in capital markets younger is more around their 30s, it’s not in their 20s. In B2B, it’s just not happening right now, you might see that more in B2C. But we have a really engaged to start discussion right at the start with anyone we’re going to invest in. We’re seeing some good diversity. We have a female founder in a regtech company, all but one of our companies has a female somewhere in the early founder cohort. We have one that’s actually a technologist, which is unusual, and she’s more my age and she said she was very unique when she came through, but she’s used to working in very diverse environments.
So I think it behoves all of us, and that’s one reason we’re quite passionate about this, and me particularly, that we have this on the table as a discussion point right at the start of investing. It wasn’t 10 years ago, everyone was about the bottom line and the way our markets have evolved, I think we’re broken and we do need to reevaluate how we move forward. I think we all better beware in financial services. If we don’t, it’s great that we’re making these slow steps forward. But unfortunately right now I think we have to start making some really big steps forward. There have to be some really brave decisions and some really brave cultural changes taking place inside the organisations. Otherwise, we’re all going to be out of jobs.
Julia: And Matt, is this what you’re seeing as well? Or do you listen to the world of capital markets and say, “Why are you so behind? Because in my world, Virgin Money has been focused on this for ages.”
Matt: No. I think I recognise all the issues. They’re obviously not directly applicable in terms we don’t trade currency et cetera, so, naturally the business is a very different business in terms of what we do for our customers. But the dynamic around understanding what skills are required in the future of course are there but just takes on a different flavour. I think the way that’s come through for us is still largely around digital and analytical capability moving forward. Analytical, as well as the core digital skills, are going to be really important for us.
And we can match our requirements to the diversity and inclusion challenge. One thing that we’ve launched this year is a digital apprenticeship that takes A-level students through to degree level within four years. So, instead of going off to university and taking on debt, et cetera, we’ve blended together that problem that obviously school leavers are increasingly having and are putting them off continuing their education. They can get their degree qualification with us and we’re developing the skills that we absolutely do need to start to encourage, right at the beginning of careers rather than develop further through the careers, so-
Julia: And does that also take into consideration the ethnic minority mix within who you’re reaching out to? Because a lot of these apprenticeships are very, very valuable tools in driving that change.
Matt: They absolutely are, and we’ve got a fantastic balance on that very program that I described. It’s 12-person intake for us in the first time around. Which is actually, for the size of company we are, it’s a significant commitment. We’ve seen great gender balance and ethnicity balance around that starting group.
Now, we always had that in mind, but we worked really hard in terms of our attraction to make sure we had a broad appeal to begin with. Then, as with everything we’ve done, we’ve just selected on merit, but as a result we’ve got to the place that we want to get to from a D&I perspective.
Just to extend a little bit beyond that, I think a lot of this for us does mean reaching back into society. Our founder Richard Branson talks about business being a force for good and I think there’s a lot that’s very true about that. So, from our perspective, one of the very important things we’re doing to connect with our society that we actually hire from, predominantly in the North East, obviously, the old Northern Rock heritage of the organisation, we’re working with a number of schools in the region around supporting their school leavers.
So, pupils who are definitely not staying in education, they’re reaching that 15, 16 years of age and they’re definitely going to enter the world of work, and we run a three-day program connected with local schools, which prepares kids for life after school – how do you access work? Practicing interview skills, writing CVs, getting an insight to what the world of work will be like once you get there. Also accessing broader life skills, so we get Virgin Active along to help with physical wellbeing, obviously we do a financial wellbeing segment to it-
Cathy: Is it free?
Matt: Yes it’s free.
Julia: We think a lot about mental health as well, and I think a lot about school leavers and young execs coming in to business as well, and all of those life skills are incredibly important.
Matt: You’ve got to prepare for that transition. I guess what I’m really proud of is that we’ve looked to connect with schools in the more disadvantaged areas of the North East. Again, for us, there is a high number of school leavers as a result in those educational establishments, but also it helps us demonstrate that we are a committed equal opportunities employer.
Julia: And it’s very much in that grassroots level, we’re going to see the change and the young execs of the future come through as well.
Cathy: Yeah. I just wanted to quickly call out Founders4Schools, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. You’re probably working with them, Matt. But they’re a fantastic organisation working with schools, where they bring an enormous array of female CEOs and executives from the CEO of Code First: Girls to the youngest ever person to float on the stock exchange, Emma Sinclair from Enterprise Jungle, and they’re working with kids in schools across the board, not just young women, it’s everybody, and I think when you do that you get that natural diversity pipeline happening. If you’re looking for working with people at a very early stage, please get in touch with Founders 4 Schools. They’ve got a fantastic mentoring program.
Julia: We will, and, with pleasure, we’ll promote that through the website as well and across all our social channels. I think this has been a really interesting conversation about how the world’s contrast from capital markets into innovation into B2C. And some practical ideas and some suggestions about not only how to engage with policy, but also how to help organisations through some of these leadership challenges that they face, because they’re not easy. It’s always performance that is going to drive change, but then also how do you find new talent coming through?
Matt and Cathy, thank you so much for taking the time today. It’s been a pleasure.
Kieron: This episode of DiverCity™ Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya and Robert Pinto-Fernandes for their insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, DiverCityPodcast.com. Whilst you’re there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates. To be sure of catching all our future podcasts, subscribe to our feed in iTunes or your favourite podcast app, and if you’ve enjoyed this episode of DiverCity™ Podcast, remember to give us a rating or review in iTunes. It all helps promote the show to a wider audience. Finally, our Twitter handle is @divercitypod. Thanks for listening.