How I’ve passed 10 years in Banking? From Graduate to Vice President and beyond…

[8-12 minutes read]

After ten and a half years working in technology in Banking, I’ve decided it’s time to fly the nest and take on a new challenge in a new industry. Discover how authenticity, learning and passion have led to a successful career in back office Banking; and how confidence and people have contributed to my retention, and ultimately led to me turning the page on the next chapter of my career.

My journey in Finance 

Graduating from the north of England in 2008 I was tempted to London by the bright lights, the opportunities big companies provide for continued learning and hope to see a bit of the world. Applying to nine top tier Banks in 2007 and interviewing with five, I opted for Deutsche Bank’s graduate scheme – based on the people I met and colloquialness of the interviews.

Skip to September 2008 – what a time for your first foray into finance. The graduate training was very real with news coverage profiling the collapse of fellow Investment Banks and mergers of others – including Banks I had turned down. Banks were in the spotlight – and not for the right reasons. Customer confidence around banking crashed and going forward banks needed to address culture, brand and social responsibility. Overnight, Banks would swap travel for webcams, and change from spending money to make money to instead focus on costs cuts, efficiencies and reducing risk to make better returns on existing investments.

The graduate scheme saw me sample two different technology roles for eight months each – where I subsequently settled in the second role for a further two years. During my first three years, recruiters would contact me weekly – trying to lure me away with suggestions I’d become stale if I stayed more than 2-3 years and promises of more £££. But with 100,000 roles at Deutsche I reasoned there were always other roles I could try; and I learnt early on that managing expectation of peers, having a strong network with good internal sponsors, and being seen as a flight risk would open up opportunities and do my remuneration no harm.

Over the 10 years that followed I would earn my stripes. I’d take on five distinct roles across the full software development lifecycle giving me a solid foundation to develop into a strong Product Manager. I’d report to seven different managers, work on 100’s of projects and interact with 1000’s of colleagues globally. I’d be seen as a high performer throughout my tenure: with three promotions to achieve the coveted Vice President title within eight years, two internal recognition awards, and three times featured in LGBT+ future leader recognition lists in the Financial Times newspaper.

What contributed to this success? 

Below are guiding principles I’ve applied over the last 10 years. None are groundbreaking – but are the personal things that have guided me through what I consider a successful career to date.

  • Do something you love. You spend 30% of your waking week at work (more for many). If you don’t love what you do then you’re forever clock watching or reflecting how life is passing you by – which can’t be great for your mental health. Find a subject matter, domain or industry that you are passionate about and actively shape the role you are in so you get the most out of your skills and interests. I think of my work as a vocation – not simply a job. I purposefully blur the lines around my learnings and working hours – but do so in a way that ensures I deliver what is required of me (and more) whilst making it work for my own work/life balance. Life is too short to be doing something you aren’t enjoying and/or learning from.
  • Share freely and give knowledge like it’s a gift. You’ll be surprised what comes back when you volunteer your knowledge and ideas. Too often I see people work in silos and thinking knowledge is power. I’ve wasted countless energy persuading colleagues that I’m asking questions and taking an interest in their work to aid everyone’s knowledge, foster diversity of thought and create better outcomes – rather than to encroach on their role or steal their job. Sharing knowledge freely has strengthened my network, created stronger ideas, avoided duplication and identified opportunities to collaborate and do more with less.
  • Be present and invest in your relationships. Every colleague has their own life going on outside work. Understanding what makes them tick and what they need from you will help you interact with them and get the best from your interactions. Ask colleagues how they are and listen to the response as opposed to asking as a formality. I prioritise connecting face to face (in person or via video) to make work personal and to help read body language. I’ve found when connecting face to face it’s much harder to hide or multi-task – meaning those contributing are more present and you can focus on adding value to each other, quicker. I build time into my diary for informal catch-ups with colleagues (e.g. over coffee). Often the best ideas come from those informal meet-ups and it fosters willingness for when you need favours. Don’t be afraid to ask why you are needed in a project or meeting so you can attend for just the parts you are needed – rather than finding yourself zoning out and being less present.
  • Never give someone a job to do that I wouldn’t do myself. Often as a product manager, it helps to shadow users and colleagues and understand their experience performing tasks. It aids understanding of your products and makes pain points real. If you feel the pain you are more likely to engineer it out of your product or processes. Similarly understanding the complexity of a task helps you identify how long it should take, if people are struggling and if it is adding value.
  • Learn, reflect and invest in yourself. See every opportunity as a learning opportunity and identify what transferable skills or experiences you can take away. I blur the line between learning in work hours and extra-curricular learning – be this contributing to diversity and inclusion topics, or learning tangential skills such as coding and web design. Building an external portfolio outside work helps me hone my skills and keeps me relevant to colleagues I depend on to be successful. It also provides accessible evidence of what I can do. Like agile retrospectives, I take time to reflect on what I’m learning and where I need to improve so that I can feel a sense of achievement. I find time in the gym spa a great space for reflection. Reflection, for me, is a great way to maintain perspective and minimise stress – even in the harder days where the actual work is less fulfilling or where work politics feel overbearing. My golden rule is that when I stop learning then it is time for a change.
  • Be yourself and bring your whole best self to work. I learnt early on that when I was able to be myself and not cover or hide aspects of life beyond the workplace I was less distracted, more connected to colleagues and felt more confident. You can read more about these experiences in Diversity networks – are they still needed? Don’t just take my word for that – there is lots of research to support that employees who feel empowered to bring their whole self to work are happier and more productive. In turn, I try to foster an environment and culture where others feel able to share who they are and what is important to them outside work hours. Social media encourages us to present our best lives to people – but often being open with colleagues and sharing (without over-sharing) my lows as well as my highs has made me more approachable and deepened relationships. I’ve respectively challenged business norms and corporate expectations to conform – such as dress code, business hours or work locations – all whilst letting my deliverables speak for themselves. Customers and prospective employees want to buy from, and work with, companies that they can identify with. Hence the need for individuality and identity whilst still driving a unified business culture and strategy.

Taking the highs with the lows 

Ten years hasn’t always been easy. Too often we portray only the best side of life to people – perhaps fearing lows may be seen as weakness or failure or not wanting to burden others with them. We are all human and we have good times and bad. Below I want to share some of the personal challenges I’ve encountered over the years and how I’ve faced these challenges:

  • Confidence and self-doubt. My biggest obstacle to success has been self-doubt – driven by internal confidence. As a problem solver who overthinks things I’ve often tied myself in knots and worried if I have the experience to complete new tasks. Outwardly this may not be visible – but internally this is a stress trigger. Working openly and out loud and using colleagues as sounding boards for my ideas are techniques I use to tackle this. I value regular 1-1’s with project leads or managers to checkpoint work direction and I value feedback from others. I’ll take an agile inspired minimum viable product approach with deliverables and break down tasks into component parts – quickly delivering the minimum required so that value is realised early and output can be validated against needs before they are built upon further.
  • Transparency and rate of organisational change. I’ve often struggled with the volume of organisational change and snail speed by which large organisational change is communicated – often delayed by a need for top-down cascades which leave weeks or months with rumours swirling, unease and uncertainty. Working for a German organisation with strong workers unions introduces even more checks and delays to an announcement. With the scale of cuts at Deutsche, I’ve seen some senior managers be swept aside and leave with no formal announcements around these changes due to the nature of their departure. Again this breeds uncertainty and often instability as new leaders step into the void and bring their own style and direction to the table. These types of changes I have little control over other than managing my own expectation and focusing on the day to day deliverables. I understand the reason behind these challenges facing large organisations but think more can be done to minimise those consequences that demotivate employees. Companies could do a better job of acknowledging the changes and sharing progress updates.
  • Challenges with internal mobility. I’ve benefited from internal mobility to move to different roles and business areas and to tailor many of my roles to my skillsets. But I’ve also seen the pains of internal mobility with politics around headcount moves and hiring freezes. Lack of transparency and barriers to my own internal mobility led to a period of time where I felt down and questioned my own value. I’ve also seen examples where managers don’t see the bigger picture and hinder internal moves – resulting in colleagues leaving their organisation. When I experienced challenges moving roles I put a plan in place around how I could deliver for my day job whilst working out loud to show others value I could add. Using my network to understand opportunities within the Bank I became aware of unadvertised roles and this ultimately led to me being internally headhunted for my current role.

I’ve been fortunate to have an OUTstanding external mentor in the form of Matt Elliott – former HR People Director for Virgin Money and now Chief People Officer at Bank of Ireland. Mentors in any form are something I’d highly recommend – particularly for people early on in their career. Matt’s external perspective helped give context to my experiences at Deutsche and challenged my thinking by providing insights into how other companies and industries operated. Four years ago Matt and I worked together to address my confidence and to consider where my career was heading. We anticipated and role played difficult conversations in the workplace – including not making Vice President in my first promotion cycle. My response to not being promoted was credited by DB management as a defining moment in my successful promotion the following year – something I have Matt to thank for.

Time for a change

Truth be told, in my first seven year I lacked the confidence to move companies. The comfort blanket of a strong internal network and supportive environment to be myself meant I was scared to seek pastures new. It’s only in the last three years that I’ve felt confident to a point where I could command the roles externally that I’d aspire for.

If you’ve followed the above and read my motivations around work post there was no obvious driver for me to move on. That said, I’ve found that the Bank’s ongoing financial challenges have increasingly led to individuals retreating to their own comfort space and having less time for collaborating on tasks outside their agreed deliverables. Combined with this I’ve reflected my own learning was declining and I felt a lot of untapped potentials to add value to the world. I had the choice to push against the tide and use my energy to challenge the status quo once again – or to try my hand at something new. The same people who created a safe space that I didn’t want to leave have ultimately helped me develop my internal confidence to a point I feel ready to command the roles I wanted outside Deutsche Bank. Hence my search for new opportunities. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog where I’ll detail the approach I’ve taken to exploring the job market for the first time and securing an exciting role for a new challenge.

Having talked to a number of companies and industries I’ve secured an exciting Technology Product Manager role at CBRE – a leading commercial real estate services and investment firm. With technology increasingly disrupting the property industry I look forward to proving to myself I can establish myself, learn about and add value in another industry area.

I don’t regret a moment of working for Deutsche Bank or financial services – but can’t wait to start the new journey ahead.

 

Disclaimer: this blog post is a personal perspective on 10 years in finance and does not reflect the views of any employer past, present or future. 

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