Men working in treasury departments at both corporations and financial institutions are seen as more results-oriented than their female colleagues, but prone to overlook the element of risk. They can also lack the holistic view that females can provide, while women tend to adopt a more collaborative approach and are more ready to sound out an organisation’s various stakeholders.
These were among the opening remarks at the informal discussion, which consisted of Berndt and 10 other female senior financial professionals. Berndt added that women are often more adept at detecting nuances and tend to be more intuitive.
gtnews asked whether the global financial crisis of 2008 might have been averted – or its effects at least mitigated – had more women occupied senior positions within the banking industry. However, Berndt suggested that they wouldn’t necessarily have proved to be “the saviours of the universe”.
Women who were coming up through the ranks at that time possibly felt duty bound to emulate the behaviour of their male colleagues. The environment of 2008 “was a bullish one when it was still very much ‘a boy’s game”, and diverging from this culture was easier said than done.
While functions within the banking industry such as implementation and account management had a significant female presence, the transaction floors were almost exclusively male. However, many of the women who occupied these roles have since moved up the ranks and into transaction banking.
“Women tend to be more confident, yet they speak up less and very often talk only when they actually have something to say,” suggested one of the session attendees. Berndt agreed: “As leader, it’s up to me to ensure that the quietest voice in the room gets heard.”
She also confessed that she was not a great fan of formal networks aimed at advancing the role of women in treasury and banking – far better to encounter like-minded individuals on a day-to-day basis and link with them informally. “By engaging and by being supportive, I find I enjoy greater success than going through formal networks,” Berndt added. “I can’t be successful unless I have talented people around me.”
This meant that coaching and mentoring have an important part to play. However, there is always the risk that women who achieve a position of seniority could unconsciously demonstrate bias by simply hiring individuals that they like. One audience member said that she possibly was more demanding of female colleagues than of males in the department in order to avoid this happening.
Several of the women at the briefing recounted positive experiences of taking time off from their careers- in some cases for a prolonged period – in order to focus on raising a family. However, one cautioned that “it was a different story” in southern European countries such as Italy. A generally less liberal attitude among employers there persuaded her to relocate to northern Europe.
Innovation and diversity
Picking up on a theme from Sibos 2014 in Boston earlier this month, attendees discussed whether women are better than men at innovation. There was general agreement that women in treasury are more adept at understanding the needs of corporate clients and communicating them internally through advocacy.
“Innovation isn’t simply the need to spend heavily or the big, flashy option – it can involve no more than a minor tweaking,” Berndt suggested.
There was also consensus that organisations can only compete effectively when they harness all of their resources and embrace diversity – both gender and cultural diversity. Berndt said that her role as head of RBS’s global transaction services (GTS) division has enabled her to challenge attitudes and persuade male colleagues to think differently. She could demonstrate that when an organisation embraces diversity, success will follow.
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