Sibos Diversity Panel

The panel discusses how to empower diverse workers

Diversity in the financial industry is lacking and banks are ignoring candidates’ potential in favour of experience, according to some views at Sibos 2015 in Singapore.

In this morning’s session on ‘How to create and sustain a diverse talent pipeline’, the moderator, Melissa Rancourt, founder and chairperson, Greenlight for Girls – an international organisation ‘dedicated to inspire girls of all ages and backgrounds to pursue STEM subjects’ – oversaw a four-person panel.

Fern Ngai, CEO of Community Business, a Hong Kong-based not-for-profit organisation that promotes ‘inclusive business practices’ in Asia, says there are too many ‘non-Asians’ in key roles.

However, she does have some good news for the financial industry.

Community Business has an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Workplace Inclusion Index, the ‘first and only’ benchmark for ‘practices and initiatives’ for LGBT employees in Asia. Ngai says there has been more inclusion over the last 7 or 8 years and her firm had 35 companies participate in the index.

In terms of rankings, the top ten companies were ‘dominated’ by investment and commercial banks, so the industry is working hard on diversity and, in some cases, succeeding.

There was also some positive feedback from James Sun, owner of the social networking site Anomo.

He adds that ‘senior managers are creating initiatives’ to solve the lack of diversity.

Don’t use that word


Scarlett Sieber, SVP at BBVA

The topic moved onto ‘millennials’ – meaning people usually born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

Scarlett Sieber, SVP of open innovation and ecosystem building at BBVA, falls within that age group and could relate to the issue. Sieber says banks need to be thinking about recruiting millennials ‘not because they have to but because they want to’.

Sieber says millennials need a purpose so they’ll get excited to go to work. This youthful energy will bring a positive impact on the business.

She notes that when she looked for work after college the major financial institutions were attractive, but millennials’ interest has now ‘shifted to large technology companies’. Sieber says that the perception of millennials is that they have a sense of ‘entitlement’. In her view this is wrong. They will work ‘long and hard’ and don’t expect an easy ride. Millennials are also ‘shifting away from banks’ to other companies like Google, Uber or Snapchat; because these firms see their potential.

In terms of women in the workplace, Hashim Shawa, chairman and general manager, Bank of Palestine, says his bank has raised the percentage of women in the bank’s workforce from 12% to 40%.

Shawa says the situation prior to this huge rise was an ‘embarrassing reality’ and wasn’t sustainable. The bank had to take a stand and ensure more women were recruited – a move he describes as ‘positive discrimination’.



Hashim Shawa, chairman and general manager, Bank of Palestine

It’s important to point out that Shawa dominated the hour-long session with incredibly long-winded answers (which have been omitted in this report.) Generally, the focus was on himself or his bank.

The irony of a man not letting the three women speak at a talk on diversity was clearly lost on him.

Sibos needs to think about next year’s talks on diversity (if they have them) and ensure any moderator gives all the speakers equal time to communicate.

All about Eve

Ngai moved on to Asia and says ‘people in Asia have a less direct style compared to the West due to their upbringing’.

In her view, if companies use ‘Western frameworks to assess talent they could miss out’. Community Business advises companies on how to improve this situation.

She says that in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, people don’t like to work in other countries when they reach an age when they’re ready to start a family. If companies identified them as talent in the early stages of their career, before the urge for a family begins, everyone benefits.

Ngai also gave an example of Deutsche Bank’s Eve account in India. The bank looked at the lifestyle of ‘urban females’ and created a special account solely for them. This developed into a global product because the bank used the knowledge of its employees. Women don’t need to feel excluded by banks.

In dreams

Finally, Rancourt asked the panel to think about their ‘dreams’ and ambitions for the future. She gave Sibos as an example: at the first event 300 people attended, while this year’s show has 8,000 people.

Sieber says companies look at experience too much, which is important or even ‘crucial’ at times, but there needs to be more focus on potential. She also says that people starting out in the fintech space must be ‘fearless’ – no question is a bad question – and grasp the better opportunities on hand today.

Ngai says you don’t need concrete career paths for the future, try different things, and ‘it’s OK to change your mind many times’. She spent 26 years in the technology industry and then moved to HR, followed by corporate communications.

Sun jokes ‘play with a Rubik’s cube, so you can fail as many times as you can’. The idea is to keep failing so you can learn.

Let’s see who learns the quickest – the banks, start-ups or young people just starting out in the industry.

By Antony Peyton

by IBS Intelligence